Munby P: Government support for LiPs 'sadly inadequate'
Family court procedures and rules are unintelligible to litigants in person
The government's support for litigants in person in the family courts has been 'sadly inadequate' up until now, the president of the family division has said.
Writing the foreword in the latest edition of The Family Court without a Lawyer - A Handbook for Litigants in Person, Sir James Munby said the family justice system faced a 'massive challenge' to ensure LiPs are given the help they need to navigate an 'over-complicated 'system''.
'The Family Justice Council has done valuable work in providing user-friendly literature for litigants in person, but otherwise the work thus far undertaken by government '“ whether the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, or the Family Procedure Rule Committee '“ has been sadly inadequate.'
He continued: 'At present our practices and procedures are designed for '“ assume '“ a family justice system where the typical litigant has legal representation, whereas the reality is that, across vast swathes of the family justice system, the typical litigant now has no legal representation.'
As a consequence, he said, practices, procedures, and rules designed for lawyers are 'largely inaccessible' and 'unintelligible' to LiPs.
'The Family Procedure Rules are a monument to a certain traditional style of legal drafting but are no more useful or intelligible to the litigant than the tax statutes are to the taxpayer,' he added. 'And most court forms are little better.'
Munby P said that over time these 'serious blots' on the family justice system will be remedied, but given the 'traditional snail's pace of legal reform in this country', for now, it is the voluntary sector and family lawyers such as the handbook's author, Lucy Reed, that the family justice system must continue to look to.
Reed, a family law barrister St John's Chambers, told Solicitors Journal she identified the struggle of LiPs in 2008 when writing the first edition of her book.
'Although the ideal would be 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.
'At the outset, I imagined it would be more of a fat pamphlet than a book, but as I began writing that first edition I realised just how much there was that needed unpicking for LiPs to be able to navigate the family court '“ and with each edition I add a little something that a reader has suggested was missing from the previous edition, and which still left them baffled.
'My approach is: there is no such thing as a stupid question '“ the family court is set up to run with lawyers, and we lawyers didn't know the answers to any of this before doing several years' training '“ so why should we expect LiPs to?'
Matthew Rogers, reporter