Legal aid cuts: how to represent yourself in court

November 14, 2013 • Current Affairs, Reader's Corner

Extract from: The Guardian Newspaper. Posted to The Power of Women for benefit of the woman. extracted 10th October 2013.

Legal aid cuts: how to represent yourself in court

Family law, immigration and employment cases are no longer eligible for legal aid. So how can you take on the system alone?

More people than ever in the UK may end up representing themselves in court after cuts to legal aid came into force on 1 April, affecting family law, immigration and employment. In response, the Bar Council has issued a guide to representing yourself, including the advice not to copy TV lawyers because “judges hate it”. If you can’t channel Perry Mason, what can you do to ensure you win your case?

First, get some independent advice, either paying for initial time with a solicitor or through a not-for-profit law centreAdvice UK or the Citizens Advice Bureau. “Solicitors may explain it is a hopeless case, or suggest better ways to resolve it,” says family law barrister Neil Kerr.

Lucy Reed, author of Family Courts Without a Lawyer, suggests ensuring you understand what happens at each stage of the court system. “People sometimes assume a hearing will resolve their case, when it’s actually just to work out what’s going to happen next.”

Research into the area of law your case is based on, and the legal system in general, will also help, says Kerr. As will focusing on dismantling the arguments of the other side, rather than simply attacking them. “Often you get people ranting about their ex, and why they are so terrible. Actually this just annoys the judge.” Instead, try putting yourself in the shoes of the judge, says Reed. “In family cases, people will focus on their right to contact, whereas the judge will focus on what’s in the best interest of the child.”

There is no need to freeze out lawyers from the other side, explains Kerr. “Often people assume that because I am a lawyer I am out to get them and make them agree to something which isn’t in their interest. Actually I am trying to make sure they understand what the hearing is about and see if there is some room for compromise.” Taking along a McKenzie Friend, someone to support you, take notes and calm you down, can also help, says Reed. But choose someone, “neutral who you can trust to say when you are being a little bit stupid, and who can keep their cool.”

Bob Grieg runs two not-for-profit advice websites for single parents, and successfully represented himself when trying to gain custody of his two daughters. He warns that going to court can be emotionally gruelling and bewildering. Without a lawyer on hand it can be hard to see what is important. “There is a lot of anger which comes to the fore when you are fighting for residency of children and it requires wisdom to know what’s best. It’s very hard to find that in the middle of a battle – mums and dads can get blinkered, and children will suffer as a result.

“I got myself a tight circle of mums and dads who I would bounce things off and who could speak to me objectively – family and friends may just tell you what you want to hear.”

Grieg, who has also acted as a McKenzie Friend, says looking after your mental health is important. “If you are getting stressed speak to your doctor and employer and get the help you need.” But his top tips are clear: “When you are asked a question, answer that question. Always be polite and no matter how ugly, always tell the truth.”


Extract from: The Guardian Newspaper. Posted to The Power of Women 

The full article is available on: extracted 10th October 2013.

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