This page provides information and advice on going through the court process yourself, explaining what to expect and who you can bring to court with you.
Going to a Hearing
Going to any court can be a daunting experience for anybody. You may find it useful to take someone with you – somebody you will be able to talk to whilst waiting, and who can provide some emotional support before and after the hearing.
When you arrive at the court you will need to go through some security, which will involve a look in any bags that you have with you as well as an airport style metal detector. Once in the court building you should look for, or ask the security guard on the front door, where the ‘Court Lists’ are.
Once you have identified the location of these lists you should look for the list which has either your case number (which you will be able to find on any letters you have received from the court) or your name. Different courts put different information on their lists, if you have any difficulties finding your case ask a member of staff for help.
Once you have identified which Court / Judge is dealing with your case, you should report to the Usher’s desk to sign in. You will need to tell the Usher who you are, which case you are in and which Court. The Usher will then mark you as being there. If you are representing yourself, you should tell the Usher then that you are a litigant in person.
You will be then asked to wait; sometimes a District Judge will have 10-12 items on their list at any one time so it could be a lengthy wait. If the other side is represented, their representative may come over to introduce themselves. They may also make some proposals for settlement, in which case, listen to what they have to say, take notes if this helps. Ask them if you can have a few minutes to consider what they have said. You should not feel pressured or intimidated by anything a legal representative says to you.
If you do not feel that you can accept the proposals and do not wish to negotiate any further you should indicate that to the other side. Once you are called in to see the Judge, ensure that your mobile telephone is switched off. Depending on the type of hearing the judge may start by asking questions or may ask one or other parties to speak whether they are represented or not. It is best that you dress smartly for your attendance at Court. How you address the judge will depend on what kind of judge you are going before:
Magistrates and District Judges should be addressed as Sir or Madam.
Circuit Judges and any higher judge should be addressed as Your Honour.
When the Judge enters the Court you may remain seated unless it is a Circuit Judge or any higher judge in which case you must stand and wait to be given permission to be seated. You should also stand before speaking and wait for permissions by the Judge before you do anything.
Unlike other courts, the Family Courts are used to dealing with individuals representing
themselves. If you are representing yourself you are known as a litigant in person. Just
because you are ‘in person’ does not mean you have to be alone.
There are sources of help available who can support you during court proceedings. Importantly however, these organisations and individuals are unable to carry out the proceedings on your behalf or to stand up and speak for you in court. It is important that during the hearing you do not interrupt anyone who is speaking and you allow them to finish.
If anyone is giving evidence at a hearing, you should not question them unless directed.
We would suggest taking a pen and paper with you to make notes.
The court will have to make a decision whether you are able to represent yourself without having somebody to assist you (a litigation friend). If the court needs more evidence about your capacity it can direct that your GP, consultant, psychiatrist or adult social services produce a report for the court. This will set out whether you have litigation capacity as set out in sections 2 and 3 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
For more information on litigation friends see the government page on this.
Personal Support Unit (PSU)
This voluntary organisation operates in a number of courts in England & Wales. They provide support and assistance to unrepresented individuals involved in certain types of court proceedings in England and Wales. Importantly, the PSU are unable to give legal advice. They can, however, give valuable support in case preparation, advising which forms you need, providing a listening ear and in some cases going into court with you. Their volunteers may also be able to provide details of other organisations who can offer more tailored help and support. For more information see www.thepsu.org.
A McKenzie Friend is somebody who accompanies a litigant in person to a court hearing for the purpose of assisting him in such matters as taking notes, helping to organise the documents, and quietly making suggestions – for example, as to questions to put to a witness. Although usually a non-lawyer, the McKenzie friend should not be thought of as a lay advocate and has no automatic right to address the court directly.
There is some Joint Practice Guidance for courts on how to handle McKenzie friends in court.
A McKenzie friend can ask the court to grant him or her a right of audience which will allow him or her to appear before the judge, address the court and call and examine witnesses. There are very strict rules in place which regulate the exercise of the right of audience. It is a criminal offence for a person to exercise a right of audience or a right to conduct litigation without the appropriate permissions.
The court can limit the involvement of a McKenzie friend if, for example, the McKenzie friend is only serving his own interests, or acts in a manner unreasonable or disruptive to the court or where a McKenzie friend effectively controls the litigation. A court can ban a McKenzie friend from acting in future if appropriate.
Some professional McKenzie friends charge a fee for their service, it is very important to do thorough research before deciding to appoint a McKenzie friend.
The court will give directions on preparing the bundle for the court. A bundle is an information pack containing all of the relevant information and evidence to the case which is referred to during proceedings. The bundle ordinarily should be set out as below:
- preliminary documents such as a summary of the background to the case which will be relevant to the next hearing, a statement of the issues to be dealt with in this hearing and in the final hearing, a statement from each party about what they are seeking, a timeline of events in the case, written arguments, list of essential reading and the time estimate for the case.
- applications to the court and orders made.
- statements (see below – Position Statement).
- expert and CAFCASS reports.
- any other relevant documents.
The most usual type of evidence the court will ask you to provide is a statement. This is a document setting out what you position is in relation to the matters in dispute, any relevant background information, any relevant facts that the court should consider when making an order and your proposals for the arrangements for the child(ren). It should set out the order or directions you would like at that hearing and at the final hearing.
In your statement you should:
- note the name of the case and the case number
- state your full name and address
- be set out with numbered paragraphs on numbered pages
- end with the statement “I believe the facts stated in this witness statement are true”
- sign and date the statement.
There is an example of how to set out a statement here.
You can only file a statement if directed to by the Judge. If you wish to present further evidence you will need to ask permission of the court. The court will set a deadline for the statement of evidence to be sent to the court, to CAFCASS and to the other parties. The court will also specify how long the statements should be (e.g. no more than 5 A4 pages long in font 12pt and 1.5 line spacing). You can include additional evidence as part of your statement so long as you refer to it in your statement and add an exhibit sheet. Please see the example at the end of this guide. Ordinarily, you will not be allowed to give oral evidence at a hearing if you do not send the statement in to the court by the deadline.
If at any time you are required to give oral evidence you will be asked to step into the witness box. There you will be asked whether you wish to swear or affirm. If you wish to swear you can do so on one of a number of Holy Books. You will also be asked to confirm that the information contained within your statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief.
The Practice Direction 27A contains more information on this.
This mainly happens at a Final or Fact-finding Hearing and is when you will be able to question the other side or a witness on a statement or piece of evidence. At this sort of Hearing you may also be cross examined by the other side on your evidence.
Where can I find further guidance?
The Bar Council, CILEX and Law Society have produced guidance for lawyers who face litigants in person which also includes notes for litigants in person which can be accessed here.
Judges have also created a Handbook for Litigants in Person.