On 28 July 1999 Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, ruled in the Court of Appeal that to allow a litigant in person the assistance of a McKenzie Friend may be "undesirable in the interests of justice".
Ruling in the case of Regina v Bow County Court ex parte Pelling Lord Woolf, sitting with Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Robert Walker, decreed that a litigant in person has no right to such assistance.
Where a hearing was in public, assistance should be allowed "unless the judge is satisfied that fairness and the interests of justice do not require a litigant in person to have the assistance of a McKenzie Friend".
If the hearing was in private - with the press and public excluded - the nature of proceedings "may make it undesirable in the interests of justice for a McKenzie Friend to assist".
A judge will now be required to give reasons for excluding a McKenzie Friend, but acceptable reasons will include the "confidential" nature of the proceedings or the opinion of the judge that the litigant "had no need" of assistance.
Read the article Your Right to a Friend published in The Times (17 August 1999).
Read the Times Law Report (18 August 1999) of Lord Woolf's judgement

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It is vital for all judges to realise that most unrepresented parties are stressed and worried people operating in an alien environment in what for them is a foreign language. They are trying to grasp concepts of law and procedure about which they may be totally ignorant. They may well be experiencing feelings of fear, ignorance, frustration, bewilderment and disadvantage, especially if appearing against a represented party. The outcome of the case may well have a profound effect and long-term consequences upon their life.

Judges and those who chair tribunals must always be aware of the feelings and difficulties experienced by unrepresented parties and must be ready and able to help them, especially if a represented party is being oppressive or aggressive. Maintaining a balance between assisting and understanding what the unrepresented party requires, while protecting their represented opponent against the problems that can be caused by the unrepresented party’s lack of legal and procedural knowledge, is the key.

Throughout the legal system there are those who represent themselves rather than instruct a lawyer to represent them. The reasons for this can vary. Many do not qualify for Legal Services Commission funding, either financially or because of the nature of their case. Some cannot afford a solicitor. Others believe that they will be better at putting their case across. some distrust lawyers.

In what follows, the term “unrepresented party” encompasses those preparing a case for trial, those conducting their own case at trial and those wishing to enforce a judgment or to appeal.

The disadvantages faced by unrepresented parties stem from their lack of knowledge of the law and court procedure. They are likely to be unfamiliar with the language and specialist vocabulary of legal proceedings, tend to lack objectivity and emotional distance from their case and may not be skilled in advocacy. They are unlikely to be able to undertake cross-examination or to test the evidence of an opponent. They may be confused about the presentation of evidence. They are unlikely to understand the relevance of law and regulations to their own problem, or to know how to challenge a decision that they believe to be wrong. All these factors have an adverse effect on the preparation and the presentation of their case. Equally, however, there are other litigants in person who are very well able to prepare their case and indeed “play the system for all it is worth”. This should be borne in mind.

Subject to the law relating to vexatious litigants, everybody of full age and capacity is entitled to be heard in person by any court or tribunal which is concerned to adjudicate in proceedings in which that person is a party. A party may be represented at trial by a person with rights to conduct litigation under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 or may have an assistant or friend (whether lawyer or not) assisting in presenting the case by taking notes, quietly making suggestions or giving advice.

Increasing numbers of people are representing themselves in the civil and family courts. The small claims procedure in the county court is designed specifically to assist the public to pursue claims without recourse to legal representation and has created a huge increase in the number of unrepresented parties. The vast majority of defended civil actions in the County Court are dealt with under this procedure and it is a sign of its success that its jurisdiction has been increased (subject to certain exceptions in personal injury cases) from claims of up to £1,000, to claims of up to £5,000. With the consent of the parties cases of a certain type can encompass substantially greater claims. Legal Services Commission funding has never been available for small claims. Unrepresented parties also appear with increasing frequency in the Court of Appeal in criminal, civil and family cases. Some have represented themselves at first instance. Others, having had lawyers appear for them in the court below, take their own cases on appeal, often through a withdrawal of Legal Services Commission funding after the first instance hearing.

