A judge in the Court of Appeal has labelled the number of people representing themselves in court “an increasing problem”.
Lady Justice Black made the remarks during her judgment of Re R (A Child) at Manchester County Court.
In that case, a mother was appealing against a care order made concerning her four children after an initial hearing ruled she could not “provide the children with consistent emotional care”.
The mother was a ‘litigant-in-person’, meaning she was representing herself in court instead of having a professional solicitor.
The judge remarked that such practise was becoming more common in family law cases.
“Where, as here, the appellant is unrepresented, this requires all those involved in the appeal process to take on burdens that they would not normally have to bear.”
“The court office finds itself having to attempt to make sure that the parties to the litigation are notified of the appeal because litigants in person do not always know who should be served.”
“The court has no extra resources to respond to these added challenges. It needs to be understood that the file from the lower court is not available to the appeal court which is dependent on the papers supplied for the appeal by the parties.”
Lady Justice Black also mentioned that when someone represented themselves, it usually fell to the court to explain which grounds for appeal could be advanced and to assemble the proper documents.
She added it should be the responsibility of local authorities to assist people in such matters.
“It is so frequently the case that the papers supplied by [people representing themselves] are deficient that it should be standard practice for the local authority to take steps itself, well in advance of the hearing, to consider the appellant’s proposed bundle and, if it is deficient or apparently non-existent, to contact the court to see whether it is necessary to supply alternative or supplementary bundles.”
The judge went on to call the process of achieving the best possible result for the children involved in cases like this one was “infinitely more difficult” without legal representatives for all parties.
In Re R (A Child), Lady Justice Black ruled to allow the mother’s appeal, saying there was “a deficiency in the [original] judgment which undermines the judge’s welfare decision fatally”.