The help provided by the government for litigants in person is “sadly inadequate”, according to the President of the Family Division.
Sir James Munby has called the family justice system “over-complicated” and that the government faces a “massive challenge” to provide people with the information they need to navigate it.
These comments came in the President’s foreword to the latest edition of legal guide The Family Court without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person. In it, Sir James praised the Family Justice Council for its “valuable work in providing user-friendly literature for litigants in person” but criticised the efforts of the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Family Procedure Rule Committee on this issue.
He wrote that the current “practices and procedures are designed for … a family justice system where the typical litigant has legal representation”. However he explained that “across vast swathes of the family justice system, the typical litigant now has no legal representation”.
As the Family Procedure Rules are written with lawyers in mind, litigants in person can find them “unintelligible” and “largely inaccessible” Sir James claimed. While he believed these issues would eventually be rectified, he wrote that it may not be for some time because of the “traditional snail’s pace of legal reform in this country”.
Lucy Reed, author of the handbook, told Solicitors Journal that while it would be preferable “for everyone to have access to a lawyer and for those lawyers to retrain ourselves to speak plain English, such aspirations are of no help to those without lawyers”.