There are all sorts of different kinds of support for people who have to go to court – ranging from having a lawyer representing you, to having a friend or supportive person sitting with you in the court room or waiting area for moral support or to remind you of things you are worried you might forget.
The court is a public building and you are allowed to take a friend or family with you to court. Family Court hearings are usually private, but if you don’t have a lawyer you will usually be able to take someone into court with you to give you quiet moral support, to help take notes, and generally to assist you – without speaking on your behalf. This is called a “McKenzie friend”.
You can read more about McKenzie friends in guidance issued by the Courts here. A McKenzie friend might be a friend, a family member, someone from a voluntary organisation or in some cases may charge for their services.
It is a criminal offence for someone who is not a lawyer to “conduct litigation” or to act as an advocate unless the court has given permission. Lawyers are required to have indemnity insurance and to meet other requirements of practice, which do not apply to providers of McKenzie friend services, who are unregulated.
In Bristol the Family Court asks McKenzie friends to complete this form. If you have a McKenzie friend you could bring it to court with you already completed – or even better you could send it to the other person involved in the case (usually your ex) in advance of the hearing to save time.
For more information about McKenzie Friends see our F.A.Q. What is a McKenzie Friend?
Other Support at Bristol
If your hearing is at Bristol you may access support from the Personal Support Unit and Multifaith Support Unit. Read more here.
Other organisations or people who might support you
If you have an IDVA, support worker, key worker or social worker (for example if you are working with a drug or alcohol support service, community mental health service or domestic abuse service) it is likely the court will allow them to come into court with you but not speak on your behalf.
Extra Support (including special measures)
If you have a disability and require an adjustment, if you are fearful for your safety and require special arrangements for attending court (such as separate waiting room, entry through a separate entrance, screens or video links), or if you need an interpreter you can read more here.
As and when legal advice
Lots of people can’t afford to pay for a lawyer to advise and represent them throughout a case. Some people manage without having a lawyer run their case by paying for a little bit of advice here and there, or by asking a lawyer to do specific tasks for them from time to time. This can make representing yourself at court more manageable. Some people prefer to do the preparation themselves but pay for a lawyer to represent them at the hearing. We have provided some information to help you work out if and when you need a lawyer or not here.
Feature Image (Help sign) courtesy of Betsy Weber on Flickr – thanks :-)