50% of everyone in the UK will face a court case at some point in their lives, but for those who haven’t experienced it, (and even some who have) the full gravitas of what court can mean can’t possibly sink in.
Before I started working at the PSU in the Royal Courts of Justice, I thought I’d only ever need a lawyer if I accidentally stumbled upon a criminal act. The sad reality is that court isn’t always a consequence of wrongdoing. It turns innocent lives upside down just the same, especially if you can’t pay.
Spending time in this grand gothic building with no legal knowledge really does connect you to the sheer emotion of that.
Walking to collect the post you’ll find flustered people asking you for directions, sometimes crying for the solution, sometimes screaming that they’ve lost their case and just want to find a way out of the wrought iron, security guarded, gates.
People are nice to each other here, mostly that kind of sympathetic kindness. You never know why somebody’s in this building, (and you don’t want to pry), but they could be facing homelessness, so you’d better be kind to everyone just in case.
You’ll walk through the grand stone courtyard past the GeoAmey vans, wondering who the prisoners are inside. The screams of protesters from outside the gates flood through as a high profile case reaches its end. Today, the battle for Charlie Gard’s life ended and the grief hung in the air.
All the while you know that people are keeping their heads down to avoid the cameras as they enter the building to face their own battles. They could have spent hours getting buses or walking here because they can’t afford the train; they could know this place well now after a 15 year long fight with the council to make their home safe to live in; they likely have no idea where they are going.
These are the Litigants in Person. They’re the people without lawyers and without a support system behind them. They walk into this huge stone structure alone to fight for everything they care about, and this is only one court in the UK. It happens everywhere.
Legal jargon too often distances us from the emotional ordeal of going to court, and that same ordeal often makes it into a very private, secretive affair, shrouded in shame and fear. The Personal Support Unit is there to help with anyone who needs immediate help in 20 courts across the UK, please consider lending your support. www.thepsu.org