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Litigants in person in private family law cases

About the project

The qualitative study, ‘Litigants in person in private family law cases’ (funded by the Ministry of Justice) was designed to develop understanding of the range of litigants in person (LIPs) in private family law cases, their behavioural drivers and support needs, and their impact on the court system.

The researchers found that the major reason for self-representation was an inability to afford a lawyer; appearing in person was wholly or partially a matter of choice for only a quarter of LIPs. Only a small minority of LIPs, including those with high levels of education or professional experience, were able to represent themselves competently in all aspects of their family law proceedings.

There had been limited adaptation of pre-court or court hearing processes to support LIPs. This proved a struggle for LIPs and led to delays in progressing cases to conclusion.

The main support needs identified by LIPs were for information about process and procedure, emotional support, practical support and tailored legal advice including broad questions about their entitlements and specific questions about tactics and tasks. However support for LIPs at the time of the study was found to be disparate, variable and limited.

The report made several recommendations to meet LIPs information and support needs more effectively. Recommendations included the establishment of an authoritative ‘official’ family court website hosting all the resources that a LIP needs; relaxion of the rules around attendance at court for friends/family who can provide moral support to LIPs; practice guidance for paid McKenzie friends, and the universal provision of initial legal advice for LIPs (and preparation of documents for court) to meet their practical and legal support needs.

Research team

Liz Trinder  (University of Exeter) (PI), Rosemary Hunter (University of Kent), Emma Hitchings (University of Bristol), Joanna Miles (University of Cambridge), Richard Moorhead (University of Exeter), Leanne Smith (University of Exeter), Mark Sefton (independent researcher), Victoria Hinchly (University of Exeter), Kay Bader (University of Exeter) and Julia Pearce (University of Exeter)


Ministry of Justice (2013-2014) (£149,513)

Project website

Litigants in person in private family law cases