LIPs in the family court.
Being a litigant in person (LIP), or self representing, is now very common in private family law proceedings (they are called ‘private’ because private individuals, rather than social services or some other agency, bring their cases to court). These are cases such as:
- Parental disputes over the upbringing of children;
- Financial support after relationship breakdown/divorce;
- Domestic violence;
In the period January to March 2018, 81% of hearings involved at least one LIP. Before the cut back in legal aid, these people would have had lawyers but now they are no longer eligible for legal aid. Before representing yourself though, check if you can get legal aid. If you’re eligible for legal aid, you can find a legal aid lawyer here and they’ll help you apply for legal aid.
What do I have to do as a LIP?
- You will have to prepare all your own paperwork.
- Provide whatever documentation the court directs and within the timescales you’re given.
- Comply with all the court’s rules and orders.
- You aren’t given leeway because you’re not a lawyer.
- You’ll need to prepare a statement in which you set out your case or reply to the case made by the applicant. See our blog What is Evidence.
- You have the right to speak for yourself in court without a solicitor or other legal professional. See our blog How to Give Evidence.
- In the family court you’ll be either an ‘applicant’ or ‘respondent’. If you make an application (in other words ask the court to decide something) you’re the applicant. If someone else makes the application and you have to respond then you’re the respondent.
Where can I get help as a LIP?
For lots of helpful advice and guidance about representing yourself at hearings to decide arrangements for children read for advice on how to conduct your case.
The law society has produced some helpful guidance setting out the expectations of lawyers dealing with LIPs in court proceedings.
Can I take someone to court with me?
You may be allowed to have someone come into court with you to help you by taking notes and giving advice. This person is known as a ‘McKenzie friend’. They cannot speak for you, interfere with proceedings or sign documents on your behalf but they can be helpful and a support to you. The judge will decide whether you can have a McKenzie friend with you in court.
Read guidance on what a McKenzie friend can and cannot do at.
Can I get advice from a lawyer before attending court?
You can still get legal advice to help you with your case, even if you choose to represent yourself in court.
What do I put in a Witness Statement?
Your statement is your written evidence and it is your account, with whatever proof you can provide, of what has happened, which you are going to swear is true. It is a statement of facts, meaning that it is an account of what actually has happened. It is not a statement of your opinions, what you think or feel about your ex or your children.
As a party (either an applicant or respondent) to the proceedings you will need to make a statement and get it filed so that it is put in the court bundle with the other court papers (known as ‘filing a statement’). Your statement will be seen before the trial by the other side and you will see theirs. In other words what both sides will say is known to their opponent before the hearing starts.
During the actual hearing, or trial, you give your evidence orally by answering questions in the witness box but if you haven’t filed a statement you will not usually be allowed to give oral evidence.
The court will tell you when and how the statements are to be produced. Do what the court orders. If your statement has to be filed by a certain date, get it filed by that date.
All the paragraphs in your statement must be numbered and be in legible, typed form, so use a fairly large font, 12 point for example. It is best to keep the paragraphs fairly short and only deal with one issue per paragraph.
If you refer in your statement to any documents or other supporting evidence, it must be attached to your statement and must be disclosed for the other side and the court to see along with your statement before the hearing.
The 4 Golden Rules for statements
- Tell your story in chronological, date and time, order;
- Remember the judge comes to your case not knowing anything about what has happened, so you have to tell the story in the way which is easiest for the judge to understand. Stick to a chronological order because if not it can be very confusing to someone who comes to the story fresh.
- Give your background so that the judge understands how the situation started.
- Don’t include unnecessary information as it will be a distraction and make the judge stop paying attention and switch off. So, be clear and concise.
- If you have a long list of events to describe which are all the same, for example if your ex is always late for contact, you may have to keep your statement reasonably short by summarising the pattern of events but adding a separate chronology with all the detail in a list of dates showing how late on each occasion. If you have had repeated abusive telephone calls say how many you’ve recorded, give some examples but add a chronological list to your statement with all the detail.
- Include everything you think might be important because if you don’t include it it may be not admissible, meaning that it may not be allowed to be used. When in doubt include rather than exclude.
- Try to make sure that every event you describe has some supporting evidence attached to it to prove what you say.
- Write down all the facts, especially where you know there is disagreement about them with your ex;
Once the statements have been exchanged the judge (and you) will be able to see where you and your ex disagree about the facts of what happened. Try to make sure that all the disagreements you know exist between you and your ex have been covered in your statement and those of your witnesses if you have any. If an issue is not covered by any one of your witnesses see if you can find a witness to cover it.
- Don’t give opinions;
Confine your statement and those of any of your witnesses to the facts that you and they know. Don’t express any opinions. Only expert witnesses can give opinions – they don’t know any facts which is the judge’s business to decide. Stick to the facts.
- Tell the complete truth;
Most importantly, your statement must be true. If you tell a lie about one thing, or exaggerate, all of your evidence will become suspect and unreliable in the eyes of the judge. You will sign your statement with what’s called a statement of truth, which must be included at the end of your statement – “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true”. If you make a statement which is false you are guilty of contempt of order and could be punished for it. So be very clear and accurate.
Make sure you check your statement, whether it’s been prepared by you or anyone else, carefully before signing it. Any statements should be in your own words. It’s your statement, no one else’s. You have to answer for it in court. Nobody else does. The same goes for your witnesses supporting your case. If there’s anything wrong with their statement, don’t let them sign it. You don’t want to be questioned in court about something that’s not true or incorrect. Make absolutely sure it’s all true. Making false statements can get you into terrible trouble.
How do I write a statement?
Go to our Family Law Advice Hub for information about how to set out your statement and what to include.
What if my case is about housing, compensation, unpaid debts, broken contracts, or consumer problems?
LIPs in a civil court.
The Advice Now website has very useful guidance about cases which would be dealt with in a civil court such as housing, compensation, unpaid debts, broken contracts, or consumer problems.
You won’t get legal aid and if you cannot afford a solicitor, Advice Now will help. Their website has a wealth of useful information. They have advice and guidance about ways to resolve things outside court, as well as how to work out who to sue and if it is worth it.
They also highlight where you may be able to get further support and advice about your case, and have collected together the best information from other organisations about taking civil issues to court in England and Wales.
Even if you aren’t going to court Advice Now has also produced helpful guidance about lots of different topics in the following categories. Including:
- Communications and Media
- Consumer affairs
- Education and Training
- Environment and countryside
- Family and personal
- Government, law and rights
- Health and social care
- Housing and homelessness
- Immigration and nationality
- Money and tax
- Police and crime
- Transport, travel and leisure.
These are a mine of helpful information for anyone trying to sort out a problem. We can’t recommend it enough.
What’s it like being a LIP?
To get an idea of what it’s like to be a LIP, how the system works for them and how the process feels, read this.
Here is a description of a court hearing:
‘It’s like a circus act – you’ve got the judge there judging how well we’re all performing, it’s like the X factor…the barrister does this all the time, he’s been put in situations like this loads of times, he knows how to act, but your performance is judged to the same standard.”