A case involving Litigants in Person (LiP) that has been in progress for almost ten years has highlighted the problems with individuals representing themselves in court. Appeal judge Lady Justice King has since called for extra powers to resolve the issue of litigants in person who inundate the courts with emails, applications and cross-applications, and stricter penalties for those who ignore requests to desist.
The case, Agarwala v Agarwala, which has been ongoing since 2007 and concerns a dispute between two family members, was described as ‘tortuous’ by Lady Justice King after the court was ‘bombarded’ with communications from the LIPs, making it ‘nearly impossible to case manage effectively’.
“Neither the judge nor the court staff can, or should, be expected to field communications of this type,’ King stated. ‘In my view judges must be entitled, as part of their general case management powers, to put in place, where they feel it to be appropriate, strict directions regulating communications with the court and litigants should understand that failure to comply with such directions will mean that communications that they choose to send, notwithstanding those directions, will be neither responded to nor acted upon.”
The delays and challenges faced by both LiPs and the court in this case demonstrate the shortcomings of self-representation in family law. Cuts to legal aid have seen a sharp rise in people representing themselves in court, many of whom without adequate support, putting severe stress on both the family courts and the litigants themselves.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizen’s Advice has raised concerns about the effects of untrained LiPs attempting to handle their own legal issues: “For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload can be unmanageable. The demands of going to court without legal representation can put people’s jobs and health at risk.”
It is always advisable to seek professional legal advice before embarking on the legal process of separation, and there are several out-of-court methods of dispute resolution that allow couples to reach a settlement with the assistance of a mediator or family lawyer. Alternatives to court divorce – such as mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law – provide all the benefits of the support of an experienced legal professional while reducing the impact and pressure on both the litigants and the family courts. Furthermore, mediation has been shown to be an extremely effective method of separation for couples with children, and is often cheaper and faster than ‘traditional’ techniques.
For more information on the options for separation please get in touch with the family law team at Frances Lindsay & Co. We offer expert legal services across the Thames Valley, including Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Henley, Maidenhead, Marlow and Windsor. Visit www.franceslindsay.co.uk for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01628 634667.