Those who are involved in legal proceedings without legal representation may face a daunting range of problems of both knowledge and understanding.

English may not be the first language of the unrepresented party and he or she may have particular difficulties with written English. Any papers received from the court or from the other side may need to be translated. The court may need to adjourn in order to ensure that a mutually acceptable translator can attend the proceedings to explain to the unrepresented party in his or her own language what is taking place, and to assist in the translation of evidence and submissions.

Unrepresented parties come from a variety of social and educational backgrounds. Some may have difficulty with reading, writing and spelling. Judges should at all times be sensitive to literacy problems and be prepared where possible to offer short adjournments to allow a litigant more time to read or to ask anyone accompanying the litigant to help them to read and understand documents. Some unrepresented parties may try the patience of a judge by their scant knowledge of law and procedure. A judge must exercise and be seen to exercise considerable patience. He or she should not interrupt, engage in dialogue, indicate a preliminary view or cut short an argument in the same way that they might with a qualified lawyer.

Unrepresented parties often believe that because they are aggrieved in some way they automatically have a good case. Many cannot conceive of the possibility that they may not be believed or that justice may not be on their side. When explaining that there is no case, a judge must bear in mind that this will come as a great disappointment to a litigant who has waited for the day in court for a long time.

Some unrepresented parties are unaware of the explanatory leaflets available at the court, or of the lists of advice agencies and Citizens Advice Bureaux able to offer assistance with case preparation.

Many unrepresented parties believe that the court staff are there to give legal advice. Under the Courts Charter court staff can only give information on how a case may be pursued; they cannot give legal advice under any circumstances.

Unrepresented parties in civil cases may not choose the best cause of action or defence. For example, they may not know that if a cheque is returned marked “refer to drawer” it is easier to sue on the cheque than on the original invoice. Many unrepresented parties do not know about limitation periods. Amendments to the statement of case are often necessary.

Many parties fail to file their own witness statements in advance of trial and have difficulty in understanding that such a failure means that they may not be able to give evidence at trial. The individual’s level of knowledge should be taken into account in civil cases when deciding whether to allow an amendment of statement of case or evidence from a witness whose statement has not been filed in advance. A flexible approach ought to be adopted where possible, even if this involves an adjournment.
Some of the problems which arise out of inadequate preparation in advance of civil trials are addressed in the Protocols of the Civil Procedure Rules. The Court Service has produced a new series of leaflets for unrepresented parties in the light of the Rules.

Unrepresented parties sometimes fail to understand their obligations to comply with pre-hearing directions, and in particular directions imposing time deadlines and “unless orders”. Many fail to read court orders or to understand their effect. It is good practice to try to ensure that an unrepresented party leaves a directions hearing appreciating exactly what is required of him or her. A judge should always be ready to explain fully the precise meaning of any particular direction or court order.
Sometimes unrepresented parties believe that if the other side has failed to comply with directions given by the court, that in itself is evidence in support of their own case, or that the opponent should be prevented from defending or proceeding further. They often feel upset at what they regard as an over-tolerant attitude by the courts to delay by solicitors.

Experience shows that unrepresented parties tend not to make sufficient use of documentary or photographic evidence in their cases or fail to appreciate the need for maps and plans of any location relevant to the case. Judges have the power to order a preliminary hearing for a case allocated to any of the three tracks. Preliminary hearings are an opportunity for suggestions from the Bench that documentary and photographic evidence and, if appropriate, maps and plans will be of assistance at trial and will help facilitate the smooth progress of the hearing.

The duty to disclose documents is frequently neglected by unrepresented parties. Some unrepresented parties will have little or no appreciation that they should adopt a “cards on the table” approach. Consequently there can be delay, either because of the need to adjourn or because the judge or the other side requires time at the hearing to read recently disclosed documents. When a pre-trial hearing takes place, a short clear explanation of the duty of disclosure and the test as to whether or not a document needs to be disclosed helps both parties and the court in terms of time saved.

