When you make a complaint about a public body they are able to use the legal resources paid for by our taxes. When their default position is to ensure damage limitation, you the citizen will have to fight for your rights. As part of PHSOtheFACTS helpful advice service, here is some first-hand information on how to get free legal advice via your local Citizen Advice Bureau.
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Half Hour Free Legal Advice & Getting The Most Out Of This Time
It is common knowledge that Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a valuable free service to answer any questions that may arise in life which we do not already know the answer to and many of us come away a more informed person after an appointment with one of their helpful volunteers.
We may find however that their limited knowledge is unfortunately not enough if we are considering pursuing/defending or are already involved in court proceedings. There could be legal procedures, time-limits and questions that we feel need to be answered and certain facts we need to be aware of before deciding what to do and how to move forward.
Fortunately and not so common knowledge is that many Citizens Advice Bureau’s can arrange for you to have a fixed fee or very often free hour appointment with a trained legal advisor/solicitor who visits the bureau around 1 day per month to help you decide whether to take your case further.
There is a way of receiving the absolute maximum benefit to this very small amount of time you have. You are only allowed one session per case/issue and the aim is to come away with as much legal knowledge regarding your own personal ongoing issue as is possible. I have used this free service myself which I found very useful.
How to receive free legal advice from trained legal advisor/solicitor at your CAB
- Firstly check to ensure they provide ‘this’ service at your local CAB. Not all CAB’s provide this service & if you are considering court proceedings you cannot afford to waste any time.
- You will then need to attend an ordinary appointment and meet with a CAB volunteer with the intention of receiving time with the trained legal advisor/solicitor thereafter. When attending the appointment go along with your information, details of your case and prepare some of the more in-depth legal questions you would like to know the answer to and you are struggling with. (questions you need to know but only someone trained is likely to know the answer to)
- Some volunteers carry enough knowledge to provide you with useful answers and if they do not they will gladly look it up online to see if they can help. They will not, however, be able to provide you with more detailed legal answers or be able to provide you with the merits/downfalls of your case and legal requirements.
- It is not until they themselves feel that they are unable to help you any further will you qualify for the trained visiting legal advisor/solicitor. They may even recommend a local solicitor’s that can help you and give you their details (which you can note down and do anyhow thereafter).
- If they do not offer this service to you but you are aware they are able to be assertive and say this is what you need to happen – ‘Half Hour session with the visiting trained legal advisor/solicitor’ and they should make the appointment for you.
Getting the maximum benefit from the little time you have.
The Legal Advisor like the PHSO & ICO is said to provide an ‘impartial’ service. They avoid giving false hope to anyone considering taking their case through the courts and for good reason. They will also not become excited if your case initially shows a very strong hand. It is often that after a meeting which initially provided you with hope for justice you leave feeling deflated once again over a matter that has already caused you a great amount of pain and distress. In order to provide you with a detailed & informed opinion a greater amount of time would usually be spent firstly looking through your information then discussing so you really need to make the most of this one-off free opportunity.
You will be allowed only one session per issue/case which is only 30 minutes and there are two ways of doing it. In both cases, I would stress writing down every answer.
- The first way is to go along as expected with your case records/information/letters and let the legal advisor look at them. A timeline of events and actions is always useful. Thirty minutes is not very long at all and the information you receive will be limited. You will also receive an opinion which should be impartial.
- The second way I have found to be much more productive. It involves preparation and a list of questions that you need to know regarding your issue. You refrain from passing your documents over but you will leave the appointment far more informed and knowledgeable of the law relating to your situation. After all, knowledge is what you need to make an informed decision when considering court action. The law applies to everyone so the more legal facts/requirements in the 30 minutes you can gather the more informed you will be. There will be no ‘impartial’ opinion but when you gather maximum facts and information in 30 minutes and you can see yourself if your case ticks the boxes at this very early stage. You can learn what a case needs to move forward, time limits & legal requirements. You will receive unbiased information and cold hard facts. You can leave the appointment with around 15-20 questions answered to help you to decide and make your decision. Even if you leave the appointment with 10 answers and pieces of information it is likely to be more than if you passed over your documents and waited for the ‘chat’.
If you would like to know if you are within the time-limits it is far quicker to ask what the time-limit is than for the legal advisor to search through your documents, ask themselves the question if you are within the time limit and then share an opinion based on the facts. You may need to edit your questions down & be aware that some will take more time to answer so think carefully about which questions to ask.
Take the time to study your own documents and become aware of exactly what you have and what has happened to date. It is highly likely you know your personal issue inside out but lack the legal knowledge surrounding your case. The law applies to everyone so write down all questions you need to be answered and keep them ‘matter of fact’.
You will need to know requirements/obligations to legal procedures which again applies to everyone and very quick and easy to answer. You will need to know answers to questions relating to your personal issue but keep them hypothetical and you will receive the answer that applies to you without drifting off course and wasting valuable time.
Research Time – 30 minute session
The legal advisor will already be aware that you have documents from your first meeting with the CAB volunteer and may be a little surprised at the ‘not handing documents over’ approach. In order for this to work you must be fully aware of what documents you have and you will also need to be brave and tell them exactly what you are going to do with this 30 minute opportunity and their expert knowledge.
Legal Advisors must answer your questions and give you the information you need and inform you how to handle a problem if they are asked and the options that are available. They must inform you of your rights to make a complaint and provide you with information about costs so they will comply with your request to simply ask them a list of questions in order to help you with your issue.
Questions such as:
- “How can someone receive medical records?”
- “If someone has been failed during a medical procedure how should the organisation respond to the complaint?”
- “Who should be contacted when an organisation does not respond to a Subject Access Request within 40 days?”
- “How long does one have to make a claim?”
- “What evidence is needed in order to make a claim?”
- “Is there an essential procedure one must follow prior to court action & if so what is it?”
You can ask:
- “What are the organisation obliged to do after a complaint is made to them?
- “What factors need to be taken into account for a case to have merit?”
- “What action needs to be taken to make a claim?
- “How can this be done?”
Answers to the above will be most helpful and provide insight of your own case merits/downfalls and will help you with the ultimate question:
“Is my case worth pursuing via court proceedings ?”
There is no reason not to take your own documents with you and keep them in your bag. It may just be the case that you feel that you cannot avoid bringing them out for a matter of reference or self-reassurance but be aware the clock will be ticking and the legal advisor will hold a wealth of information. Information is knowledge and the more of that you have the better. We do not all have the luxury of money or time with a solicitor so this is simply a way gaining maximum benefit of knowledge from this very often ‘free’ nugget of opportunity whilst we are deciding. Good luck.