The pitfalls of self-representation

Child related issues

posted: 21st May 2018

Many people find themselves pondering the question of whether or not they should instruct a solicitor in family law matters. Frequent considerations are whether the costs of a solicitor are affordable, are you able to get any support from other people; are matters being dealt with outside of court or within the court arena? do you need to instruct a barrister? Etc.

Instructing a solicitor can be a daunting process however at PMC Family Law solicitors, we ensure that we are sensitive to our client’s emotions whilst being proactive in bringing about as cost effective and fair resolution as possible.

Recently, District Judge Read sitting in Middlesbrough Family Court presided over the case of JY –v- RY. This case concerned the Father, JY applying for a Child Arrangements Order in February 2017 setting out the time he can spend with his daughter. Contact was suspended by the Mother due to various allegations she had raised including assault, aggressive, abusive and threatening behaviour. The Mother’s allegations were set out in a schedule which was considered by the Court at a finding of fact hearing.

Both parents represented themselves as they could not afford legal representation.

The first hearing was listed for the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment in April 2017 however this was adjourned twice due to the Mother not attending the same. Further hearings took place at which directions were ordered by the Court to include the filing of police disclosure.

As the parties were unrepresented, the Court staff were asked to obtain police disclosure and prepare court bundles. Unfortunately the courts are inundated with work and further delays ensued due to not receiving the police disclosure and the bundles not being prepared.

Once the police disclosure was finally received, the Court requested that both parties prepare questions they wished the Judge to ask the other at the finding of fact hearing. A finding of fact hearing is where the Judge considers all of the evidence in the case and all parties are cross examined on the same. The Judge then makes a decision on the balance of probabilities as to whether the allegations should be found as fact by the Court or not.

In this case it was necessary that a finding of fact hearing was conducted to determine the allegations set out by the Mother and to enable Cafcass to consider the next steps required for the Father to spend time with his daughter.

The Judge presiding over this case raised numerous concerns in respect of the procedure and general running of this matter and went on to state he was in “little doubt that had one or both of these parents been represented, the finding of fact process and probably the outcome would have been very different”.

The Judge drew attention to the fact that neither parent was represented within the case and was not eligible for Legal Aid. As neither parent was represented it fell on the Court staff to prepare court bundles and obtain police disclosure. The bundles were not compliant with the necessary practice direction and police disclosure was delayed.

The Judge stated “the lack of legal representation gravely affected the fairness and efficiency of the process of questioning both parents”. This is because the Judge is to remain impartial within the proceedings acting as an adversarial. It is the role of the parties’ legal representation to present the court with the relevant facts to ensure time is not wasted and the process runs as efficiently as possible.

Overall, the Judge expressed concerns in respect of fairness, delays, expense, and wasted court time and painful for the participants.

In respect of this case, the court has to determine ‘what extent the Father should engage in further work, and/or to what extent his time with the daughter should be supervised’. The matter was listed for a further hearing that Cafcass were required to attend, having discussed the findings with the parties and having provided the court with their recommendations. Unfortunately, Cafcass did not attend and the matter has once again been adjourned.

Having representation can also act as a support system for clients. You are able to express your concerns, wishes and feelings openly throughout. At each stage of the process matters will be explained fully and negotiations entered into on your behalf.

Whilst we cannot control the court itself or indeed the court process, here at PMC Family Law, we ensure all of our clients are provided with the best service and that matters are dealt with in a time efficient and effective manner.

If you would like to book your free initial consultation please do not hesitate to contact us on 0151 375 9968 or email .

By: Lindsey Potter - Paralegal