A non-English-speaking litigant in person attending the final hearing in a child abduction case was given more than 100 pages of legal documents at the door of the court, a High Court judgment has revealed.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson, sitting in the Family Division of the High Court, said the occurrence, which was not unusual, called for a remedy.
According to the judgment, the mother removed a teenager from a Hague Convention country to England in February. In March, proceedings were launched by the father.
At a hearing in May, where the father was represented by counsel and the mother appeared in person without an interpreter, directions were given for a two-day final hearing to take place in July. These included standard directions for the filing of statements and a Cafcass report. The parties were to attend and interpreters to be provided.
No direction for timely service of documents was given on the mother.
The father’s position statement was emailed by counsel at 6pm on the day before the final hearing to the clerk of the court, with an apology for its lateness. A file containing the position statement and four law reports were provided at 10am the following day.
The judgment states that, at the same time, a copy was given to the mother and her husband, who had travelled several hundred miles to attend.
The judgment also states that where one party is represented and the other is a litigant in person, the court should normally direct as a matter of course that the practice direction documents should be served on the LiP at least three days before the final hearing, especially where the LiP is not fluent in English.
Jackson said: ‘Court hearings are already difficult for LIPs, but many, being inexperienced, are hesitant to complain about matters such as late service.’
Late service of documents may further weaken the LIP’s position by removing any opportunity they may have to seek advice and explanation ahead of the hearing from those who may be more familiar with the system and the language, Jackson added.
Time was wasted before the hearing could begin, with the mother studying the documents with the help of the court-appointed interpreter, according to the judgment.
Jackson said there are minimum service requirements that should be adapted in individual cases to protect the rights of litigants in person.
He added: ‘The need for earlier preparation and service places obligations on advocates and those who instruct them, but that is necessary to prevent the intrinsic unfairness to LIPs that may arise from late service.’