Navigating the family justice system alone can be difficult for litigants in person (LiPs) and experience shows that proceedings involving LiPs can mean longer cases. It can also add to the workload of professionals involved.
Cafcass, along with others in the sector, has been adapting to support LiPs by making proceedings more accessible and comprehensible. This can benefit everyone involved, as LiPs who are informed and confident can help speed up proceedings.
After news coverage last month of Bristol court’s new court tours, we asked our Cafcass service areas about our contribution to other local initiatives across the country. Here are just a few examples:
CLOCK project (Kent) – Canterbury University and Canterbury County Court
Cafcass Kent sets out our role in private law proceedings to law students, who can join an advocacy scheme to attend court as a ‘Community Legal Companion’. The scheme sees them provide assistance to LiPs on the day of their first hearing.
Sorcha Morgan, Cafcass Head of Practice involved in the scheme, says: “It can be taken for granted how daunting court can be for LiPs. The input of both Cafcass and CLOCK assists in reducing some anxiety.” After the success of last year, which involved 30 students, it has been rolled out to more students and may extend to other Kent courts.
Demystifying the family court (Kent) – Canterbury University and Kent Law Clinic
Sorcha sat on a panel with judges and barristers, to answer questions from LiPs about family court processes.
A solicitor, Philippa Bruce, who helped organise the event commented: “The event was aimed at people like the lady in the back furiously taking notes, who was clearly extremely worried about going to court. A gentleman I mistook for a trainee solicitor turned out [to be] a dad going to court in a few weeks. He picked up lots of tips on how to prepare.”
Cafcass has worked to raise awareness of our role with the Personal Support Unit (PSU). PSU volunteers work across the country with parties who do not have legal representation, giving practical non-legal help.
• In Birmingham, we attend PSU training several times a year to advise on Cafcass’ role in both public and private law. Jonathan Leadbeater, Service Manager, says that this collaboration helps volunteers to better support LiPs.
• In Newcastle, we worked closely with the PSU to promote awareness of our free pilot service, Support for Separated Parents in Dispute. The pilot service helps separating parents in dispute access information, guidance and support about the most appropriate dispute resolution pathways available to them outside of court. We’ve participated in joint information sharing sessions to raise awareness of the service with other court professionals, as well as other appropriate alternatives to court.
In Bristol talks are underway to see what links can be made with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to build their staff’s understanding of family court cases. The CAB provides outline advice on legal rights for LiPs and can help explain procedures and complete court forms.
Later this year we are launching ‘MyCourtroom app’, developed with the University of Kent, which will help familiarise LiPs with the court process. It is an interactive simulation, with supporting guidance and links to further resources.
We are also developing guidance for Cafcass practitioners when working with LiPs who have third party non-legal support during proceedings, such as a friend, family member or a McKenzie Friend.