Many unrepresented parties do not have access to office facilities and have difficulties in photocopying documents, preparing bundles and typing witness statements. They have little concept of the need for documents to be in chronological order and paginated. Putting the case back is often the sensible course for a judge to take, in the event of litigants coming to court with their bundles in other than proper order.

Most unrepresented parties do not have access to legal textbooks or libraries where such textbooks are available and may not be able to down-load information from a legal website. A judge should never close his or her mind to letting an individual, accompanied by a member of the court staff, have access to the court library or to a particular book.
Many unrepresented parties do not understand the purpose or role of case law and authorities. They are frequently very confused and troubled by the fact that the judge or tribunal appears to be referring to someone else’s case. A brief explanation by the judge of the doctrine of precedent will enable an unrepresented party to appreciate what is going on and why. A represented party’s lawyer should be told to produce any authorities to be relied on at the outset. An unrepresented party must be given proper opportunity to read such authorities and make submissions in relation to them.

Many unrepresented parties do not appreciate the requirement to prove what they say by witness evidence and accordingly do not approach witnesses in advance or ask them to come to court. Judges are often told “All you have to do is to ring Mr X and he will confirm what I am saying.’ When told that that is not possible, unrepresented parties often become aggrieved and fail to understand that it is for them to prove their case. The need for expert evidence, even in simple cases, is also frequently misunderstood. It must also be remembered that no party can call an expert witness unless permission has been given by the court on allocation.

Where unrepresented parties have not arranged for a witness of fact or an expert witness to come to court, a judge will have a difficult decision to make if confronted with an application to adjourn. The judge should not lose sight of the fact that unrepresented parties may genuinely not have realised just how important the attendance of such witnesses is. In cases where applications to adjourn are refused, clear explanations for the refusal should be given.

Many unrepresented parties do not appreciate the need to obtain an adjournment order if a hearing date presents them with difficulties. It is a common misconception that it is sufficient to write to the court without consulting the other side, merely asking for the case to be put off to another date, or that no more than a day’s notice of such a request is required. On the other hand, unrepresented parties may find it difficult to understand why cases need to be adjourned if they over-run because of the way in which they or others have presented their cases, or why their cases have not started at the time at which they were listed.

At the plea stage, where an unrepresented defendant pleads guilty, a judge should take great care to ensure that the defendant understands the elements of the offence with which he or she is charged, especially if there is on the face of it potential evidence suggesting that the defendant may have a defence to the charge.


ascertain how parties wish to be addressed
• make a point of obtaining, well in advance if possible, precise details of any disability or medical problem from which a person who is appearing before you suffers
• allow more time for special arrangements, breaks etc. to accommodate special needs at the trial
• give particular thought to the difficulties facing disabled people who attend court – prior planning will enable their various needs to be accommodated as far as possible. • try to put yourself in their position – the stress of attending court should not be made worse unnecessarily, through a failure to anticipate foreseeable problems.
• bear in mind the problems facing unrepresented parties.
• admit a child’s evidence, unless the child is incapable of giving intelligible testimony.
• ensure that appropriate measures are taken to protect vulnerable witnesses, for instance children, those with mental or physical disabilities or those who are afraid or distressed.
• be understanding of people’s difficulties and needs.

underestimate the stress and worry faced by those appearing in court, particularly when the ordeal is compounded by an additional problem such as disability or having to appear without professional representation.
• overlook the use – unconscious or otherwise – of gender-based, racist or ‘homophobic’ stereotyping as an evidential short-cut.
• allow advocates to attempt over rigorous cross-examination of children or other vulnerable witnesses.
• use words that imply an evaluation of the sexes, however subtle – for instance, ‘man and wife’, ‘girl’ (unless speaking of a child), ‘businessmen’.
• use terms such as ‘mental handicap’, ‘the disabled’ – use instead ‘learning disability’, ‘people with disabilities’.
• allow anyone to be put in a position where they face hostility or ridicule.


