Help for litigants in person ‘sadly inadequate’

family law

The help provided by the government for litigants in person is “sadly inadequate”, according to the President of the Family Division.

Sir James Munby has called the family justice system “over-complicated” and that the government faces a “massive challenge” to provide people with the information they need to navigate it.

These comments came in the President’s foreword to the latest edition of legal guide The Family Court without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person. In it, Sir James praised the Family Justice Council for its “valuable work in providing user-friendly literature for litigants in person” but criticised the efforts of the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Family Procedure Rule Committee on this issue.

He wrote that the current “practices and procedures are designed for … a family justice system where the typical litigant has legal representation”. However he explained that “across vast swathes of the family justice system, the typical litigant now has no legal representation”.

As the Family Procedure Rules are written with lawyers in mind, litigants in person can find them “unintelligible” and “largely inaccessible” Sir James claimed. While he believed these issues would eventually be rectified, he wrote that it may not be for some time because of the “traditional snail’s pace of legal reform in this country”.

Lucy Reed, author of the handbook, told Solicitors Journal that while it would be preferable “for everyone to have access to a lawyer and for those lawyers to retrain ourselves to speak plain English, such aspirations are of no help to those without lawyers”.

Photo by Aron Elal via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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6 comments

Paul - September 1, 2017 at 1:58pm

Courts have no interest in helping ‘litigants in person’ they actively try to derail litigants in person. They are only interested in protecting legal jobs. There is nothing courts fear more than a wave of people who have taught themselves the law on google and are effectively locking horns with legal professionals. Thats the future if the courts are ready for it or not.
I had no problem understanding court procedure or interpreting the law. The ONLY issue I had was that the courts themselves. They would not accept what I was saying.
Justice is going completely missing in this proccess. To think the system we have now is anything to do with justice is a joke.

spinner - September 2, 2017 at 7:32pm

Agreed, I didn’t find the law’s involved complicated and in fact compared to my day job I found them very straight forward and procedural.

The main problem was lack of organisation within the court itself. Why do we have to wait six months for an appointment, why do we have to follow the mediation, first appointment, FDR and then have a final hearing so if you go all the way you are talking years to have a resolution. This is very detrimental to the welfare of children involved which we are told is the main priority of the courts to avoid. If the assets are not there to run the adversarial, represented system of the past then we need a new system that actually helps people resolve their issues.

New laws giving a formula for how financial case’s should be resolved or at least setting some parameters to reduce the judge’s discretion and consequent postcode lottery would solve so many issues and avoid a lot of cases reaching court due to people being able to see for themselves what they would most likely get.

Joey - September 14, 2017 at 10:58am

I couldn’t agree more with Paul. As an LiP, I got VERY little help from the judge, who seemed content to let the lawyers for my ex have their way — lawyer to lawyer (since of course judges were once lawyers too). In fact, I was shocked as they were allowed to just steam-roller over me. The Orders I had requested from the court, in an earlier “exparte” application, were not allowed till AFTER the appeal — but then the appeal was dismissed! So, of course, no Orders were ever issued, even though they definitely would have HELPED my case. Nor was I allowed to appeal the judge’s decision — that was IT.

To me, it was a travesty of justice, because the judge simply believed everything my ex claimed, even though it was obvious to even a casual observer my ex was lying all the way — just USING the law to benefit at MY (great) cost. And the Court couldn’t give a sh+t.

But after fighting so long to achieve “justice”, and seeing all that the angry comments here from other disillusioned litigants achieve, really, is NOTHING in the way of change (did we ever really believe we MIGHT?), I no longer have much/any faith in achieving true “justice” or even a rough kind of justice. If you’ve been “set up”, as so much of the LAW readily allows, you ain’t got a snowflake’s chance in hell of ever achieving “justice” — or even PARITY.

Clearly, the ONLY way to get anywhere near a fair outcome (at least financially) is to have mandatory and ENFORCED (ie. the Courts HAVE to respect them) pre-nupts — and even post-nupts. If the couple have already AGREED what should happen in the event of divorce, and both were legally advised — WHAT THE HELL HAS IT GOT TO DO WITH THE COURT??

Children may be a different matter — but if at least pre-nupts were totally honoured in the divorce court, there would be a helluva lot less AGGRO at the end of many marriages.

And at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Andre - September 1, 2017 at 10:45pm

It is interesting and I’m sure only coincidental, but during the last decade funding for Cafcass and “charities” like Nyas have increased by 140%.

There is a direct correlation with an increase of 140% in the number of kids taken into care.

Now in the UK, there are 4 million kids with no contact with their fathers or both parents.

Gangs of almost every denominations are now able to congrigate in every city, town and or hamlet and prey on a never ending stream of fatherless children.

If destroying the institution of family was to purpose of Cafcass and Nyas, then well done! There are now 4 million children who’ve had their lives destroyed.

And all with government funding.

Andrew - September 3, 2017 at 12:44am

So you read it up on Google and that was enough, you were as skilled in the law as if you had years of training and experience?
.
“They would not accept what I was saying”. In the words of Oliver Cromwell: I beseech you, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Paul - September 5, 2017 at 1:00pm

Andrew. I did not at any point say I personally looked up the law on google. I worry about a soliciter whom cannot read in context. I was very through in my reading.
It had nothing to do with skill. Its about appleasement and paying the right fees along the way.
They 100% feared what I would say.
I received a letter from the court saying that the court case would be heard on submissions only.
Fine no problem. My submission was much better than her soliciter.
I was happy with that.
Got to court.
Her soliciter said ‘it would be unfair on Mr P to do the case on submissions only so I propose we have submissions.’
So the court had made sure I had no submissions prepared for the day in court.
What exactly has that got to do with slill or schooling ???
They gave me one hour over lunch to prepare a line of questioning for my expartner who I could not question directly. I explained to the court that I am dyslexic. Even if I could formulate the questions i would struggle to write them down. Tough sxxt.
Her soliciter used a line of leading or should I say grossley misleading questions. I pointed this out to the court. If a solictor pointed this out then the line of questioning would have stopped without question. Because I said it the questions were aloud to continue.
They discribed this as me been ‘evassive in my answers’ an my story been inconsistant. Even though she had changed her account over and over again.
There was not a single question about my capacity to parent or what I was like as a parent ???
Her solicter chose instead to retrial me for the crime of harassment. Which I had already overturned at York crown court.
So that was the THIRD time I had been tried of this ‘aledged’ crime. That I am NOT guilty of.
I raised this as an issue during the questioning. They said.
They use a differnt standard of evidence in family court.
We did not hear any evidence at all. None.
So I can only assume that a differnt standard of evidence means
‘she said you caused harassment so you did.’

I was a ‘litigant in person so the court treated me like a cxxt’
I was purely and simply an underhanded way of undermining my defence.

Do you not accept that some people are of an intelect that they can understand the workings of law without the qualifications ? I had a very good standerd of education. If I studied law I am certain I would have succeeded. I have lots of qualifications and never failed to obtain qualifications I need for a job. Why would you doubt my capacity to learn law ?

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