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Self-represented litigants: challenges and solutions for a wicked problem
Wednesday, 31 August 2022
Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) are a common feature of family justice systems across many jurisdictions. However, their presence is typically viewed as problematic. By virtue of their lay status, SRLs often disrupt the otherwise-accepted practices and customs of the legal process, creating additional work for legal professionals and court staff and placing significant pressure on family courts.
Diminishing availability of free legal advice and early intervention measures in family law can exacerbate this problem, as many may find themselves with no option but to self-represent. These individuals may turn to the family court as a last resort, only to find themselves regarded as a burden to the justice system.
This presentation examines how the SRL phenomenon can serve as a key signifier of the health of family justice systems, by illuminating why and how people find themselves self-representing in family courts, and how this affects their quality of experience and outcomes. It also considers the challenges and solutions to these problems, including how SRLs are likely to have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Jessica Mant
Dr Jessica Mant is a Lecturer in Law at Monash University and an empirical researcher specialising in access to justice, legal aid and family law. Her upcoming book, Litigants in Person and the Family Justice System (Hart Publishing, scheduled December 2022) examines access to justice for unrepresented parties in private family law cases.
Dr Mant will draw lessons and insights for the Australian context based on complementary work from other jurisdictions as well as her empirical research on self-representing litigants and experiences of legal aid lawyers in England and Wales.
Dr Hugh McDonald
Principal Researcher, Victoria Law Foundation
Acting Manager, Research and Evaluation, Victoria Legal Aid
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