updated on 14 February 2020
Law students at the University of Hertfordshire will offer advice to families navigating the complex family court system in a new project called Support at Court.
The initiative will provide free help and guidance to people attending a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Hearing (FHDRA), which is the first court to deal with disputes between separated parents.
From March, university students will run a drop-in service at Watford Family Court and Hertford Family Court to offer support to those who do not have legal representation.
The aim of the project is to demystify the often confusing court process for families, and to help with practical tasks such as filling in forms and organising papers. The law students will also signpost families to relevant services where needed.
According to the University of Hertfordshire, in around 40% of FHDRA cases, neither side has legal representation – a figures that has been steadily rising since the 2013 legal aid cuts.
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, said, “Support at Court is a great opportunity for students to gain practical court experience and provides a much-needed service to families.”