Lawyer criticised for late service of documents on LiP

Published: 24th October 2016

A lawyer has been reprimanded after serving documents on an unrepresented mother in a child abduction case where they were representing the father. As Mr Justice Peter Jackson explained, Litigants in Person are ‘unfortunately not an unusual occurrence’ in child abduction cases.

He added that the late service of documents ‘further weakens the position of LiPs by removing any opportunity they may have to seek advice and explanation ahead of the hearing from those who may be familiar with the system and the language.’ He also pointed out that court hearings are ‘already difficult for [litigants in person], but many, being inexperienced, are hesitant to complain about matters such as late service.’

The judge reminded lawyers of the family court rules on court bundles:

‘PD 27A is concerned with court bundles in the Family Division and the Family Court. It sets out the basic requirements, but importantly it makes clear at 2.1 that these are subject to specific directions in any particular case. Under paragraph six:

  • The party preparing the bundle must provide a paginated index to all other parties not less than four working days before the hearing

  • Where counsel is instructed, s/he must have a paginated bundle not less than three working days before the hearing

  • The bundle (with the exception of the preliminary documents, known as Practice Direction documents) must be lodged with the court not less than two working days before the hearing

  • The PD documents must be lodged with the court no later than 11 am on the day before the hearing. The rule does not provide for service on the other parties, but the implication must be that the document will be sent to them no later than that.’

In international child abduction cases, applicants have the benefit of unconditional legal aid. However, if the defendant is unrepresented they can be at a significant disadvantage.

If documentation is presented late, the judge can order a relisting as they try and maintain a fine balance between being fair and acting quickly in sensitive child abduction cases.

Documents should be delivered by a Litigant in Person at least three days before the final hearing, according to court rules. This is particularly important in cases where the parties do not speak English, with the documents being translated and usually sent via email.

In 2010, the issue was raised by Lord Justice Munby in the Court of Appeal where he stated that even when facing child abduction charges, it was unfair for foreign nationals to be unrepresented during sensitive and complex international family law cases.

The team at K J Smith Solicitors have many years of experience in dealing with all matters relating to children including custody and residency and child abduction. For more information or to discuss your circumstances with a member of our team, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames),020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading),01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) 01483 370100 (Guildford) or 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield).

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