With the restriction of the availability of legal aid nowadays there are increasing numbers of people forced to act as litigants in person, that is, without legal representation.
This not only causes potential problems for the unrepresented party, and also the court due to the complexities in procedural matters and the application and interpretation of the law.
It appears there are now also problems arising for solicitors acting for the other party who are being unfairly criticized by litigants in person for their conduct during court proceedings.
If the outcome is not the one desired by the litigant in person it is usually not appropriate for a complaint to be made against the solicitor of the other party.
Just in case there is anyone out there considering making such a complaint it should be borne in mind that unless there has been a deliberate attempt to mislead the litigant in person, or the court, that the solicitor’s duty is to represent their clients’ best interests and does not have a duty to the other party.
The recent case where a litigant in person (H) made an application for his ex-partner’s family solicitor, Terri Harman, and two social workers, to be committed to prison following his application for a parental responsibility order and for contact to his child (referred to as B). Contact arrangements had broken down in 2013. H accused Ms Harman of interfering with the course of justice and misleading the court.
H put before the court a five hour tape recording of covertly recorded discussions between Ms Harman and the social worker(s) which he said demonstrated they had “aligned themselves” in recommending his contact should only be indirect (e.g. normally by letters only etc.), and there a family assistance order was appropriate. Further that Ms Harman had “taken advantage” of him in discussions outside court which meant she had abused her position of trust by suggesting that due to international law implications the court was unlikely to grant him parental responsibility.
Mrs Justice Roberts in the High Court dismissed the applications as having “no merit whatsoever”, were procedurally flawed, and amounted to an “abuse of the court process”. She further held Ms Harman had not interfered with the administration of justice, nor misled the court, and the catalogue of complaints which had been made ignored the fact Ms Harman’s professional duties lay with her client, the mother.
She went onto say Ms Harman “had not contractual relationship with H and at no time was her professional relationship with him impressed with any fiduciary obligations. She had a professional obligation to act in the best interest of her client”.
The hearing lasted for three days. No doubt is caused unnecessary and unwarranted stress to Ms Harman, and others accused. It also resulted in a waste of the court’s time (and public funds).
It may have been the case that H would not have been entitled to legal aid even before the changes for eligibility were introduced, but it does demonstrate the difficulties that can be caused by people not taking proper legal advice.
If you require advice on family law issues, the author Anita Garside-Slinger of Ringrose Law, 2 & 2a Bargate, Newark NG24 1ES, who is a Member of the Law Society Family Law Accreditation Scheme, and a Resolution member, may be contacted on 01636 594460; or email: anita.garside@ringroselaw .co.uk