Family courts unfair for litigants in person, MPs told

Topics: Advocacy,Legal aid and access to justice,The Bar

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Litigants in person are not getting fair hearings, the Common’s Justice Committee heard this morning.

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The committee was taking evidence from Susan Jacklin QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, Dave Emmerson, co-chair of Resolution’s legal aid committee, Nicola Jones-King, co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children and Jane Robey, director of National Family Mediation.

The justice committee is enquiring into the impact of the cuts to civil legal aid, introduced in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 last April, which removed public funding for most private law family cases.

Since the act, the number of people forced to represent themselves in court in family cases has increased dramatically, increasing the time taken to resolve disputes.

In cases since the cuts, where one party has been unrepresented, Jacklin told the committee: ‘Many young barristers felt the outcome was not fair for non-represented parties.’

While the barrister can put their client’s case, she said, however good the judge is at dealing with the litigant in person, it does not make up for the lack of representation.

Emmerson said the lack of research done in relation to the outcomes for litigants in person makes it difficult to quantify the effect.

But he highlighted the difficulties they face in relation to understanding the law, preparing their case and marshalling their information and arguments in court.

Although judges are trained in how to deal with them, it is still ‘unbelievably difficult’ to extract information from litigants in person, he said.

Any assistance given to unrepresented parties by the judge, the opponents, lawyer, law centre or others, Jones-King said, is just a ‘sticking plaster’, as parties are denied the strategic support provided a lawyer.

What is needed, said the lawyers, is legal advice to focus cases at an early stage.

Emmerson said resources also needed to be out in place to provide out of court settlements, which he said barristers and solicitors are keen to use.

The representative groups expressed concern about the growing trend of commercial McKenzie friends – unqualified, untrained and unregulated advisers who owe no professional duty to the court or the client, and the low number of cases that have been granted exceptional funding.

The representative groups expressed concern about the growing trend of commercial McKenzie friends – unqualified, untrained and unregulated advisers who owe no professional duty to the court or the client, and the low number of cases that have been granted exceptional funding.

Readers' comments (25)

  • As a Sole Practitioner I'm just pleased to be doing my bit through my over regulated, over insured practice to pay for A Business S's, Professional Will Writers and McKenzie friends who don't have to shoulder the administrative and insurance burder that I do on a proportionate basis to do exactly the same work.

    Does anyone have the number for the LPC so that I can perhaps send them some extra wine for their extra long Lunch today ?

    Is Bert the Alert running this September ?

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  • Let's not forget all of the Immigration Advisors and Claims Managers on just about every street corner too.

    What's the point of qualifying throught the LS when they have diluted the value of the legal market beyond recognition ?

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  • .........'Although judges are trained in how to deal with them, it is still ‘unbelievably difficult’ to extract information from litigants in person, he said'..........

    Well maybe they now know what solicitors are for l!!!!!!!!!!!

    LB

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  • My Grandsons case started in the Middlesbrough Magistrates Court in the name of a child initials RB with 4 'expert reports, the case transferred approx 350yds to Middlesbrough Family Court, my Grandsons name changed to initails RBM involved 8 (medical experts) One expert report changed in content and I have a letter, requesting payment from him to the LA via my Grandsons solicitor
    What difference would legal representation have made to stop this practice?

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  • Judges misuse their positions when a case involves litigants in person. They find it easy to get away with it by either depriving the litigants of a fair hearing or by imposing civil restraint orders on them. It is a shame to see all the names of litigants in person publidhed on the MOJ website. It is simple, if judges can't deal eith a LIP's case, they restrain the person to proceed and subsequently,all the senior judges follow the same, no matter whether the case has merits or involves human rights.

    For instance, many judges praised me at many hearings, but they dismissed cases due to civil restraint orders. I even came across judges who pervert the course of justice by encouraging false representations to the court made by authorities. Sometimes, LIP are heard during court holidays so that chosen judges can abuse the process easily.

    However, I was represented by solicitors in the past but they were intimidated and victimised by counsels representing public bodies. I reckon that those judges who campaign against certain litigants in perdon should be reprimanded and questioned as corruption and institutional racism should be abolished once brought to light.

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  • Well those last 3 posts show why representation paid for by the State, if necessary, should be compulsory. Would save time and money.AMR

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  • @ Anonymous 09.22
    And maybe every child put through Family Law Cases shold be known as anonymous, then they could do what they did in my Grandchilds case, accuse innocent families of outragous, unsurvival accussations, then withhold the truth in the childs named medical file by the hospital authority that never wants the truth to be revealed

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  • Anyway, where have all the comments from the Alan Blacker thread gone?

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  • It is known that some lawyers work only for money and they can't argue some sensitive issues. Litigants in person are required in this society to avoid further wastage of public funds and justice to families should be given. I don't think that legal representation should be made compulsory. If judges listen to LIPs without prejudice, this will save more time and money. But in most family cases, judges favour parties with legal representation or public authorities who hire counsels from reputed firms. In this circumstance, the LIPs in family cases are prejudiced, discriminated and unheard.

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  • They're not unheard, it's just that they often don't understand what is relevant and what is irrelevant,lack objectivity and do not know how to prepare or present a case. That is precisely why they need some help from a qualified person.

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