Facing court alone

 

Support Through Court is a charity dedicated to providing free, independent assistance to people facing proceedings without legal representation. 

Our volunteer Jane retells Aysha's story.

I found Aysha crying in the court desk waiting area. She had come to the Leeds court to apply for an order, which would stop her ex-husband from taking her two young sons to live abroad permanently.

Her ex husband had moved without providing a contact number or adress and Aysha had not seen her children in almost a year. The father had majority custody but there was no legal reason for him to stop her seeing the boys. Aysha was contacted by the children's primary school and was warned that her ex-husband had booked flights to Moroco for himself and the children to move there.

As Aysha feared she would never see her children ever again, she was very nervous and her poor understanding of English left her confused. Aysha did not have her ex-husband's address and the court was unwilling to list the matter without it. She had also been told that her application did not qualify for an urgent hearing  as there was no evidence of abuse. She was very upset and explained that by the time the matter was listed, the children would have gone and there would be no way to contact them again.

I spoke to Aysha about her case and tried to reassure her. Although I was not in a position to provide legal advice, I calmed her by simply being understanding. This came as a relief as she had been frustrated about not being able to get her point across.

Together, we went back to the court staff, who came out from behind the counter and sat with us. I helped Aysha explain why this was urgent and she was able to explain her husband's plan to leave the country. I also helped her complete the necessary forms to stop him taking her children abroad. The court ordered the children's school to disclose the father's adress via secure email. Aysha's phone had run out of battery for her to recieve the email so we also checked the internet to see where the nearest phone shop was.

On receiveing the application and learning of her ex-husbands plans the court and the judge reconsidered and decided the matter was urgent. Hearing this news, Aysha was very relieved and had a smile on her face.

Later, she left me a letter at the Support Through Court thanking me for the support and explaining that she had been awarded another hearing to put her case forward. This was a very emotional case for me as there was a very serious risk that Aysha may never have seen her chidren again. It also struck me how easy it is for an application to be dimissed if the formalities are not followed.

Neil shares his experience of using our charity's support
Going to court is one of the most nerve racking and serious things that can happen in a person’s life. In my case I used the family courts. With the lack of legal aid, I was very concerned that I would make mistakes with the paperwork. There are people that offer to help, but they all charge for the service and in most cases you have no idea if they are competent to do so.

I heard about the charity during a visit to the family courts and decided to visit them for help. I was very pleased with the service. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly. It was very reassuring to get somebody to go through the paperwork with me. I can imagine that it could also save the court time and costs by having correctly filled in forms.

I only wish that my local family court had a similar service. I feel that my children are relying on me to engage with the court in an appropriate way and the service helped me to do so.

I would definitely recommend this service. It has the potential to change people’s lives.

Ernest arrived at our charity after he had been threatened with eviction. He was an elderly gentleman and his carer accompanied him. He had a hearing regarding rent arrears and asked if we could help.

Once I had made him a cup of coffee, he explained what had happened. Due to cuts to his benefits, the council was not paying his full rent anymore and he had therefore fallen behind with paying his rent. It was clear that Ernest and his carer were very distressed and angry about the situation. I listened attentively to what Ernest and his carer said and agreed that his situation must seem unfair. I think talking to me and venting their concerns made them feel calmer and supported. They were pleased that someone was listening to them. I then explained the procedure to him and what to expect of the court process. I arranged for him to meet with a duty solicitor and during his appointment with them, I took notes so he would remember what to bring along to his next appointment.

Without the charity's support, Ernest would have felt unsupported, lost and confused. However after they left, he and his carer felt a lot better about the situation. The case had been adjourned and I was there to help and support them. The duty solicitor was also on hand to support them and was going to apply for Ernest to receive legal aid.

Amy's distressing letter

When Amy called the PSU for help, she was crying and clearly very distressed. That morning she had left home for a holiday with her mother and son, but had taken with her the day's post . She had opened the post when they had stopped at a service station and had received a letter from the court informing her that her child’s father would be taking her to court for contact with their son.

The court had also sent her a copy of his application, in which he had made allegations against Amy of  domestic abuse. Amy went on to explain that the allegations were false and that in fact it was he who had been abusive during the relationship. She added that she had always made the child available for regular contact but the father had recently moved to an area over an hour away and she now had difficulty dropping her son off as she worked fulltime. She believed this had prompted the application.

Amy had never been through court proceedings before and was convinced that the court would accept his allegations and that her child would be taken from her. She kept saying that she didn’t know what to do. The volunteer listened to Amy, which helped to calm her down, and suggested that it might be helpful to explain the court process for child arrangements. The volunteer carefully explained what Amy needed to do next as it was important that she acknowledge receipt of the application, indicate her position to the court and respond to the allegations made.

There wasn’t a Support Through Court in Amy’s hometown in Wales, but from what she had told the volunteer, the volunteer thought that she may be eligible for legal aid. The volunteer explained this and asked if she would like the volunteer to run through the eligibility criteria with her using the gov.uk webpage. They did this together and the website suggested there was a strong likelihood that she would get legal aid. Amy had no idea that this might be an option for her and so the volunteer also sent her an e-mail with the link to the law society’s ‘find a solicitor’ webpage which would enable her to find legal aid solicitors in her area.

Amy was now a lot calmer and said she felt more reassured, but the volunteer was worried that she hadn’t taken everything in as she had been so upset at the start of the call. The volunteer knew that she was with her mother at the service station and offered to speak to her to re-iterate what she had told Amy, with Amy's permission.