In this blog post Open Justice law student Maurice Doona reflects on his experience of working to support litigants in person as they try to navigate the complexities of the family law court system.
‘This is Real Life Law’
Recently, a District Judge sitting at West London Family Court (WLFC) asked if he could share a table with me at a café over lunch. I volunteer at the Personal Support Unit (PSU) at WLFC. He had presided over hearings at which I was present, assisting clients through the private family law process. We had a brief discussion about being a law student practising voluntary legal work. Our conversation led me to reflect on how my understanding of pro bono legal work has been enhanced by volunteering at the PSU and led me to consider my motivations for getting involved.
I undertook the Open Justice module with a view that it would assist me in applying my legal studies to real-world situations. This coupled with my personal goal in achieving a ‘good’ law degree led me to apply to the PSU as a volunteer. It was clear that that these factors were all about my desires to succeed as part of my degree but on further reflection there was much more to it.
I had appreciated prior to joining the PSU, that their remit is not to provide legal advice and are not insured to do so. It is to assist Litigants in Person (LIP’s) with the court process through practical and emotional support before, during and after hearings. This has aided my understanding of how complex and daunting the legal system can be for those who do not have the financial means to pay for legal assistance. It has led to a realisation that I possess practical skills to help clients through the family courts.
This includes assisting clients with the paperwork and empowering them to have control of their personal legal issues. It can be by helping them to work out and practice their oral submissions. This leads to increased confidence and reduced anxiety which in turn allows the client a fairer hearing, especially, where the other party may have legal representation. Hearings in the Family Court are private proceedings, it is a privilege to have been provided access to the Court assisting clients who wish to provide a stable environment for their children. For example, being able to support a client in the successful award of an emergency order preventing removal of the children from the jurisdiction over the school holidays was humbling. The client had arrived at the court in a distressed and vulnerable state at 9am. She was directed to the PSU by security, fortunately we were able to assist her as some hearings had been transferred. I assisted the client to complete the C100 form ‘child arrangements’ and liaised with the court staff to process the application and to schedule an emergency same day hearing.
The skills that I have developed, I believe, both from a legal and general life experience, aided the client receiving access to justice. This was ‘Real Life Law’ in practice.