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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Litigants in Person: what’s the problem?


People do seem to be getting up-tight about litigants in person all of a sudden.

A litigant in person is an individual not represented in court by a solicitor or barrister. In effect, they represent themselves, though they may often be advised by a third party, like a McKenzie friend to help them prepare and lead them through the proceedings. This route can also be used alongside the services of a solicitor.

The prediction is that more and more people will be representing themselves in court as family law reforms see Legal Aid withdrawn for thousands of people in divorce proceedings.

This week, rather poetically I thought, the Law Society warned that the result of more litigants in person could see courts 'thronged by countless individuals unable to have a lawyer, like a scene from Pickwick Papers'. This could come to pass if the Government pushed ahead without properly looking into the consequences of the reforms. You can read the Law Society’s Gazette report here.

The Government’s own analysis suggests the number of family cases funded by Legal Aid will reduce by 53,000. This does not mean divorces will drop by this much. People will simply find other ways to navigate the divorce process without the specialist legal help they should really have. Litigants in person can help fill some of that gap. Personally, I have no problem with that. I do not foresee some sort of Dickensian mob besieging our courts,

I can see that litigants in person might delay some cases but surely the more people are really involved in their cases the better? People can and should be able to choose whether to use a lawyer or not. However, I do feel uncomfortable about people who want a lawyer being denied one by reason of their financial standing.

Maybe there should be a tax upon the very large law firms which make millions of pounds, so that the less moneyed people can have the advice they need? I can’t see that idea holding much water in the upper echelons of the industry (upper in terms of size and status, not necessarily in terms of quality of service and putting the client first)

In some instances, I actually think that dealing with litigants in person could be easier than dealing with lawyers who are not very good or not specialist family lawyers.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor


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Thanks for sharing - it is interesting to see this perception that litigants in person, even with McKenzie friends, can never represent themselves properly in court. They may do, and indeed, may do a better job than an average solicitor, but it is absolutely right that an experienced family law solicitor will usually do a great job for their client. Best,…

By Edinburgh Family Solicitors on Friday February 4, 2011

Well said Andrew!  I work with lots of litigants in person and several have done better by themselves having sacked their lawyers.  Though instructing the right solicitor in the first place would have been even better - how do we get them to do that?
Diana Jordan, Dealing with Divorce…

By Diana Jordan on Wednesday February 9, 2011

I have asked, in the past, for a Government requirement for accredited family lawyers to be the only lawyers allowed to deal with divorce cases. Certainly we train all our lawyers on the “soft” skills that are so important. I think recent proposals to publish client complaints about their lawyers will help. Apart from that I think law firms who think they are the “right solicitor” can keep on campaigning and educating….

By Andrew Woolley on Monday February 14, 2011

What do you think?

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