Growing number of unrepresented parents appear in court with less stress with help of new video

The number of parents representing themselves in a child custody or divorce case has increased from 30,000 last year to 50,000 this year. In fact, as per findings from the Ministry of Justice, more than 50% do not have legal representation and this figure continues to climb. This is a direct result of the amendments made in April 2013 that have affected the accessibility of legal counsel.

This year as many as 50,000 parents could be faced with going to court and representing themselves as ‘litigants in person, up from 30,000 last year.

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 Since then legal aid in this area has been withdrawn and the majority are on their own.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.

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