I am delighted to be able to welcome and applaud the latest edition of this important, and for litigants in person in the Family Court, absolutely invaluable book. Written by an author who has vast practical experience of what really goes on in family courts, this Handbook will continue to serve as a trusty, reliable and up-to-date guide and companion to those who find themselves on their own in court and without the assistance of a lawyer.
This latest edition could not be more timely, as the long-term impacts of LASPO on the administration of justice in the family courts become daily more and more apparent. As Mr Justice Cobb said in his Foreword to the last edition, and I could not agree more:
“Now, more than ever, does the obligation fall on those of us working in the family courts to assist litigants in person to achieve the best outcome; this is plainly in their interests, but it is in the interests of justice as a whole. Initiatives across Government and the voluntary sector have gone some way to aid those facing courts on their own; this book makes a huge contribution to those endeavours.”
The Family Justice Council has done valuable work in providing user-friendly literature for litigants in person, but otherwise the work thus far undertaken by Government – whether the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service or the Family Procedure Rule Committee – has been sadly inadequate. So it is to the voluntary sector and to practitioners such as Lucy Reed that we must continue to look.
The truth is that we face a massive challenge. At present our practices and procedures are designed for – assume – a family justice system where the typical litigant has legal representation, whereas the reality is that, across vast swathes of the family justice system, the typical litigant now has no legal representation. The consequence is that practices, procedures and rules designed for lawyers are largely inaccessible – truth be told, unintelligible – to litigants in person. The Family Procedure Rules are a monument to a certain traditional style of legal drafting but are no more useful or intelligible to the litigant than the Tax statutes are to the taxpayer. And most court forms are little better.
The fact that this handbook is as long as it necessarily has to be if it is to achieve our author’s objectives is no criticism of her but rather an indictment of the unnecessarily over-complicated ‘system’ which her readers are condemned to navigate.
In time these serious blots on our system will be remedied, but in the meantime the need for books such as this will only increase. And given the traditional snail’s pace of legal reform in this country I foresee the need for many further editions from our author before we reach the promised land. In an ideal world we would not need a book like this but that world exists only at the end of the rainbow. So we will always need books like this. My hope is that, in due course, as our processes are simplified, our author will be able to produce a correspondingly shorter text. In the meantime I can only hope that she continues her good work. I look forward to the next, and to many further, editions.
8 August 2017