Since legal aid was cut in most family cases in April 2013 there has been a steady rise in people going to Court without a lawyer. Here are some do’s and don’ts for you when you head off to Court on your own.
DO be polite. It seems obvious but when dealing with a stressful situation in a Court environment where you may not have been before, it is very easy to become stressed and emotional, and this can lead us to saying or doing things we had not planned.
DO speak to the other person’s lawyer if they approach you for a chat before going into Court as you may be able to agree some, or, even all, of the reasons why you are in Court. If you can’t agree, at least, you should know the differences.
DO prepare what you want to say for the Court hearing, and any information that the Court requires for the hearing e.g. the Court may have directed that you should prepare a statement setting out your situation, or what you are asking the Court to do. It is important that any requested or relevant information is ready for the Court in order to make progress.
DO ask for permission to take a McKenzie Friend into Court with you if this would make you feel more confident. You should be prepared that there might be an objection to you using a McKenzie Friend. A McKenzie Friend is a lay person who can accompany you into Court and offer you assistance by taking notes or quietly reminding you of a point that is important to you. A McKenzie Friend is not allowed to speak in Court on your behalf unless the Court gives permission. A McKenzie Friend may be a friend of yours but some McKenzie Friends charge a fee.
DO ask if there is a Personal Support Unit (PSU). In some Family Courts there is a PSU based in the building. The PSU is staffed by volunteers. If you have no-one to accompany you to Court, a member of the PSU might be able to help. Before the Court hearing date, why don’t you telephone the Court to find out if there is a PSU, and whether a member is available on the date of the hearing?
DON’T stay silent if you’re not sure of something e.g. a direction the Judge has made. If you are not sure ask the Judge to explain what is expected of you.
These are just a few tips for going to Court on your own. For more information follow the links below: