Wise public policy?

A recent case in America could illustrate what the future holds for low-income litigants in this country, if the exodus of legal aid lawyers continues. Mother of three Brenda King could not afford representation in a custody dispute. She couldn't find pro bono help and therefore had to represent herself. Unsurprisingly, she lost the case, and to rub salt into the wound she was ordered to pay $7,500 costs. She subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court for a new trial, this time with a divorce lawyer at public expense. Her appeal was refused.

There are already legal aid 'deserts' in this country. They are growing bigger, and the Government is deaf to calls for more money to stop the exodus. How long before Mrs King's experience becomes typical over here? Interestingly, one of the Justices that ruled against her suggested that the Legislature may want to extend the constitutional right to an attorney to divorce cases when a party can't afford to hire a lawyer, as a matter of "wise public policy".

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