Fathers face going it alone in the UK courts

It might save you some money, but representing yourself in court is likely to end in disaster. You’ve watched enough episodes of Silk and Judge John Deed to know how it works, but as the old legal adage has it, “A lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client”.

Despite the resounding truth of that maxim – think Tommy Sheridan and his conviction for perjury last year if you’re unconvinced – we are likely to witness an exponential rise in the number of litigants prepared to go it alone in the coming months and years as the Government’s decimation of the legal aid budget starts to bite.

In a bid to save £350m a year out of a £914m annual civil and family legal aid budget by 2014, those  involved in family law cases (including divorce and child residency cases) will no longer be eligible for Legal Aid. The only exceptions to this are if the cases involve domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction.

Driven by a cruel desperation of the potential loss of contact with their own children, single dads are likely to make up a sizeable proportion of the new ‘self-representers’. Not only is the personal toll an enormous burden on men who are already emotionally beleaguered by their personal circumstances, but the court system itself is likely to become clogged with a surge of amateur barristers whose lack of knowledge will make for extremely slow progress through the judicial system.

I can’t stress enough how representing yourself is an onerous task. Even the most articulate non-lawyer rarely manages to get to grips with the finer points of law, the standards of evidence and the advocacy techniques that professionals take years of training to develop.

There is also a woeful lack of support and assistance in court for self-representing litigants: the system is highly adversarial and the judge relies on both sides putting their case effectively. Cases must be presented in a technical way which requires both knowledge and an emotional distance that is hard to muster when the future of the people you most care about in the world – your children – is being threatened.

As an increasing number of parents embark on the quest to have their day in court, perhaps the Government should reflect on the inordinate misery they have created as litigants, who feel they have no alternative, face the terrifying prospect of a solo court appearance in pursuit of justice.

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