By Ann McCabe
Representing yourself in court is increasingly common but can be a risky strategy. Getting expert legal advice at the beginning can avoid costly mistakes.
The risks of representing yourself in court
Anyone considering representing themselves in court should watch this video on the BBC website: Does it ever pay to represent yourself in court? It is an excellent summary of the problems people face without the benefit of legal advice. Without a lawyer, you can waste months or even years going through stressful proceedings without really understanding what you are doing or knowing whether you are going in the right direction. Avoiding the costs of paying a lawyer to help you through the process can lead you to lose money, perhaps by having to pay the legal costs of the other party or going down the wrong court route or not receiving the settlement you deserve because you have not presented the necessary evidence or arguments.
Can you get access to justice?
Access to Justice suffered a massive blow in April 2013. Until then, in family law, legal aid was granted primarily on financial grounds. Since April 2013, the majority of people who would have qualified for legal aid don’t qualify anymore. So many people simply cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to help them understand where they stand after a separation and to represent them in court.
This would not be so much of a problem if there was genuine access to justice without lawyers. Many people think that access to justice means access to lawyers and that if they cannot afford a lawyer, they cannot go to court but this is not true. I often tell people “It’s not the court that costs the money, it’s the lawyer”. Since 2013, the court and judges have got used to dealing with unrepresented parties. But the justice system is not coping.
Has the pandemic broken the justice system?
Right now, a major problem in gaining access to justice is the huge backlog in listing cases for hearing as a result of the pandemic. When the courts closed to the public in March 2020 and hearings went online, priority was given to cases involving the removal of children from their families by social services and criminal cases. No financial cases were listed for around 18 months. As a result of the backlog, I am now advising clients that unless they are able to reach an agreement, it will take at least 12 months to make any progress in a court case.
Get free legal advice straightaway
The best way to achieve Justice and to achieve closure following a separation quickly is to get legal advice right at the very beginning. You will then understand your options and can make an informed decision about paying a lawyer to represent you or not. Getting legal advice at the beginning of your case can avoid you making fundamental mistakes.
This is why we give you free initial advice by telephone. If you decide to instruct us to represent you, we try to make our service affordable by charging fixed fees where appropriate and offering monthly payment plans or a litigation loan.
We also point you in the direction of other sources of free advice and representation.
We believe in Access to Justice
I went into the law 1986 because I passionately believed in access to justice for all. I worked in the legal aid sector for the whole of my career until 2016 when I decided that the restrictions in the legal aid system meant I was not able to provide a good enough service to my clients. I still believe in facilitating access to justice, despite the many obstacles. We at Ann McCabe Solicitors are committed to providing the best and fairest outcome for you and your family in the circumstances whilst avoiding unnecessary stressful and costly battles.
For free initial legal advice phone our office in Newcastle under Lyme on 01782 627589
About the author
Ann McCabe is a solicitor and founder of Ann McCabe Solicitors. She qualified as a solicitor in 1993 and has specialised in family law ever since. She has worked in Newcastle under Lyme since 1994.
Her Linkedin profile can be found here