HOW CAN YOUR BARRISTER HELP YOU AS A LITIGANT IN PERSON
GUIDANCE FOR A LITIGANT IN PERSON GOING THROUGH THE COURT PROCESS
RESPONSIBILITY OF A LITIGANT IN PERSON
Important Note: Please note that this information is not intended to be legal advice. You are advised to seek legal advice.
This page provides information to the litigants in person going through the court process; what to expect and who you can bring to court with you.
Going to a Hearing
Taking someone along for moral support is often a good idea. Going to any court can be a daunting experience. You may find it useful to take someone with you – somebody you will be able to talk to whilst waiting, and who can provide some emotional support before and after the hearing.
What you should do when you arrive in court
When you arrive at the court you will need to go through some security, which will involve a look in any bags that you have with you as well as an airport-style metal detector. Once in the court building you should look for, or ask the security guard on the front door, where the ‘Court Lists’ are.
Once you have identified the location of these lists you should look for the list, which has either your case number (which you will be able to find on any letters you have received from the court) or your name. Different courts put different information on their lists; if you have any difficulties finding your case, always ask a member of staff for help.
When you arrive to court you must let the usher know as soon you have arrived in court as they are responsible for making sure that your hearing goes ahead smoothly.
You should inform the usher if you are representing yourself or your represented by your barrister, or if you are bringing a McKenzie Friend into the hearing.
Once you have identified which Court is dealing with your case, you should report to the Usher’s desk to sign in. You will need to tell the Usher who you are, which case you are in and which Court. The Usher will then mark you as being there. If you are representing yourself, ensure you tell the Usher then that you are a litigant in person so that she can help by keeping you informed.
You will then be asked to wait; sometimes a court will have 10-12 items on their list at any one time so it could be a lengthy wait, even if your case is listed for 30 mins. Most hearings for 30 mins, may last the entire morning and in some cases, it may be all day before your case starts.
Don’t be afraid to speak to the other party’s representative
If the other side is represented, their representative should come over to introduce him or herself to you, as this is normal practice as court etiquette and good manners.
Often the legal representative for the other side, will ask you about your position on the issues for the hearing and make some proposals for settlement of the case; this is normal practice. You ought to listen to what they have to say, take notes if this helps but take your time to fully consider the proposals.
Don’t be afraid to ask them for a few minutes to consider what they have said. You should not feel pressured or intimidated by anything a legal representative says to you. If you do not feel that you can accept the proposals and do not wish to negotiate any further you should indicate that to the other side. You can always tell the Judge what you want and your proposal, if you have one.
Going into Court
Once you are called in to see the Judge, ensure that your mobile telephone is switched off.
Depending on the type of hearing the Judge may start by asking questions or may ask one or other parties to speak whether they are represented or not and it is then you should speak.
It is best that you dress smartly for your attendance at Court and have all your papers ready (ensure that you have hard copies for the court).
How to address the Judge
How you address the judge will depend on what kind of judge you are going before:
Magistrates and District Judges should be addressed as Sir or Madam.
Circuit Judges and any higher judge should be addressed as Your Honour.
When the Judge enters the Court you may remain seated unless it is a Circuit Judge or any higher judge in which case you must stand and wait to be given permission to be seated. You should also stand before speaking (unless the Judge tells you that you can remain seated), but you ought to wait for permissions by the Judge before you do anything.
The children’s guardian, if appointed by the court will also make themselves known to you.
The role of a children’s guardian is to act on behalf of a child in Family Court proceedings with the duty of safeguarding the interests of the child.
The court will make a decision about whether a children’s guardian should be appointed and if so, a Cafcass officer will normally be allocated to the role of children’s guardian. They are independent of the courts, Children’s Services and any other person involved in the case as they represent the child.
Speaking in Court
Unlike other courts, the Family Courts are used to dealing with individuals who are representing themselves and the court will be keen ensure that you are comfortable and encourage you to speak in court when it is your turn and allow you the opportunity to put your side forward.
There are sources of help available who can support you during court proceedings. Importantly however, these organisations and individuals are unable to carry out the proceedings on your behalf or to stand up and speak for you in court. It is important that during the hearing you do not interrupt anyone who is speaking and you allow the other party to finish.
If anyone is giving evidence at a hearing, you should not interrupt them or question them unless directed by the court to do so.
Always take a pen and paper with you to make notes, so you have a record of the hearing.
Support Through Court
Family Court Barrister is an avid supporter and sponsor of Support Through Court for litigants in person.
Support Through Court are an excellent service and its priority is to help litigants in person going through the court process.
This is a voluntary organisation, which operates in a number of courts in England & Wales. They provide support and assistance to litigants in person in certain types of court proceedings in England and Wales.
You ought to note that they can assist with completing applications, providing you with support in court; a person who will come into court with you, take notes for you and generally there to help you understand the process. However, it is important for you to understand, that they are not allowed to provide legal advice.
Support in Court are an important source of support to the litigant in person. They can give valuable support to you with assistance with case preparation, advising which forms you need, providing a listening ear and in some cases going into court with you. Their volunteers may also be able to provide details of other organisations who can offer more tailored help and support. You can find more information on their service and how they can help you, visit: https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/.
McKenzie Friend in court
A McKenzie Friend is somebody who accompanies a litigant in person to a court hearing for the purpose of assisting him in such matters as taking notes, helping to organise the documents, and quietly making suggestions – for example, as to questions to put to a witness. Although usually a non-lawyer, the McKenzie friend should not be thought of as a lay advocate and has no automatic right to address the court directly.
There is some information on our website on the roll of McKenzie friends in court.
A McKenzie friend can ask the court to grant him or her a right of audience (means they speak on your behalf in court) which will allow him or her to appear before the judge, address the court and call and examine witnesses. There are very strict rules in place, which regulate the exercise of the right of audience. It is a criminal offence for a person to exercise a right of audience or a right to conduct litigation without the appropriate permissions.
The court can limit the involvement of a McKenzie friend if, for example, the McKenzie friend is only serving his own interests, or acts in a manner unreasonable or disruptive to the court or where a McKenzie friend effectively controls the litigation. A court can ban a McKenzie friend from acting in future if appropriate.
Some professional McKenzie friends charge a fee for their service, it is very important to do thorough research before deciding to appoint a McKenzie friend.
Cross Examination at Fact Finding/Final Hearing
Parties can question any person giving evidence in the witness box and the court will invite you to do so, when it is your turn to do so.
In some cases, the court may have directed you to send in written questions to the court before the hearing and the Judge will put those questions on your behalf to the witness.
Always remember that whilst you can ask questions, you must do so in a proper manner and not argue with the witness.
Witness’ oral evidence is usually heard at a Final or Fact-finding Hearing and is when you will be able to question the other side and also question the witness on a statement or piece of evidence in the court bundle.
At a fact-finding hearing or a final hearing, you ought also to be ready to be cross-examined by the other side on your evidence and the evidence in the court bundle.
Where can I find further guidance?
The Bar Council, CILEX and Law Society have produced guidance for litigants in person.
Any attendance at court can be very stressful and daunting.Your barrister can provide guidance or indeed represent you if you feel you need assistance.
Chambers of Helen Alexander-Direct Public Access-Family Court Barrister