In the case of Laremore and Speidell (not their real names) delivered on 19 November 2019, the Court dismissed an appeal by the husband, Mr Laremore, against Property and Maintenance Orders made in the Federal Circuit Court. Mr Laremore, who was representing himself in Court (i.e. without a lawyer), had appealed saying that he was not given a fair trial.
Specifically, Mr Laremore complained that the Court had not explained to him that he could cross-examine an expert witness. He also complained that the Trial Judge had not explained the relevant sections of the Family Law Act to him regarding maintenance.
However, the Full Court took the view that a judge’s failure to comply with the Court’s guidelines for self-represented litigants did not automatically establish grounds for appeal. The Court said that the guidelines were only for information and the overall obligation of the Court was to conduct the hearing in a way that afforded each party a fair trial. The Court was to provide a self-represented litigant with the opportunity to fairly present their case. Specifically, in Mr Laremore’s case, that would include a requirement that he be given information to enable him to make an informed choice as to whether to call evidence, cross examine witnesses or make submissions to the Court. If the information was not provided, Mr Laremore would only have grounds to appeal if such failure meant that, in the particular circumstances of his case, a fair trial did not take place.
The Court found that, despite the fact that he was not provided with that information, that failure had no bearing on the outcome of the case. Further, the Full Court said that the expert witness’ evidence could not have been seriously undermined, even if appropriate advice had been given to Mr Laremore about the cross-examination process.
Further, the fact that Mr Laremore had been represented by solicitors up until the eve of the trial led the Full Court to believe that it was inconceivable that they had not explained the law relating to maintenance prior to Mr Laremore’s decision to stop employing them and represent himself.