The problems faced by Litigants in Person

Advice  |   7 January 2016

A Litigant in Person is the term used to describe individuals who are representing themselves in legal proceedings.

A Litigant in Person is the term used to describe individuals who are representing themselves in legal proceedings. From April 2013 the small claims jurisdiction was increased (to £10,000) and public funding for legal costs (‘Legal Aid’) cut, leading to a significant increase in the number of Litigants in Person appearing before the courts. With public funding only available in exceptional circumstances, cuts to funding, and future small claim limit rises, the numbers of Litigants in Person will continue to rise particularly as legal costs cannot be recovered where cases are in the ‘Small Claims Court’ even in the event of success.

Without representation, Litigants in Person often perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage, especially if appearing against a legally represented party. The stress and worry, both in dealing with the hearing and a lack of understanding of law and procedure can cause stress, worry and confusion, and Litigants in Person may feel that pursuing their case was not worth it.

Although Judges must be aware of the feelings and difficulties experienced by Litigants in Person and remain understanding and assist as far as possible people appearing at court are expected to understand court procedures and the importance of complying with them. There have been a number of recent cases showing that Courts will have less tolerance to non compliance with the rules.

In Hobson v West London Law Solicitors, the High Court struck out a claim as a result of the failure of a Litigant in Person to comply with the court rules; in another case a Judge ordered that ‘rules require compliance’ even where the applicant is a Litigant in Person.

Similarly, in Tinklin and another v Elliot, the Litigant in Person failed to attend a Court hearing and provided a medical certificate of unfitness to attend Court. Despite this, the Court of Appeal decided that the Litigant in Person was capable, and refused to reverse an order made in his absence. The Court of Appeal decided that ‘lack of understanding of [court] procedures does not entitle him to extra indulgences’.

Advice for Litigants in Person

Litigants in Person need to be aware of and comply with Court Orders and procedures.

The Court focuses on the need to allocate Court resources fairly. Delays and non-compliance with court rules and procedures will be looked upon unfavourably, even for Litigants in Person.

Court Directions, the requirement for ‘disclosure’, the precise requirements for ‘witness statements’ and the preparation of ‘Trial bundles’ can be confusing and their importance often unappreciated by Litigants in Person. Seeking legal advice at the outset or at important stages of a case can greatly assist Litigants in Person, providing clarity and an objective view on the evidence.

The help that this can provide could prevent a misunderstanding of the law or procedure from stopping an otherwise successful claim from being successful.

If you require any further information on this, please do not hesitate to contact David Bowers at Thackray Williams LLP.