Acting as a litigant in person – what you need to know

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Whether it is a choice in order to make your claim cost effective or as a result of cuts in legal aid, you may decide to represent yourself without legal assistance.

The courts are continuing to try to balance the interests of represented litigants against the interests of litigants in person. With the unrepresented often needing each and every step explained (rightly so, as the procedures are complex) this can cause significant delays, making a relatively short hearing long and expensive.

It is also important to have an understanding of the court process and service of papers, court documentation, Pre-action Protocols if they are relevant to your case, the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and Practice Directions - and even more so following a Supreme Court Judgment earlier this year.

In the case of Barton v Wright Hassall LLP, the court gave no leeway to a litigant in person and stated that the rules do not distinguish between represented and unrepresented parties.

The case highlighted the court’s attempt at striking a ‘level playing field’ by emphasising that those acting without legal representation will not always be given special treatment. The litigant’s claim was found to be time barred because he had served his claim by email, which the rules say is only permitted if the other party has agreed to service by email.

It can be seen that whilst the court may justify some allowances, it will not lower the standard of compliance with rules or orders for litigants in person, if doing so would be unfair to the other party.

In the Barton matter, the court said that the fact that a litigant was acting in person was not in itself a reason to disapply procedural rules as the overriding objective requires the courts, so far as practicable, to enforce compliance with the rules.

There are exceptional circumstances where a special indulgence to a litigant in person might be justified, such as where a rule was hard to find, difficult to understand or it was ambiguous. A litigant in person struggling to deal with compliance with case management directions may also be treated differently from a represented party, and given extra assistance by the court.

We understand that for someone with no first hand knowledge of the law or legal procedure, it can be a worrying experience to find yourself involved in a legal dispute. Samuels are therefore happy to provide ad hoc advice on your claim if so required.

For more information, please contact us where we would be happy to send you our ‘overview of the litigation process’ fact sheet.

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