Family Courts without a Lawyer: Review

This review by Chris Barton, Professor of Family Law and VP Family Mediators Association, was first published in Family Law November 2011 (Fam Law [2011] 1310) and is republished with kind permission of Jordans.

Family Courts without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person

Lucy Reed, Bath Publishing, 1st edn, 2011, £29.50, paperback, 308 pp (plus index)

Family Courts without a Lawyer

Family Courts without a Lawyer - A Handbook for Litigants in Person

Not another DIY divorce book? Or is it just a stablemate of such sites as ‘Lawyers: cats settling disputes between two mice’? On the tin(troduction) Reed claims that she will explain family law in a manner which does not need a law degree to understand, provide tips to litigants in person (LiPs), assist those whose solicitors may seem too busy to answer their questions, and help a LiP’s friends and family understand what is happening. Rather off-puttingly for her eponymous market, she announces that:

‘Litigants in person are clogging up the system … When people running their own cases don’t have a clue what they are supposed to be doing … hearings take longer and have to be postponed … slow courts mean delay for children and parents and injustice for families.’ (p iv)

That the ‘court is not the best way to resolve family disputes’ (p 44) comes rather late in the day and not only is too little said about mediation (pp 5, 16 and 44–45) but what is said could be more encouraging. No explanation is given as to why ‘this book does not cover care proceedings’ (p 124) and it is surprising that nothing seems to be said about wills. The titles and sub-titles of the 25 chapters and the ‘Toolkit and Resources’ certainly appear to be in line with the stated purposes , and compared to many other law books there is very little padding, such as big bare statutes taking up the whole of the second half. But if you are still wasting your time by reading this rather than ordering the book, no more carping and artificial suspense: this is a brilliant piece of work and I don’t mean the review.

The first thing that hits you from line one is the unremittingly plain, clear, get-it-first-time, language and the second is the way this is used to integrate highly practical points – of the sort that only learning from experience can bring – with very accessible explanations of the relevant law and procedure. Clichéd though it may be to say so, no LiP ‘should be without it’ and as one myself – with a 100% win record against reneging suppliers – I look forward to an equivalent work on non-family matters. Yet it would be a mistake to think that practitioners, of all people, should not buy this book: I took it to a Stafford Mediation Centre CPD gig where my lovely assistants, Neil Robinson and Steve Kirwin, and many other experienced professionals present, thought it would be useful for such as their own trainees, not to mention themselves. The same could well apply to judges, and not just those ‘who are happy for you to do what makes you feel comfortable if you don’t have a lawyer’ (p 39).

To Reed’s stated purposes (see above) might be added some others, which she understandably omits. These include its value as a gift from lawyers to LiPs on the other side and to help, not that anyone else seems to be applying an effective shoulder to this wheel, in the battle to disabuse bar room bores, fiction writers and the media, of their harmful misperceptions of family lawyers. Lucy Reed is a very modern family barrister indeed and her colleagues on both sides of the profession should be very proud of her. We know enough from her asides about such as the impending and counter-productive cuts in public funding to put her in front of Government Ministers NOW.

CHRIS BARTON
Professor of Family Law and a Vice President of the Family Mediators Association

3 thoughts on “Family Courts without a Lawyer: Review

  1. Certainly useful though pricey.Parents who are litigants in person are just about the only ones who sometimes succeed in defeating stern opposition from the the “SS” in court.Most family court lawyers advise distressed parents to “go along with social services” and who needs lawyers with that kind of advice?”Surrender” is easy without expensive lawyers,yet each case has on average solicitor and barrister for each parent,the children,the guardian,and the local authority,;10 parasites in all who inevitably agree amongst themselves not to contest applications for interim care orders and whose only active function seems to be to gag any parent who dares to try and speak ! Such is the stock procedure in our secret(private?) family courts !

    • I don’t think that £20 (amazon) is an unreasonable price. It wouldn’t even buy you an hour of a McKenzie friend’s time and would probably get you all of 6 minutes with a solicitor!

      I hope that parents will read the book before making up their minds about whether or not they should act on your advice, which is based upon an inaccurate description of how lawyers operate or whose interests they act in.

  2. Definitely not pricey. Whether or not litigant’s choose to use a lawyer, it’s definitely worth knowing a bit about the process there about to involve themselves in.

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