Foreword to The Third Edition of FCwaL

FCWAL 3 Cover

The Times has today published some selected extracts from the foreword to the third edition of my book The Family Court without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person.

I’ve been asked for the full foreword, so here it is… I especially like the wistful hope at the end that I might not be such a god awful windbag in future editions. You know, I would have written a shorter book, Sir James, but I did not have the time…

 

The Family Court without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person, by Lucy Reed
Foreword by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division

I am delighted to be able to welcome and applaud the latest edition of this important, and for litigants in person in the Family Court, absolutely invaluable book. Written by an author who has vast practical experience of what really goes on in family courts, this Handbook will continue to serve as a trusty, reliable and up-to-date guide and companion to those who find themselves on their own in court and without the assistance of a lawyer.

This latest edition could not be more timely, as the long-term impacts of LASPO on the administration of justice in the family courts become daily more and more apparent. As Mr Justice Cobb said in his Foreword to the last edition, and I could not agree more:

“Now, more than ever, does the obligation fall on those of us working in the family courts to assist litigants in person to achieve the best outcome; this is plainly in their interests, but it is in the interests of justice as a whole. Initiatives across Government and the voluntary sector have gone some way to aid those facing courts on their own; this book makes a huge contribution to those endeavours.”

The Family Justice Council has done valuable work in providing user-friendly literature for litigants in person, but otherwise the work thus far undertaken by Government – whether the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service or the Family Procedure Rule Committee – has been sadly inadequate. So it is to the voluntary sector and to practitioners such as Lucy Reed that we must continue to look.

The truth is that we face a massive challenge. At present our practices and procedures are designed for – assume – a family justice system where the typical litigant has legal representation, whereas the reality is that, across vast swathes of the family justice system, the typical litigant now has no legal representation. The consequence is that practices, procedures and rules designed for lawyers are largely inaccessible – truth be told, unintelligible – to litigants in person. The Family Procedure Rules are a monument to a certain traditional style of legal drafting but are no more useful or intelligible to the litigant than the Tax statutes are to the taxpayer. And most court forms are little better.

The fact that this handbook is as long as it necessarily has to be if it is to achieve our author’s objectives is no criticism of her but rather an indictment of the unnecessarily over-complicated ‘system’ which her readers are condemned to navigate.
In time these serious blots on our system will be remedied, but in the meantime the need for books such as this will only increase. And given the traditional snail’s pace of legal reform in this country I foresee the need for many further editions from our author before we reach the promised land. In an ideal world we would not need a book like this but that world exists only at the end of the rainbow. So we will always need books like this. My hope is that, in due course, as our processes are simplified, our author will be able to produce a correspondingly shorter text. In the meantime I can only hope that she continues her good work. I look forward to the next, and to many further, editions.

James Munby
8 August 2017

7 thoughts on “Foreword to The Third Edition of FCwaL

  1. I think you misunderstood Sir James. He is hoping that the system changes so in turn less literature will be needed to explain the issues faced.

  2. It’s strikes a political note, allbeit not one I disagree with. I think what Munby P really wanted to say was ‘books like this shouldn’t be necessary, LASPO is a pile of crap’ but he can’t. In the meantime, he is very glad you have taken the time to write this, as are we all.

    Though I must admit (apologies for being puerile) that what my mind does when I see your acronym is say ‘F**K-wall’ in my head.

  3. Legal Cheek have also reported that you stated regarding ‘unrepresented court users’ (LIP’s), they:
    “Reed, a tenant at St John’s Chambers, bluntly said they clog up the courts”.

    If you did say this, then you are misrepresenting the evidence available, or you do not understand it?

    The research shows that since LASPO average duration of Private Law cases has dropped from over 30 weeks to under 25 weeks.

    The research also shows that cases in Private Law ‘with’ legal representation for both parties took ‘longer’ than cases where the litigants were unrepresented:

    Timeliness of cases by legal representation
    In general, across all case types, cases where either both parties or the respondent only had legal representation took longer than those cases where only the applicant was represented or where both parties were without legal representation.

    Family Court Statistics
    Quarterly, England and Wales
    Annual 2016 including
    October to December 2016

    It is disturbing that you seem to have such a poor grasp of the actual evidence regarding LIP’s.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/604030/family-court-statistics-quarterly-q4-2016.pdf

    • Hello Q Redcliffe,
      That I think is a partial quote from the introduction to my book. The remainder of the passage goes on to explain why I say that. It’s been in there since the first edition was published almost a decade, but not without thought.
      You may wish to read (for example) this post http://www.pinktape.co.uk/rants/lips-do-it-for-longer-should-we-believe-the-bumper-sticker/ in which I explore precisely this issue – do LiP cases really take longer? I maintain that in some instances they do and the published stats don’t really allow a three dimensional appreciation of this. Some cases take far less time, but sadly that is often because LiPs give up or their cases get dealt with without the full range of issues really being resolved – and they often end up back again. So it’s a complex picture.
      There are a number of other posts on the blog round this topic, but this is the most obvious one.

  4. Thanks for pointing me to the link. It is a ‘complex picture’ indeed.

    I disagree with your view and I would say the available evidence supports me but your view is certainly prevalent among legal professionals of course.

    However, I do recommend your book as it is a good resource for persons involved or considering the family court route.

    • Well, we can agree its complex at any rate. 🙂 I accept the stats paint a different picture, I just don’t think they are the whole picture.

      Anyway, too complex to explore fully in the intro to book, and reduced even more by selective quotation from Legal Cheek.

      Glad book is useful otherwise.

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