Background

Litigants in person must act in a reasonable and fair manner

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Or risk getting penalised by the Family Court

The Family Court could and will penalise litigants in person if their conduct is deemed inappropriate.

In recent months and years the Family Court has seen a rise in litigant in person (self representation) when it comes to both matrimonial matters and children matters. The reason for the rise includes the changes in legal aid and the rise in court fees. However, as predicted, the difficulty in terms of the burden is now placed squarely on the shoulders of the judges when it comes to dealing with litigants in person who are unsure of the process and procedures.

A judge will take on this burden, as long as the litigant in person acts in a reasonable and fair manner. The spotlight however, has been shone on litigants in person, and their conduct, following recent case law in 2015.

The case itself was not a complex one. It involved a couple who were involved in divorce and finance proceedings and the husband (H) decided to act in person, without a representative. The case was described as a “routine” financial proceedings matter, involving net assets of about £1.3m, following a 20 year marriage.

In the three years since litigation had begun in 2012, there had been 30 hearings and 4 appeals mounted by H. H was repeatedly warned by judges about his “unpleasant menacing conduct in court” He had made threats to kill his wife (W) and her barrister, and had to be removed from the courtroom by security staff. H was later convicted of assault in the Magistrates’ Court. Nonetheless, he decided to skip his sentencing hearing and fled abroad from where he bombarded the court with abusive emails claiming that he had a fatal illness and demanding the proceedings be adjourned indefinitely. In the course of the proceedings he entered into transactions designed to defeat W’s claims.

The leading High Court Judge in the family division questioned why a 4 day hearing was listed in the High Court and why W incurred costs of about £150,000. The answer was overwhelmingly unanimous; it was because of the conduct of H which was described by the High Court Judge as “truly abysmal”. This aspect of the matter was concluded with H having to incur a costs order against him of almost £150,000.

This is an extreme case with extreme conditions. Nonetheless, it should also come as a warning sign to litigants in person who attempt to act in a hostile manner and attempt to push up the costs of their opponent in divorce proceedings by prolonging matters or by acting abysmally. They will be punished in the Family Courts. This is evidently a welcome decision for family lawyers in general.


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