Number of Litigants in Person on the Increase
Under English law people are entitledto represent themselves in civil proceedings; there is nothing toprevent a person representing themselves in the English courtswithout a solicitor. The number of parties representing themselvesin civil proceedings has grown over the past years, causing newchallenges for the judicial system. The increase in litigants inpersons (LIPs) has been largely attributed to the cuts in fundingfor legal aid and other services. Consequently, more and morepeople are having to fund their own lawyer and people cannot or donot wish to risk these legal costs.
Whilst some LIPs are appreciative ofthe rules and regulations, many are not and find it difficult todeal with complex proceedings, the substantive law and Courtprocedure and demonstrate a lack of understanding of case law andlegal principles. Further, LIPs take up a disproportionate amountof time and put increasing demands on Court staff; they havetrouble preparing adequately for hearings and generally struggle tocomply with Court rules and orders. Judges are now having to take amore hands on approach during hearings in order to ensure LIPsunderstand the legal procedure, causing further delays andincreased costs.
Onoccasion, it can appear to represented parties that the Courtsallow LIPs to breach orders and Court rules without sanction. Whenfaced with an LIP, litigants need to bear in mind that judges willnot take kindly to represented parties who try and confuse and takeadvantage of LIPs by bamboozling them with procedural issues. Thatsaid, represented parties are under no obligation to 'hold thehands' of LIPs through the Court process. Judges are increasinglyciting the old adage "ignorance is no excuse" to LIPs who havefailed to adhere to Court rules.
Considering the current economicclimate and the fact that the limit of the small claims track hasincreased to £10,000, it is of no surprise that the number of LIPshas increased. That trend will almost certainlycontinue.
Itis accepted by most, if not all, in the legal profession that thecurrent system needs to adapt to ensure effective access to justicefor LIPs. Changes to the provision of legal services are needed,making it easier for unrepresented parties to obtain legal adviceand representation. Litigants should be encouraged to instruct alawyer when litigating, especially when dealing with the higherCourts. Further, out of court dispute resolution processes willbecome increasingly important to reduce the number of cases beforethe Court.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.