A rise in the number of people representing themselves in person at Court of Appeal hearings is posing an “increasing problem”, a leading judge has warned.
Lady Justice Black – who sits in the Court of Appeal – said the task facing judges was “infinitely more difficult” when people were not represented by lawyers.
She has raised concerns in the wake of warnings from lawyers that Government cuts in legal aid provision would lead to a rise in the numbers of litigants in person and pose problems.
A year ago Maura McGowan QC, then chairman of the Bar, said savings resulting from cuts might pale against an increase in court costs because cases featuring litigants in person would last longer.
And Lady Justice Black said she also had previously spoken about “the cost to individuals and to the legal system of the absence of legal assistance”.
Her latest comments have been made in a written ruling after a woman represented herself in a Court of Appeal hearing – analysed by Lady Justice Black and two other appeal judges – when challenging a county court judge’s decision to place her four children into care.
“This case is illustrative of an increasing problem faced by this court,” said Lady Justice Black.
“More and more litigants appear in front of us in person. Where, as here, the appellant is unrepresented, this requires all those involved in the appeal process to take on burdens that they would not normally have to bear.”
Lady Justice Black, who used to be a judge in the Family Division of the High Court, added: “Everyone involved in public and private law children cases is attempting to achieve the best possible result for the children whose welfare is at the heart of the proceedings and, without legal representatives for the parties, that task is infinitely more difficult.”
Appeal judges concluded that the county court judge had not evaluated all options to care or adoption and said the case should be re-heard in a county court.
The woman and her children were not identified but appeal judges said the local authority involved was Stockport Metropolitan Borough and the case had initially been heard in Manchester County Court.