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Paying the price of representing yourself

21/10/14 - 9:55 am

The recent case of Bakir v Downe [2014] EWHC 3318 (Fam) highlights some of the financial pitfalls of representing yourself in Court through legal proceedings without a solicitor or barrister (known as ‘litigant in person’).  

Mr Justice Mostyn’s decision in Bakir v Downe [2014] EWHC 3318 (Fam) has been transcribed at public expense “for the benefit of Mr Downe (the husband in this case) and for any other litigants in person”. 

The Judge also made clear that this was a case where the husband chose to represent himself and to not pay for legal advice in preference to spending his money on other things, as opposed to someone who would have been eligible for legal aid prior to its recent withdrawal for these cases.

The Judge’s decision reads:-

The Court is not some kind of advice bureau for the benefit of litigants in person who do not understand how orders have been made. If a litigant in person wishes to make an application to the court, then he must do so in accordance with the procedure laid down by the law of the land.

The case related to an application made within divorce proceedings by the wife to freeze some monies held in the husband’s sole name with the aim of ensuring her husband didn’t spend the money before final decisions were made on how the assets would be divided up within the divorce.

At the hearing of the wife’s application to freeze the monies, the husband represented himself. He was asked by the Judge if he was prepared to give an undertaking i.e. a legal promise which if broken is punishable by a fine or a term of imprisonment.  The husband agreed. 

Following the hearing, the husband then entered into email correspondence with the Judge’s clerk querying procedural issues and matters of law. Although one of the husband’s emails stated “this is not a question requiring legal advice but of compliance with procedure”, the husband was in fact asking the Judge’s clerk for legal advice about procedure set out in Family Proceedings Rules 2010. 

As a consequence of the email trail, the Judge listed a further hearing and requested the husband attend.  At this hearing, the Judge made it clear that if the husband wanted the Court to do something, he had to make an application, follow the correct procedure and specify what order he was asking the Court to make as set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. It was not for the Court to advise the husband how to do of any of this.  

Most importantly, Mr Justice Mostyn made an order that the husband was to pay his wife’s legal costs of having to attend the hearing for the Judge to explain this to the husband.

In light of this legal case, it is important to seek the right legal advice even if you then choose to represent yourself in Court. 

At Understanding Divorce, we can advise you on how to make and respond to applications, how to avoid paying unnecessary legal costs through instructing solicitors to put right what has gone wrong and/or having to pay your spouse’s legal costs if you get it wrong.  

For a free initial consultation, contact one of our team today on 0113 201 4904. You can pay for specific pieces of advice as you go along and still represent yourself to keep costs down, or we can represent you fully if things become too complicated or stressful to deal with.

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