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Acting as a litigant in person – representing yourself in your legal case – can be a daunting prospect, trying to navigate complex legal matters without professional support. Some people may have no choice but to act in person due to not being able to afford legal fees and not qualifying for legal aid, whilst others may choose to do this in order to reduce their costs or because they feel that, in their case, a solicitor is not necessary to achieve their desired outcome.
Litigants in person are not, however, entirely on their own. There are various organisations that may be able to offer support and advice to assist.
Advocate is the Bar’s charity that matches volunteer barristers across England and Wales to members of the public who need representation, but who cannot afford to pay for that representation and are unable to access legal aid. The service is only available to those with a hearing or deadline more than three weeks from the date of the completed application being submitted, except in very exceptional circumstances such as the risk of losing contact with your children. You do not need to have a hearing date from the court in order to submit an application.
Applications are subject to a case-by-case means test in order to determine eligibility. If your case is accepted and can be allocated to a suitable volunteer barrister, you will have direct contact with them in order to move your case forward. Barristers can provide legal advice by telephone, in a meeting or in writing, draft documents such as skeleton arguments, and represent you at court or tribunal. They cannot prepare a case or paperwork for the court or tribunal, lodge documents at a court or tribunal or write letters on your behalf, or provide any administrative support for your case.
Advocate cannot guarantee assistance but will do its best to help. To make an online application for assistance, or to download a hard copy of the form, go to https://weareadvocate.org.uk/apply-for-help.html.
The Bar Council Direct Access Portal: https://www.directaccessportal.co.uk/
The Direct Access Portal is the official website for making direct contact with barristers or alternative dispute resolution professionals (mediators and arbitrators) without the expense or delay of applying via a third-party organisation. It is free to use and there are no introduction fees.
All listed barristers are approved by the Bar Council. To search for a barrister, go to https://www.directaccessportal.co.uk/search/1/barrister.
Mediation can provide a non-adversarial approach to settling legal matters with the financial benefit both of sharing the cost between the parties and reducing any subsequent costs attached to legal proceedings. To search for a mediator, go to https://www.directaccessportal.co.uk/search/2/mediator.
Arbitration is a legally binding form of dispute resolution. Benefits include speed, reduced costs, flexibility, and privacy without the need for formal court proceedings. To search for an arbitrator, go to https://www.directaccessportal.co.uk/search/3/arbitrator.
Support Through Court: https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/
Support Through Court is a national charity providing support to people representing themselves in court. Its volunteers offer emotional, procedural, and practical support, including advice on how the court process works and assistance with organising documents and filling in forms, and helping you to plan what you want to say in court and accompanying you. It cannot provide legal advice or legal representation but does assist in signposting to relevant specialist advice agencies. The service is entirely free.
The charity operates in numerous, but not all, court buildings in England and Wales. At present, however, face-to-face services are temporarily closed due to Covid-19, but the charity operates a national telephone line on 0300 081 0006.
To find out more, go to https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/get-help/how-we-help/.
Citizens Advice Bureaux: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/
The Citizens Advice service provides free, independent, and impartial advice on a number of issues, including family matters. Local Citizens Advice centres offer support to people who live or work in their catchment area, and can be found at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/contact-us/contact-us/. A national advice line is also available on 0344 411 1444, and online advisors are also available.
The service can also signpost towards free or reduced cost legal advice agencies.
The website also has a number of useful articles relating to the practical and legal aspects of ending a relationship or marriage, at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/.
Law Centres Network: https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/i-am-looking-for-advice
The Law Centres Network does not provide legal advice itself but can help you find a local Law Centre that can. Local Law Centres can be found at https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/about-law-centres/law-centres-on-google-maps/alphabetically. All of these offer face-to-face appointments, and some also provide telephone and/or email advice.
Each local Law Centre specialises in particular areas of law which are listed on their profile page of the Law Centres Network website, and on their own individual websites.
Law Works: https://www.lawworks.org.uk/about-us
Law Works is a national charity that provides free legal advice to people who cannot access legal aid and cannot afford to pay for legal representation. It has a number of face-to-face clinics, where appointments need to be booked in advance, for clients to discuss their legal issue with an advisor. These clinics also offer telephone appointments, and can be searched for by area of law at https://www.lawworks.org.uk/legal-advice-individuals/find-legal-advice-clinic-near-you.
The AdviceNow website provides a number of practical guides, which can be downloaded for free, relating to all aspects of family difficulties. It is also currently trialling a service, for a limited number of guides including the financial aspect of divorce, where it offers fixed fee legal advice through its solicitor partners pertaining to crucial parts of the legal process. All solicitor partners are members of Resolution. To find out more about this service, go to https://www.advicenow.org.uk/know-hows/getting-affordable-advice-family-solicitor-advicenow-available-now.
The University of Law: https://www.law.ac.uk/about/legal-advice-for-the-public/
The University of Law offers a pro bono service run by its law students and supervised by qualified, practising lawyers. The London clinic runs a term-time only telephone advice line for family matters, on 01483 216528.
The Law departments of other universities may also provide similar clinics, although not all will be able to offer advice on family issues.
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For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.