More than half of all the parties to going to court to resolve issues about their children are doing so without the help of a lawyer, according to recent figures from the Ministry of Justice. These same figures also show that the number is growing rapidly as changes to the availability of legal aid in divorce and children cases begin to bite following their introduction in April 2013. This year as many as 50,000 parents a year could be faced with going to court and representing themselves as ‘litigants in person’ - up from 30,000 the year before.
Many of those involved in family disputes will have little knowledge of what to expect when they get to court and understandably feel stressed by the whole process. So, to help, Lucy Reed and a team of volunteers have produced a series of 3 short videos giving practical advice on preparing for a first court hearing, what happens when you get there, and how a court hearing works. Lucy, is an experienced family barrister from St John’s Chambers in Bristol and the author of The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person, realised the need for this type of freely accessible help is more pressing than ever:
"In 2011 when I first wrote the handbook for litigants in person, the majority of people involved in family court disputes still had a lawyer. Since then legal aid in this area has been withdrawn and the majority are on their own. Representing yourself in court is way outside most people’s comfort zone but it is relatively easy to make it more manageable through a little bit of practical guidance and by helping people get to grips with what to expect. These videos don’t make relationship breakdown any less stressful and don’t contain any law, but they aim to reassure litigants who feel like they are going into the great unknown at the start of a court case. Whilst it is no substitute for legal advice or representation, a bit of practical preparation means that a litigant can focus on the actual issues affecting their family rather being distracted by practical trivia like finding the court or what to call the judge.
After over a decade at the bar I’m used to addressing a judge but I still remember how frightening it was doing it for the first time. And having been a litigant in person myself I know how much more difficult it is to stay on track when the case is about things that are upsetting. Even though I’m used to making speeches in court, the experience of making these videos and of having to deliver my lines in front of the camera in front of other people was surprisingly intimidating – it was a good reminder for me of how scary it can be to do something new. If we hadn't planned the making of the videos carefully in advance it would have been even more stressful. That’s really what these videos are about – a bit of planning can make a stressful experience more manageable."
The 3 videos are available to view for free on YouTube and can be embedded or used by anyone who thinks them useful under a Creative Commons licence.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information request by Marc Lopatin, a lawyer mediator. You can read more on his blog - http://lawyersupportedmediation.com/blog-posts/parent-shun-mediation-courts
2. The changes referred to were introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which came into force on 1 April 2013. The Act removed access to legal aid for all cases involving disputes over residence and contact with children following relationship breakdown (known as private children law proceedings) and for financial remedy cases after divorce, except where there is specified evidence of domestic violence or of child abuse. As of 22 April 2014 “residence” and “contact” orders have been replaced with a new order called a “child arrangements order”.
3. The series of 3 videos - roughly 30 minutes long in total - are available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/nofamilylawyer - or via the website accompanying the book - www.nofamilylawyer.co.uk. The website provides a library of additional resources such as template documents and links to helpful legal information and support services.
4.Lucy is a prominent legal blogger in the field of family law and her established blog Pink Tape won the Jordans Family Law Readers Commentary Award in 2012. Lucy has appeared several times on radio and television discussing issues around family law and litigants in person. You can read more about her on the nofamilylawyer website or on Pink Tape http://pinktape.co.uk.
5. A new edition of The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person will be published by the end of May. It is has been updated to cover the legal aid changes described above together with the introduction of new court procedures for the new single Family Court and implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014 and Crime and Courts Act 2013.
6. Book Details
- The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person (2nd edition)
- Publication due May 2014
- Price £30
- Print edition: Paperback, 400 pages approx ISBN 978-0956777423
- Digital edition: PDF, can be read on any device or reader software compatible with Adode DRM
- Published by Bath Publishing Ltd - www.bathpublishing.com.
7. The 1st edition was well received and reviewed widely including on The Guardian website who said
“The straightforward style of this book, its tone of encouragement, and its plain English approach to family law – including a "jargon buster" section — are among its strengths. Reed does not talk down to her readers — she is with them every step of the way.”
8. Any enquiries, in the first instance, please contact the publisher, David Chaplin, on 01225 577810 or firstname.lastname@example.org