Number of Litigants in Person on the Increase

Under English law people are entitled to represent themselves in civil proceedings; there is nothing to prevent a person representing themselves in the English courts without a solicitor. The number of parties representing themselves in civil proceedings has grown over the past years, causing new challenges for the judicial system. The increase in litigants in persons (LIPs) has been largely attributed to the cuts in funding for legal aid and other services. Consequently, more and more people are having to fund their own lawyer and people cannot or do not wish to risk these legal costs.

Whilst some LIPs are appreciative of the rules and regulations, many are not and find it difficult to deal with complex proceedings, the substantive law and Court procedure and demonstrate a lack of understanding of case law and legal principles. Further, LIPs take up a disproportionate amount of time and put increasing demands on Court staff; they have trouble preparing adequately for hearings and generally struggle to comply with Court rules and orders. Judges are now having to take a more hands on approach during hearings in order to ensure LIPs understand the legal procedure, causing further delays and increased costs.

On occasion, it can appear to represented parties that the Courts allow LIPs to breach orders and Court rules without sanction. When faced with an LIP, litigants need to bear in mind that judges will not take kindly to represented parties who try and confuse and take advantage of LIPs by bamboozling them with procedural issues. That said, represented parties are under no obligation to 'hold the hands' of LIPs through the Court process. Judges are increasingly citing the old adage "ignorance is no excuse" to LIPs who have failed to adhere to Court rules.

Considering the current economic climate and the fact that the limit of the small claims track has increased to £10,000, it is of no surprise that the number of LIPs has increased. That trend will almost certainly continue.

It is accepted by most, if not all, in the legal profession that the current system needs to adapt to ensure effective access to justice for LIPs. Changes to the provision of legal services are needed, making it easier for unrepresented parties to obtain legal advice and representation. Litigants should be encouraged to instruct a lawyer when litigating, especially when dealing with the higher Courts. Further, out of court dispute resolution processes will become increasingly important to reduce the number of cases before the Court.

Posted on: 17/11/2014

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.

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