A Court of Appeal judge has spoken of the ‘infinitely more difficult’ task of dealing with litigants in person in the family court.
Giving judgment in a care and placement order for four children in Stockport, where the mother was unrepresented, Lady Justice Black (pictured) said the case was ‘illustrative of an increasing problem’ faced by the court.
She said more and more litigants are representing themselves, requiring all involved in the appeal process to ‘take on burdens that they would not normally have to bear’.
Black, sitting in Manchester County Court last month, said in future it should be standard practice for the local authority involved in a case to supply extra bundles where the litigant in person has failed to.
‘The court has no extra resources to respond to these added challenges,’ she said.
‘If [the court] is to be able to deal properly with an appeal in care proceedings, and to do so speedily, then local authorities will have to expect to assist by ensuring that the court is provided with appeal bundles.’
Black said everyone involved in public and private law children cases is trying to achieve the best result for the children’s welfare, but without legal representatives for all parties ‘that task is infinitely more difficult’.
The issue of litigants in person has been widely discussed since the cuts to legal aid in 2013 and last month’s reforms of the family justice system.
The Law Society has warned that the reforms that the changes are undermined by legal aid cuts and will increase the number of litigants in person and add to delays.
In her judgment, Lady Justice Black explained why an appeal against care orders made last August had been granted permission at a subsequent hearing overseen by Lewison LJ.
Lewison had stated that the original judge had not dealt with ‘less draconian outcomes’ than the orders that were made, and had not taken account of a similar case in Essex in July.
But Black offered sympathy for the judge, adding: ‘It is only fair to observe that 2013 was a year of upheaval for family law and I have no doubt at all that keeping abreast of developments must have been very difficult indeed for practitioners and judges alike.’