Over a lunchtime slot on 20 October 2015, the Cardiff Personal Support Unit hosted a free session with His Honour Judge Anthony Seys Llewellyn QC, the Designated Civil Judge at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre.
The session was aimed at anyone facing the prospect of attending the Court, whether for a civil or family matter, without any representation (a litigant in person) or anyone with an interest in finding out more information directly from a judge.
The event followed hot on the heels of the ground-breaking Bristol Family Law Session hosted at the Bristol Family and Civil Justice Centre earlier in the month, at which members of the public, press, support services and professionals alike all joined together to discuss the workings of the Family Court and surrounding issues regarding access to justice.
Back in Cardiff, located in Court 16, the audience gathered in anticipation of the session commencing. Discussions in the crowd involved issues surrounding the practical difficulties of enforcement of orders generally (particularly child arrangements orders) and the impossibility of managing the increasing costs associated with going to court. There were whispers of people having spent well into the tens of thousands of pounds trying to resolve issues, with some feeling their only option was to give up. When it came to their children, in some situations they had resigned themselves to waiting until the child in question was old enough to ‘vote with their feet’ and visit them later in life.
Judge Seys-Llewellyn, assisted by the Personal Support Unit’s Mabel Thompson, opened the session by handing out guidance for litigants in person from the Law Society and introducing himself and explaining his role in proceedings. He confirmed that he would like to hear from the audience about their questions or concerns and welcomed any feedback people wished to give.
The judge began by discussing general practicalities of attending court and the anxieties that can go hand in hand with this. He reassured people not to worry about how to address the judge and explained the role of the PSU and McKenzie friends. When facing the court without representation, preparation he felt, was a key element. The best way to remain calm and get a point across in his view is to be organised beforehand and respond to any requests from the court promptly. This can mean everything from sorting papers clearly, writing down all the things you want the court to know and turning to someone else to help you if possible.
When in a dispute of any nature, the judge reiterated how easy it is to get to the stage of both parties hating each other and things understandably becoming very heated. The judge encouraged people to try to put these emotions aside if possible and focus on the facts to help the judge reach a decision and grasp the essential points where agreement can’t be reached.
The question and answer session covered topics such as to whom the judge is accountable in their decision-making and an overview of the appeal process. The judge also outlined various procedures that can be put in place to help vulnerable parties during the court process. Transparency in the Family Court was discussed, plus access to judgments, as was the approach of the court to committal proceedings, and a question about who pays the judges’ wages.
The session was relaxed and informal and is another huge step towards the goal of demystifying the court process and putting judges right in front of the people about whom they may be responsible for making major decisions. Feedback was clearly in favour of another session taking place in the near future with a focus on family law requested.
Click here to keep up to date with information on any further free sessions with judges and details about going to court.