Now Legal Aid has been slashed, you're going to have to be your own lawyer.
Hot new trend alert: defending yourself in court. Thanks to this week's latest round of government cuts, 75 percent of people who could have once paid for a lawyer with Legal Aid now cannot. From now on, divorcees and petty litigants who all want their moment in the sun but haven't got any cash will have to duke it out with the only things they have left: their minds. Expect lots of manically scrawled, tear-stained green ink letters being passed to the bench. Expect lots of cab drivers trying to get custody of their kids by showing the court several too many snaps from their Disneyland photo albums. Expect a chaos of impoverished people screaming at each other while trapped in a cage of bureaucratic procedure, like an episode of Jeremy Kyle that lasts for months on end.
Once upon a time, people who represented themselves in court were the crankiest of the cranks, now they look just like you and me. To stop yourself from becoming human cholesterol clogging the arteries of our courts system, here's a guide to DIY justice.
Remember: you're not on TV. This is real life. Judges hate it when you pretend to be in Ally McBeal. Phrases like, “I'm just nipping off to the unisex bathroom,” or, “I would like to introduce Exhibit A, a dancing baby that symbolises my neuroses,” will do little more than piss off your average judge. No one wants you turning up with an eating disorder and Vonda Shepherd, and the only reason judges want to see Robert Downey Jr in their courtroom is to throw manacles around the little wanker.
Blue's "All Rise" might cover courtroom basics quite well, but it is certainly no roadmap. When you arrive in court, you must start by introducing yourself. You will be asked to state your name, present address and date of birth. Try following this up with a bit of a warm-up monologue. “Do we have any clerks of the court in the house today?”, “Hey – what do you call a hundred lawyers dead at the bottom of the sea? A good start. Only joking, folks...” Courts can be stressful places – most of your days are spent hearing about people who abandoned their babies in railway arches – so anything that can put a smile on people's dials is appreciated.
Respect for the courts and a general high level of decorum is paramount. Never refer to a judge as "you", "matey over there", "blud" or "wigboy". Likewise, if you are instigating divorce proceedings, it is unwise to call your soon-to-be ex-wife anything like, "that cunt", or "the menopausal hag to my left". Secretly, judges quite enjoy this sort of language – it mirrors the way they talk to each other in the changing-rooms while they're robing-up – but, at the same time, they need to be seen to be impartial. It's only human nature that they may take a few months off of your sentence if you do a particularly good swear, but the likelihood they'll admit this is minimal.
Technically, as a legal representative, you are entitled to wear a wig in the courtroom. Ziggy is very on-trend, Elvis less so. Rasta is an evergreen choice, while punk rocker shows a mite too much anti-authoritarianism. Whichever you choose, try to never wear a wig that is bigger than the judge's: having the biggest wig is a point of professional pride to most, and you risk emasculating them.
THE CASE ITSELF
The law is based on argument. And argument is exactly the sort of thing you should avoid. Argument gets in the way of presenting your side of events. Argument often leads to the uncovering of the truth, so avoid it. Just pretend like you're arguing while simply re-stating a few facts you think show you in a flattering light, then, to fill in the connective tissue, have some handy phrases up your sleeve that sound like dense argument but aren't.
Things like: “Well, if it were to happen like that – not that you can infer that it did – having happened, everything would simply be as it is, only more so, as I'm sure a man of your intelligence will agree, m'lud.” And wait for the judge, who is used to having his assumed IQ roundly patronised, to nod in regal assent towards you, suddenly roused from his reverie about the pork pie lunch he has waiting for him.
If you are facing off against another amateur, very well. But if the opposite team has a proper lawyer, just remember that they will be absolutely fired-up. After all, if there's one thing lawyers hate, it's people arguing in court without being paid gargantuan sums for it. They will stop at nothing to crush every bone in your horrid little body with all the jargon they can muster.
THE SPECIFICS OF DIVORCE LAW FOR MEN
Technically, divorcing someone should be easy; you just un-marry them. And, indeed, in Islam it is still exactly that easy. This will be your lowest-cost solution, providing you are a man. The Prophet had little truck with QCs or even provincial solicitors, which is why he decreed that simply saying to your wife, “I divorce you,” three times is enough to secure a divorce. In terms of turning this into a cost-effective litigation solution, the easiest way is simply to become a Muslim (again, very easy to do: just say, “There is only one god, Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet” in the presence of a witness), then divorce your wife.
In proper courts, divorce is more difficult. In any custody battle, you have to be able to show that you can provide a decent home to your kids. Or conversely, you should be able to show that your ex-wife is genuinely a mega-bitch from hell. This is what you should concentrate on. Take heart from the fact that this is still a civil matter and standards of proof in civil courts are lower than in criminal courts. By way of example: in a criminal court, if you wanted to prove that your wife was a mega-bitch you probably need to prove that she really talks about a lot of ridiculous bullshit, and also that she regularly criticises your friends. Whereas, in a civil court, you would merely need to show that she tuts audibly when you have a fourth beer.
Overall, it may still be best to go for as outrageous a slur as you are able to muster. Frankly, most of these judges seldom ventured very far off the Christ's College lawns. What they know of the lives of riff-raff like you is conditioned only by the occasional flick-past Eastenders on their way to Newsnight. Day after day, all they hear in their courtroom are the worst evils of the lower classes. Hence, they will believe literally anything. In fact, the more outrageous your allegations, the more believable it will sound to them, so go big. Prostitution, crack, 20 Bensons for the baby – make it a Christmas special.
If none of this works, just try to subtly disorientate the other team's witnesses by drawing the words "fuck you" on your teeth, and then – when you are directly opposite – flash them a big toothy smile. That's how George Carman won all of his cases.
Illustration by Marta Parszeniew
Previously: Drug Etiquette for British People in 2013