Support at Court is a new initiative being launched by the University of Hertfordshire to provide free help and guidance to people attending a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Hearing (FHDRA), the first court hearing to deal with disputes between separated parents about their children.
From March, law students from the Hertfordshire Law School will run a drop-in service at Watford Family Court and Hertford Family Court offering practical support to those who do not have legal representation.
Students working on the initiative will demystify the court process by explaining court terminology and protocol. They will provide help filling in forms and organising papers. By helping people navigate the court process, the service will provide reassurance to those unfamiliar with the system. Law students working at the service will not offer legal advice, but will signpost families to other relevant services where needed, such as domestic violence services.
In around 40% of FHDRA cases, neither side has legal representation, a figure that has been steadily increasing since 2013 when cuts to legal aid came into effect. Between June and September 2019, the court reported 14,659 new FHDRA hearings, involving 21,736 children, a 5% increase on the same quarter in 2018.
Support at Court will complement the work offered by the University’s Hertfordshire Law Clinic, in which law students offer free legal advice, supported by professional lawyers on issues including family law.
HHJ Middleton-Roy, Circuit Judge at Watford Court, commented:“For those without legal representation, navigating the family court system can be challenging. It can also be an emotionally charged time. Support at Court will be hugely important in filling a gap and providing the human support that is so badly needed. It will mean those attending court will be better prepared and more informed, leading to more efficient hearings and more secure outcomes.”
Diana Kirsch, Director of Hertfordshire Law Clinic, commented, “Support at Court is a great opportunity for students to gain practical court experience and provides a much needed service to families.”