A recent article reported that 46 percent of litigants in the UK court system are self-represented—and magistrates are starting to take notice. According to a survey, nearly 97 percent of the 461 magistrates polled agreed that self-represented litigants had a negative effect on the court system, especially in family court.
“In family [courts], if one side is represented and the other not, it makes it very difficult to have a fair hearing, as [self-represented litigants] find it difficult to cross-examine and don’t understand the process.”
This issue has created something of a “two-tier system” in which those with representation and those without may experience substantially different results in family court cases. This inequality is something that the Honoring Families Initiative is beginning to study, because in these cases, it is often the children, not the litigants, who suffer most.
Courts are also impacted when parties proceed without representation. One of the sentiments the UK magistrates routinely made in the survey was that hearings normally taking only an hour to complete are taking a whole day when one or both parties are self-represented. The situation has been amplified following cuts to legal aid last year in most private family law matters. Previously, those who could not afford legal representation could find it through government aid.
The United States is seeing similar strain on its family courts, felt by both self-represented litigants and the system itself.
Riley Combelic is a third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to firstname.lastname@example.org.