04/02/2008

Do you remember the first time?

Pupil barrister Scribbler encounters a litigant-in-person in action for the first time, and he sounds like a classic of the genre, issuing against multiple defendants ‘so they could come to court to explain themselves’, regardless of whether they actually had much to do with the case.

Of course, it has to be said that there are people who conduct their own cases effectively and with considerable ability, but many are on a crusade for justice, ignoring the eminently sensible cautions set out by Jacquig at Bloody Relations (for family cases, but the general principles apply elsewhere), and all too often the lawyers on one side end up more or less managing the whole process. As barristers must recall with a sinking heart, they are expected to assist an opposing litigant-in-person in court (not of course in making their case, but in the conduct of it in court).

But in these days of shrinking availability of legal aid for many matters, and of extremely limited financial eligibility for it, the lawyer’s traditional attitude to litigants-in-person perhaps smacks too much of special pleading.

We tend to assume that access to justice means first of all access to lawyers. For many, many people, those not abjectly poor enough to get legal aid, not rich enough to afford a solicitor let alone a barrister, this will only raise a bitter laugh. If it isn’t suitable  for a CFA, then the only option is DIY. Access to justice firstly and properly means the opportunity to take one’s case to a court and I suspect we will see a lot more litigants-in-person, beyond their current  stamping grounds of the small claims courts, LVT and assorted tribunals.

[Edit 5/02/08. And now the sine qua non of the litigant-in-person, Heather Mills prepares for a five day High Court hearing in her divorce.]

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

4 Comments

  1. J

    It is also a reason for litigants to think carefully about other sources of funding. I’ve managed to get quite a few housing/property cases funded under the various “free legal expenses insurance” aspect of building / contents / car / credit card insurance. Always worth considering…

    Reply
  2. contact

    J, that is interesting. The insurance that I have seen have tended to be very restricted in the kinds of case funded (often PI only) and what sort of case – unlikely for say defending a possession claim. But I don’t deal with many. What sort of cases have you seen funded this way?

    Reply
  3. J

    From memory, three or four boundary disputes, one very complex High Court case involving an alleged agreement to convey land and a few LVT cases. A colleague has managed to get a Protection from Harassment Act 1997 claim funded under a home contents insurance policy. It was a policy from a high street bank and covered defences to all legal proceedings where the likely costs were less than 20K.

    Reply
  4. contact

    Oooh. Useful. Noted.

    Reply

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