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Unrepresented Parents – are they treated differently?

Unrepresented Parents – are they treated differently?

14.06.19

Just last week it was reported that government data revealed that 23,881 parents who applied for child arrangements orders in 2017 had no legal representation, up 134% since 2011. This can be associated with the legal aid cuts of 2013, making litigants in person an everyday occurrence, especially in family law. The courts hearing these cases try their best to accommodate and make allowances for litigants in person, but with the demand of justice and fairness in the courts, they are not given preferential treatment.

This was illustrated by the recent case of QC v UC & Others, which concluded 31st January 2019. This case concerned an unrepresented father’s appeal against findings of fact made in his and the mother’s cross applications for child arrangements and specific issue orders relating to their three children. The appeal was heard by Mr Justice Williams in the High Court.

Mr Justice Williams followed the judge in the court below who concluded that the unrepresented father was “a deeply unsatisfactory witness”, whereas he found that the mother was a reliable witness on nearly every issue on which she gave evidence, and he therefore accepted most of her allegations. The father sought to appeal against “all the judge’s findings and decisions in regards to the whole case”.

As Mr Justice Williams explained, the father’s grounds for appeal boiled down to two matters:

“That there was a procedural irregularity in that the appellant father was unable to properly present his case”

Mr Justice Williams found that the judge in the court below had “conducted an extremely thorough and detailed evaluation of the evidence in respect of each of the areas where findings of fact were sought

As to the second ground, the father had complained:

“I feel the judge didn’t take into consideration how being on my own in the court representing myself against two other solicitors was a very nervous time for me and considering the allegations against me made it all the worse” Specifically, the father said that he was suffering from anxiety in court which may have affected his demeanour, and led the judge to say he was evasive towards questioning. He also said that he could have obtained further evidence to support his case but had not known that he could. Mr Justice Williams did not accept these points. He said:

“The judge was clearly very much alive to the fact that the father was a litigant in person. In the judgment he refers to the issue and how the judge had sought to ensure that the father had a fair hearing by allowing him the opportunity to put further documents for the court and to put questions on the father’s behalf to witnesses.”

He also said:

“I cannot see that there is any case to show that the father was unable to put relevant material before the court because of his lack of legal representation. In particular there is nothing which suggests there was anything which was of such significance that it could have materially altered the overall evidential picture before the judge.”

Mr Justice Williams concluded that there was no substance in any of the father’s grounds of appeal. Nor was he able to identify anything else that might arguably indicate that the judge was in any way wrong in the conclusions that he reached, or that the decision was unjustified by reason of any procedural irregularity. The appeal was therefore dismissed.

Justice and fairness prevails when in front of the courts, whether you have representation, or are a litigant in person, all parties are treated the same. As seen in QC v UC & Others, the relevant and fair allowances had been made for the fact that the father was unrepresented, and the father was not entitled to anything more.

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