With my usual and frankly uncanny ability to be a couple of days ahead of the zeitgeist, I posted on litigants-in-person a few days ago, only to see the Guardian do a feature piece on LiPs today. Granted they put a little more effort into it, and actually interviewed people and things like that, but we say pretty much the same things.
In addition, my post is much, much shorter, and so, brevity being not only a virtue but a mark of elegance, I can only pity the poor Guardian having to play catch up by substituting a modicum of effort and research for pith.
The Guardian article is actually quite an interesting piece. It cites a 2005 survey that found many that LiPs considered that:
lawyers were not necessary or not best placed to advance their interests. They saw themselves as more factually expert in their dispute and more able to manage their case than a lawyer – or they just wanted to “have their say”. Less constrained by legal notions of relevance, they could advance arguments or raise issues that a lawyer would not.
But of course, they can’t, because that is not how the Courts work. The result is, as the survey showed, that:
those who handle their own litigation make more mistakes than lawyers do – and more serious mistakes – and that the outcomes of their cases are generally worse than for those who are legally represented.
Nonetheless, their numbers are on the increase, driven by income limits on legal aid. Apparently Family matters have the largest proportion, which should come as no surprise.
There is one quote, from an Appeal Court Judge, that eloquently sums up the view of the LiP at appellate level. Forgive me quoting at length:
There is no sight more depressing than that of a litigant in person, borne down by frustration, anger and plastic bags filled with unsorted paper, staring up at the judge in the expectation of some quietus. What he wants, no court can give: some public acknowledgement and satisfaction for a deeply felt grievance, some release from the anger and misery induced by a resentment growing ever stronger as the years have passed. If only someone had listened and appreciated the hurt early on.
But by the time the litigant in person gets to court it is all too late. The time for listening has passed. The court, often faced with vituperation expressed in green ink or inadequate spacing between the lines typed on an old Olivetti, cannot hear what may have been a genuine cause for complaint because the complaint is lost in the sound and fury, and the litigant won’t listen because no one has been prepared to listen to him in the years gone by.
What is needed is not only understanding but therapy. The courts grapple with the former, but they inevitably fail to provide the latter.
This is unfair to many LiPs, who are doing it because they have to. However, the desperate and hopeless appeal, made in the conviction of the utter rightness of the cause, is the mark of the archetypal LiP, and, going by my visits to the Admin Court office or the Court of Appeal office, there are no shortage of those at present. The real question is why are they always in front of me in the queue?
The CAB at the RCJ is also mentioned in the piece. Given the number of what might be euphemistically described as ‘interesting’ calls we get from people who say that this CAB has ‘referred’ them to us, their daily work must be extraordinary.
Later on, I ended up browsing the list of vexatious litigants at the HMCS site. Now there is a documentary waiting to happen. How about:
ARNOLD, Dorothy Mignon (aka Gracie) who became a vexatious litigant on 17 December 1956
or BEBBINGTON, Ann Marjorie (aka EASTON, Ann Cholmondeley) – 31 January 1969
or O’NEILL, Thomas (aka Lord Charles Leslie Falconer of Thoronton) – 9 June 1998
The idea is going cheap…