Appearing in the Family Court as Litigant in Person
Going to Court on a family matter can be a daunting experience, however with careful preparation and seeking legal advice early can help minimise that stress.
The Judge will know that you are not legally qualified, so do not feel afraid to ask the Judge or Court staff if you require any clarification on any aspect of the Court proceedings.
How should I prepare for a Hearing in Court?
- You should have been given or sent a copy of any applications submitted to Court, as well as a Notice of Hearing. The Notice of Hearing will have the case number, the address of the Court at which the hearing will be held and the time and date.
- You may be contacted by JFCAS a few weeks or days prior to the hearing. The Jersey Family Court Advisory Service was set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in Court proceedings. Officers are trained social workers who are contacted by the Court prior to a hearing carry out safeguarding checks with the Police to confirm if there are any known safety risks to the children in the case. In most cases, an officer will contact the parties to discuss any concerns they may have regarding the children.
- In some cases, you may be asked by the Court to file a Position Statement prior to the hearing. These are usually kept to a certain length and require you to set out what your position is in relation to the proceedings and what you would like to happen to move the case forward, explaining clearly your reasons why. You will need to send a copy to the other parties in the case, as well as the Court by the deadline given. You should also make sure the document has the case number clearly written on it as well as your signature at the end of it, along with the date on which you drafted it.
- If you have a disability, you should inform the Court as soon as possible so that they can accommodate your needs.
- If you are unfamiliar with the Court’s location, it is always worthwhile to pay a visit to the Court before the hearing. The Court may change the location a day or two before the hearing, so always contact the Court the afternoon before the day of the hearing to ensure that there is no change.
- There can be a lot of waiting about at Court so remember to ensure you have made adequate arrangements for any child care or work arrangements.
- Remember to take to Court any Court papers, a pen and paper so that you can take notes. You may want to take refreshments with you, although there may be facilities available in the Court building.
What do I need to do when I arrive at Court?
- Remember to dress smartly but comfortably on the day. You will need to arrive at the time instructed and remember that even though the hearing may be listed for 30 minutes, you could be there for most of the day.
- When you arrive at Court and have cleared security, you should go to the usher’s desk, ensuring you have your Court paperwork with you. There may be private rooms available where you can sit and, if so, be sure to let the usher know which room you are in so that they can come and find you. When cases are ready to be heard, the case number will usually be announced over a loudspeaker system.
- It is quite likely that the JAFCS officer or legal representative for the other party will try and find you before the hearing so that they can discuss a way forward. Sometimes, issues can be resolved before you get into Court, but if not, the time may still be used productively to see if there has been any change in the parties’ positions.
What is expected from me at the Hearing?
- Ensure that your mobile telephone is switched off.
- The Court clerk may direct you on where to sit if you ask them to.
- Address the Judge as “Sir or Madam”.
- Make sure you speak when you are asked to speak, do not raise your voice, be courteous and do not interrupt. The Judge may be making notes, so remember to speak slowly and clearly. Make sure you make notes, remembering to highlight any dates that the Judge refers to as well as any Directions that the Court makes.
- The Judge may ask questions and your answers should be truthful and to the point. If you do not understand a question, ask the Judge to repeat themselves. You may find that the legal representative for the other party to the proceedings may do most of the talking. If so, try not to interrupt them but write down the point you wish to make and raise it after they have finished speaking.
What if I am too nervous about speaking in Court?
You may be able to bring a friend with you to attend the hearing. This friend may be able to come into Court and sit with you, help take notes and give quiet advice to you. Such friends are referred to as Mackenzie Friends and are not legally qualified. They cannot address the Court or examine any witnesses.
What will happen after the Hearing?
- If one of the parties has a legal representative, they may be asked to draft an Order. This is simply the formal task of writing the Directions given by the Judge. You may be asked to wait so that the Order can be drafted or the legal representative may email this document to you for your approval the next day or so before it is sent to the Judge for sealing.
- If you are unhappy with the draft document, inform the legal representative immediately so that they have the opportunity to make any necessary amendments. This is why it is important to make notes during the hearing so that you can compare your notes to the actual Order.
- Usually there will be dates given such as when things have to be done by and when the next hearing is. Ensure that all dates are diarised with appropriate reminders set out in your diary to remind you of upcoming deadlines.
- Please remember that family proceedings are confidential. Therefore do not show any evidence or Court documents to anyone not involved in the proceedings.
Instructing a solicitor to act on your behalf can ease much of the pressure and provide essential advice and guidance when you most need it.