Representing Yourself in Court: A Full Guide

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 7th November 2023

Going through a divorce is a difficult and often stressful time. More than anything, you’ll be looking for a clear path forward and a future of independence and happiness. In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about whether you can represent yourself in court.

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Can you represent yourself in court?

In the UK, anyone has the right to represent themselves in court or a tribunal if they choose to. You have the right to represent yourself without a solicitor or other legal professional. This extends to family law divorce proceedings and litigation cases.

When someone chooses to represent themselves in court, they are referred to as a Litigant in Person (LiP).

Why would you choose to self-represent?

There are two main reasons why you might want to represent yourself:

  1. You think it is within your interest to talk to the judge, jury or magistrates yourself

  2. You cannot afford to pay legal fees

If you don’t think you can afford the legal fees to represent yourself at court in your divorce proceedings, it’s worth thinking very carefully about your options. If you can get proper legal help, this is always worth doing. If you are low on income, you can consider free or affordable legal advice. At Lawhive, we offer a free case assessment to help you better understand your position. Contact us today to get started and see how we can help.

We have also created a useful guide on everything you need to know about financial divorce settlements

If you do choose to represent yourself, you will need to be prepared. There are deadlines to meet and a lot of work that needs to be done to present a legal argument.

You will need to ensure that you are confident and well-practiced in delivering your argument at the hearing. On the day of your appearance, there are several processes you should follow. We recommend you get advice on how to prepare for your day at court.

The key processes when self-representing are:

1. Research your case:

Understand the legal aspects of your case, including relevant laws, regulations, and legal precedents. This may involve legal research and consulting resources such as the UK government's official websites and legal libraries.

2. Gather evidence:

Collect all the evidence and documents relevant to your case. This can include contracts, correspondence, witness statements, photographs, or any other material that supports your position.

3. Draft your pleadings:

Prepare your legal documents, such as your claim or defense. You'll need to follow the court's specific format and ensure your arguments are clear and relevant to your case.

4. File and serve documents:

File the necessary court documents with the appropriate court. This involves submitting your claim, defense, or any other relevant paperwork. Be aware of the court's procedures and deadlines for filing.

Serve copies of your documents to the other parties involved in the case. Proper service is essential to ensure all parties have notice of the proceedings.

5. Attend court hearings:

Attend all court hearings as scheduled. Make sure you're well-prepared to present your case, and be ready to answer questions from the judge and the other side.

6. Follow court rules:

Familiarise yourself with the court's rules and procedures. Each court may have specific rules you must adhere to, so it's crucial to understand and follow them.

While you're representing yourself, it's a good idea to seek legal advice when necessary. You may consult with a solicitor or a legal adviser for guidance on specific legal issues or procedures.

8. Maintain records:

Keep detailed records of all your interactions and communications related to the case. This includes a record of court orders, correspondence, and court hearing notes.

9. Consider mediation:

Explore mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve the case without going to trial. Many disputes can be settled through mediation, which can save time and costs.

Can you take someone with you to court when representing yourself?

Yes, you can take someone with you when representing yourself at court. It’s natural to feel some apprehension about representing yourself in court, so you may want to consider the option. There are a number of people you can take including:

This person is known as a ‘McKenzie friend’. Their role is to support you by taking notes and keeping paperwork in order.

Professionals, such as the above, will be able to help explain to you what is happening at court during your case. 

A McKenzie friend can't:

  • Speak for you

  • Interfere with court proceedings

  • Sign documents on your behalf

You should be clear on exactly what a McKenzie friend can and can’t do to to make sure no issues arise.

The majority of charities, including law centres provide free support. You can always ask the person if they will charge you before agreeing to have them support you in the court.

Remember, you cannot claim these costs back after your hearing, so make sure you can afford their services before agreeing to have them attend. You should also do your due diligence, by asking the person about their experience and how they can help you.

How to represent yourself in court

You will first need to know which court you are going to be representing yourself at. Divorce proceedings can take place in family court or civil court.

Keep full records

General good practice includes keeping full records throughout your divorce proceedings. This will include all the correspondence and documents between you and the other party. Whether electronic or paper, keeping this information in an ordered file will ensure you’re organised and can call upon what you need at the right time.

Show respect

Always treat your ex-partner and the opposing legal team with respect and courtesy, the same extends to the judge and court staff. Remember, the members of the court and the other legal team are just doing their job and representing their clients or the law.

Make notes

Make sure you have a pen and paper, or a laptop to take notes while you’re at your hearing. If you have a McKenzie friend representing you ask them how they will be taking notes for you in advance of your court date.

Ask questions

The judge and other members of the court staff will be aware that you’re not legally qualified, they will expect and be willing to answer any questions you have to clarify court proceedings.

Be prepared

Before your court date check your travel options to get to the court in good time. Make sure you know the route you are going to take and plan for traffic if you’re driving. If you plan to use public transport, don’t forget to plan your travel around potential strikes.

You might have to wait a while at the court before you are called, so ensure your other obligations are taken care of, for example you might need to book childcare, and will likely need to take the day off work.

Also, court dates can change at the last minute, so if in doubt get in touch with the court to check your date and venue are as expected.

Representing yourself in family court

The family court hears cases involving domestic family issues including child custody and divorce proceedings. 

If your case will be heard in family court, you may be contacted by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) in the days and weeks leading up to your case. CAFCASS is a public body in England that support the welfare of children and families across court proceedings.

CAFCASS employ officers and trained social workers; they will be contacted by the court before the hearing is confirmed to carry out safeguarding checks with the police and local authority to investigate whether there are any safety issues for the children concerned. If CAFCASS have any concerns regarding the children in the proceeding they will usually contact both parties.

Representing yourself in civil court

Civil court is a type of court that handles the rights of individuals and organisations - it’s very different from criminal court.   

You might hear the following terms in connection to civil court: ‘taking someone to court’, ‘making a money claim’, or ‘suing someone’. 

When defending yourself in the civil courts you need to know that the civil courts process is dictated by The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (CPR). You can prepare for attending civil court by referring to the CPR. You can also find thorough guides on the civil courts to help you prepare.

Before the case is taken to court the other party must send a letter of claim. This will include all the alleged facts and evidence against you. Typically, you will be given a ‘set and reasonable period of time’ to respond. 

Court conduct

If the matter cannot be resolved through mediation and you need to go to court, then you will want to be well prepared. 

Firstly, judges are addressed in different ways at different courts so make sure you are addressing your judge in the right way. 

For example: 

  • In court, senior judges are addressed as ‘My Lord’ or ‘My Lady’

  • A circuit judge is referred to as ‘Your honour’

  • District judges are referred to as ‘Judge’

  • Magistrates are referred to as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’

As an LiP in the civil courts, judges can slow down the court proceedings to explain to you what is happening, however this is not looked upon favourably, so ensure you’re prepared for the day and have your arguments and supporting notes in order.

Key considerations

Attending court is always stressful especially if you’re defending yourself.

Understanding the processes, formalities and the roles and responsibilities of the court staff will help you feel prepared and confident on the day, giving yourself the best chance of winning your case.

Remember you can get free advice and low-cost legal help, so make sure you exhaust your options before committing to representing yourself in court.

Need support? Get in touch with our experts

For help and guidance on family or litigation matters and representing yourself in court, get a free case assessment from our legal assessment team today.

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