Going to court without a lawyer?
Going to court without a lawyer? What ‘Litigants in Person’ need to know.
Litigants in Person
If you are going to court without a lawyer, you are what is known as a Litigant in Person. These notes are to help you understand what to expect, and what not to expect, from the lawyer representing the other side.
- You should be treated with courtesy and respect by the other side’s lawyer. Likewise, you should treat them and their staff with courtesy and respect.
- If you telephone the lawyer, they may not always be available to take or return your call straight away and it may not always be appropriate for the lawyer to speak to you directly (for example if they are a barrister) although in that event you should expect to be told who you should speak to instead.
- It is always better to put any proposals in writing. Keep a copy for yourself. You should receive replies in writing. The lawyer will need enough time to take their client’s (the other side’s) instructions before they reply to you.
- Any letters that you receive from the lawyer should, wherever possible, avoid jargon. If you do not understand something, do not be afraid to ask them to explain it.
- If you send any documents to the court for the judge to see you should also send a copy to the other side’s lawyer. They are entitled to see anything that the judge will see. Whenever the lawyer writes to the court, they should send a copy to you.
- The lawyer cannot give you legal or tactical advice but can explain the court procedures to you.
The lawyer should use plain language in court. If you do not understand anything that is said in court do not be afraid to ask the lawyer or the judge to explain it.
- It is not unusual for those who are involved in a case to have discussions outside court before going before the judge. These discussions can be helpful in clarifying what is already agreed and narrowing down the issues that the judge needs to decide. They are designed to be positive and not to cause you to feel under any pressure. A note may be taken in court by the lawyer or a more junior member of their team. This is not intended to intimidate you.
- Remember that the lawyer has a professional duty to their own client to present their client’s case and to follow their client’s instructions. Any work undertaken by a lawyer is at the expense of their client and there may, for this reason, be a limit on the number of telephone calls or letters and emails that they are able to make or to which they can respond.
- When the court makes its decision it will usually ask a party who has a lawyer acting to draw up the necessary court order. When the court makes an order, both you and the other side’s lawyers need to be clear about what the order requires each of you to do. The other side’s lawyer will draft the order for the judge and will send you a copy so that you can inform the judge if there are any parts of the order that you think do not reflect what the court decided.
In the family courts, there is a presumption in favour of permitting a Litigant in Person to have reasonable assistance from a lay person, sometimes called a McKenzie Friend (MF). Litigants assisted by MFs remain Litigants in Person. The court’s permission for the assistance of an MF must be sought.
What McKenzie Friends may do:
- provide moral support for litigants;
- take notes;
- help with case papers; and
- quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case.
What McKenzie Friends may not do:
Without the court’s leave, MFs have no right to speak in court or to carry out the conduct of litigation. It is a criminal offence to address the court on behalf of another or to conduct litigation unless authorised to do so by an appropriate regulatory body or with the leave of the court;
Without the court’s leave, MFs may not:
- act on behalf of the litigant in court;
- manage the litigant’s case outside court, for example by signing court documents; or
- address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses.
Help for Litigants in Person
Advice Now ‘Going to Court’ leaflets: www.advicenow.org.uk
Ministry of Justice Guide: https://www.gov.uk/represent-yourself-in-court
Personal Support Unit: www.thepsu.org/contact-us
Citizens Advice: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Courts Service (addresses/maps/some practice directions): www.hmcourtsservice.gov.uk
CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services) : www.cafcass.gov.uk
Child maintenance options (information on child maintenance and how LiPs can sort it out by agreement): www.cmoptions.org
Family mediation and to find the nearest mediation service: www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk