Be welcoming to litigants in person, Judges told

Family Law | 7 Mar 2018 4

Judges must treat unrepresented litigants in person fairly and not class them as a problem to be resented, a new guidebook has stressed.

The latest edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the Judicial College, provides detailed guidance on a wide range of social issues, outlining the ways in which the representatives of different groups can be disadvantaged and experience prejudice, including Muslims, Jewish people, the physically and mentally disabled, transgender individuals and black and minority ethnic (BAME) people.

But chapter one is devoted in its entirety to “Litigants in Person and Lay Representatives”. The latter term refers to courtroom advisors who are not legally qualified, such as McKenzie Friends.

Amongst the guidance offered to judges presiding over cases featuring litigants in person are the use of plain English, preferring, for example, the use of names instead of dry terminology like ‘respondents’. In addition, the guidance suggests, commonly used terms like ‘trial bundle’ should be defined.

Judges are advised to show consideration to litigants in person, given them a reasonable opportunity to present their case, and to try and avoid saying things that make them feel excluded.

“A thoughtless comment, throwaway remark, unwise joke or even facial expression may confirm or create an impression of prejudice.”

Unrepresented litigants should not, it stresses, “be seen as an unwelcome problem for the court or tribunal”

The book stresses that increasing numbers of litigants in person are now appearing before judges thanks to the drastic cuts in legal aid introduced in recent years. Their numbers will only continue to rise, the authors insist.

The Judicial College is the organisation through which the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals deliver training material to the judiciary of England and Wales. Lady Justice Rafferty DBE chairs the college. The new publication was intended, she explained, to help ensure that people left court “conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal”.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book is available here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

Share This Post...

Get in touch

    Request Free Call Back

    We remain open for business during the COVID-19 outbreak. Submit your details below, and we’ll arrange a free, no-obligation call back at a time to suit you. To ensure we are the right fit, we need to make you aware that we cannot offer Legal aid.


    1. Dr Manhattan says:

      only time will tell if this is to be adhered to by the hardened and in many cases prejudiced judges of today. old habits die hard dont they!

    2. Fed Up With "Justice" says:

      I do NOT think the judge in my case was at all “welcoming” — more like I was an “irritant”, someone to be disposed with, as soon as possible, while the OS, of course, got more or less everything they wanted.

      That could have been because they, being lawyers, knew their way around the system — but as a solitary LiP, I got practically no help at all.

      I was not even informed of something so simple that it would have taken just five SECONDS to say it. After saying at the end, that my appeal out of time was dismissed, and she “WASN’T going to give me leave to appeal” — she did not inform me that I could, in fact, appeal THAT decision! With the result, when I much later found out that I COULD have, it was already WELL “out of time”.

      So no, on each and every occasion I appeared in court as an LiP (a total of four) I did NOT leave feeling, “conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal.”

      As far as I was concerned (and of course nobody else was there to see it) true justice was never done — and faced with such insuperable odds, I finally just had to give up.

      But if this sort of thing is being repeated throughout the system (including other countries where similar laws apply) then we are (not) going to _see_ increasing MISCARRIAGES of justice.

      Because the lawyers representing the OS are not going to complain — are they?

      And when the petitioner has been excused from attendance each and every time, as my ex was, they are the only OTHERS there! Even if the judges “believe” they are being fair, there is really little that can be done to prevent unconscious biases creeping in.

      And the judge in the case, getting away with it.

      • Dr Manhattan says:

        So true,
        ive heard it over and over again, there is no Justice in the Family courts.
        and thats because they dont go by the same code as the Criminal courts. they operate on word of mouth and second hand evidence and there is no Jury.
        the Family courts should be scrapped and all cases dealt with by the Criminal courts where real justice will be done. Hopefully!

    3. Fed Up With "Justice" says:

      From the “Equal Treatment Bench Book”, which generated this blog item, and which I have now taken a look at:

      “All too often the litigant in person is regarded as a problem for judges and for the court system rather than a person for whom the system of civil justice exists’. (Lord Woolf, Access to Justice, Interim Report June 1995.)

      ‘It is curious that lay litigants have been regarded… as problems, almost as nuisances for the court system.This has meant that the focus has generally been upon the difficulties that litigants in person pose for the courts rather than the other way around’. (Prof. John Baldwin, ‘Monitoring the Rise of the Small Claims Limit’.)

      Absolutely — and seeing that some in the upper echelons of the judiciary apparently do recognise the problem and have spoken out against it — I am encouraged, and thus begin to wonder again if there is SOMETHING one can still do to continue trying to show up our system for just how subversive it can be… It is certainly far from “impeccable” — since it continues to deliver “justice” that leaves so many people feeling angry, embittered — and deeply frustrated.

      Because, as indicated in my earlier comment, for a lone LiP, with just the JUDGE and the lawyer(s) for the OS there — WHO is there to bear “witness” to what really went on, under a possibly biased JUDGE?! There are NO reporters, no friends or relatives allowed in — not even for moral support, as in a Small Claims Court. It can often seem like a two way battle — HER lawyers and the judge (both of whom speak the legal lingo fluently) — against YOU.

      Unless you are VERY sure of yourself (and what LiP really is, when you could be shivering in your shoes, for FEAR of “upsetting” the judge — and “canning” your case?!) you haven’t a snowflake’s chance in hell of even politely challenging him or her.

      Because, from the time you bowed when the judge entered the courtroom, you know full well that if you press too hard, and you “piss them off” in some way — you can look probably forward to a charge of “contempt of court”!

      At the very least, you are unlikely to win your case.

    Leave a Reply


    Newsletter Sign Up

    For all the latest news from Stowe Family law
    please sign up for instant access today.

      Privacy Policy