You will need to consider at an early point which witnesses to call. Sometimes, you will be the only witness you need or wish to call. A court may be prepared to take hearsay evidence into account, but will tend to treat it as less reliable than first-hand evidence.
Having decided which issues are relevant to your case (including the redress sought), you will need to consider calling anyone who can give significant evidence about any aspect of the case which cannot be given by a person who is already going to give evidence. For example, if you have suffered ill health because of that discrimination, there may be a need to call an expert witness.

It is sensible to interview witnesses at an early stage, to take statements from them, and to ask them to sign and date those statements to confirm that the statements are correct and accurate in all respects.

In taking a statement, it is highly desirable to avoid putting words into the witness's mouth. Any perceived short-term advantage to your case likely to be outweighed by the damage done if, when giving evidence at the court hearing, the witness says something rather different.

Sometimes, possible witnesses are very reluctant to co-operate. For example, they may not be keen to give evidence against a work colleague. Alternatively, they may fear being victimised for giving evidence against their employer (even though such victimisation is unlawful). In other cases, a witness is willing to give evidence, but does not wish to be seen to be so doing voluntarily – a typical example might be a sexual harassment or victimisation claim.

The court has the power to order a person to attend a hearing as a witness. It may make such an order out of its own volition or upon request from you as party to the case. Before granting an application, the court may require whoever makes the request to notify every other party of the application. Before exercising its discretion to grant a witness order, the court will need to be satisfied, first, that the witness can potentially give evidence relevant to the issues in dispute. Secondly, the court will need to be satisfied that issuing a witness order is actually necessary – so you should invite the witness to attend before applying to the courtl for an order.

It is sensible to think very carefully indeed before seeking to compel a reluctant, or possibly even hostile, witness to give evidence on your behalf. There is no "property" in a witness – in other words, the other side may be able to interview your witness and obtain helpful information which could possibly undermine your whole strategy in putting your case to the court. Even where a witness has signed a statement, what may actually be said under cross examination before the court is, all too often, highly unpredictable.

Thus, although you need to call relevant witnesses, a good rule of thumb is to call as few witnesses as are necessary in order to put your case effectively.


Dress For Court
Coordinate your court attire with the case you are making.
If you are a working LIP, appear in conservative business attire. The judge does not have many clues as to your real personality. Your clothes send a signal.
If you are a stay-at-home LIP, appear in neat, conservative, respectful attire. If at all possible, do not wear jeans or sweatshirts. Women should avoid clothing that is revealing in any way.
Prepare Your Arguments
Some lawyers recommend memorizing the key points you want to mention and look for a way to work those points into any response the judge asks for from you.
Also be aware of anything in your life that could help your argument.
Gather Your Documentation
Be prepared with documents to back up your claims e.g. such as in children custody matters:
• Any written communications between the child's teachers and you.
• Doctors' notes showing that you were the parent who accompanied the child to the doctors' office.
• Your own schedules from past months, showing the time you were spending with the child.
• Checks you wrote for children's activities or at the doctors' office.
• A statement from your employer, if you can comfortably obtain one, explaining the steps you have taken at work to assure that you will have adequate time to care for your children.
• If different school districts are involved, bring statistics about your school demonstrating its best qualities. These may relate to number of extra-curricular activities, performance of the sports teams, or admissions to colleges.

Here are some tips on how to conduct yourself in the courtroom.

Don't get flustered. Stay calm, no matter what your spouse or the person you are claiming against claims, or no matter what the other lawyer says to you.
• Don't volunteer information. If you are asked questions, answer them as honestly and simply as possible. Things you say could be twisted around in a way that hurts you.
• Be respectful to the judge. Address the judge as "your honour," wait for the judge to finish speaking, and speak calmly and respectfully. Use clean language.
• Don't interrupt anyone. If your spouse, or the person you are claiming against, or his or her lawyer is lying, you will have an opportunity to speak. Be patient.