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.]