piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Guidance as to Litigants-in-Person, a sign of the times?

The Bar Council, Law Society and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has produced some joint guidance for lawyers in how to conduct themselves towards a litigant-in-person. The Guide (available at http://bit.ly/1IkTPig) remind practitioners of their professional obligations and that the growing rise in unrepresented parties should be regarded as a sign of the times, rather than a sign of there simply being more vexatious litigation. It recognised that the increase in litigants-in-person may lead to an increased burden of work upon a represented party, ranging from the practical production of bundles, to the degree of procedural assistance such a party ought to offer.   The Guidance suggests (amongst other key points):   You should take care to communicate clearly and to avoid any technical language or legal jargon, or to explain jargon where it cannot be avoided: a LiP who is already feeling at a disadvantage may be further intimidated and antagonised by the use of such language.   You should take extra care to avoid using inflammatory words or phrases that suggest or cause a dispute where there is none, or inflame a dispute, and avoid expressing any personal opinions on the LiP's behaviour…   If you speak to a LiP outside court it is generally wise to do so in the presence of a colleague, if possible. It would be wise in any event to make a note as soon as practicable of any material explanation or assistance which you have given to a LiP.   If you are negotiating a settlement it would be more appropriate to say ‘are you prepared to agree to…’ rather than to say ‘the courts in this situation would never agree to x, so I suggest that you agree to….’. The latter approach might be seen as unfair to the LiP, even if legally accurate.   Where a LiP is a defendant to proceedings and no other pre-action protocol applies, the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) state that you should refer the LiP to the Pre-Action Conduct Practice Direction and draw their attention to paragraph 4 which concerns the court's power to impose sanctions for failure to comply with the Practice Direction. You can inform the LiP that ignoring the letter before claim may lead to the claimant starting proceedings, and may give rise to a liability for costs.   Where a specialist protocol applies and more detailed pre-action procedures are required, a LiP will ultimately be subject to the same obligations as a represented party. You should consider sending a copy of or a web-link to the relevant protocol to a LiP when first contacting them about a claim.   You should communicate in a manner of which the court would approve, which includes treating LiPs with courtesy and in a way that any ordinary person would regard as fair and reasonable. This does not mean that you have to tolerate unacceptable behaviour from a LiP, nor does it mean that a LiP has a right to expect you to respond immediately to their calls or correspondence.   It will be important to explain to your client why you are giving assistance to the opposing party, if this is not made clear in court by the judge. You should emphasise that you have a professional duty to the court and that in the interests of fairness the court may require you to provide procedural assistance to a LiP.

New law - fundamental dishonesty in PI claims

The government brought into force last week a new law preventing claimants from recovering damages for personal injury when they have been fundamentally dishonest, unless it would cause substantial injustice. In the case of Summers v Fairclough Homes Ltd  [2012] UKSC 26 the claimant was injured in an accident at work and claimed more than £800,000 from his employer. Surveillance revealed him to have grossly exaggerated the effect of his injuries. At trial he was found to have fraudulently misstated the extent of his claim but the judge declined to strike out his claim and awarded £88,716. The defendant appealed and the Supreme Court held that it had jurisdiction to strike out the claimant’s statement of case but that it would only be done in exceptional circumstances, not least as the judgment on liability amounted to a possession for the purposes of the ECHR. The claim was not struck out. Section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 looks as though it would have changed the outcome of Summers dramatically. Here are some of the ingredients and likely problems: ‘fundamental dishonesty’ - the defendant has to prove on the balance of probabilities that the claimant has been ‘fundamentally dishonest’  - a concept which the courts have been grappling with since its introduction in CPR Part 44.16(1) as an exception to the rules on qualified one way costs shifting. Considerable uncertainty remains as to the difference between ‘dishonesty’ and ‘fundamental dishonesty’. ‘primary claim or a related claim’ – the fundamental dishonesty must be ‘in relation to the primary claim or a related claim’. It will be interesting to see how far the courts will go in construing ‘a related claim’ which is defined at s.57(8) as “a claim for damages in respect of personal injury which is made (a) in connection with the same incident or series of incidents in connection with which the primary claim is made, and (b) by a person other than the person who made the primary claim.” ‘application by the defendant’ - the court cannot dismiss the claim under s.57 unless an application is made by the defendant for its dismissal. ‘substantial injustice’ – the court ‘must dismiss the primary claim’ unless satisfied the claimant would suffer ‘substantial injustice’ if it were dismissed. Again, it is not clear what the difference is between ‘injustice’ and ‘substantial injustice’. How is a judge to decide? Would the depriving a claimant of £88,716 amount to a substantial injustice? It is likely that the courts will want to give very careful thought to the needs of the injured claimant (care, economic etc) and consider how well they will be met in the event that the money is not paid over. What will happen to claims for gratuitous care which a claimant is supposed to hold on trust for the providers of that care? They may have nothing to do with the claimant’s dishonesty and yet might find themselves deprived of thousands of pounds for the hours they have given. I anticipate that a large body of case law will quickly grow up around this section. Recording damages – the court must record the amount of damages it would have awarded the claimant and then deduct them from the amount it would otherwise have awarded the defendant in costs. The dismissal of the claim under s.57 must be taken into account in a sentence handed down in any subsequent criminal proceedings S.57 only applies to claims issued after 13th April 2015. Mr Summers may well have been £88,716 poorer had this section been enacted prior to the issue of his proceedings. It will be interesting to see how often section 57 is pleaded and what the courts make of the concepts of ‘fundamental dishonesty’, ‘substantial injustice’ and ‘related claims’.

Fee increase to take place next Monday

A dramatic hike in court fees is to take place on Monday 9th March 2015. The Law Society has published the following table (see below) of the new court fees suggesting solicitors consider issuing cases this week.    Employment Tribunal fees were increased in July 2013 and the effect is thought to have been to reduce the number of tribunal claims substantially. It remains to be seen whether the increase of court fees will have the same effect.   The move will inevitably raise questions as to whether access to justice is being made more difficult. It may also sharpen the debate about whether our legal system should be funded by society as a whole or simply by its users: is the civil justice system simply about settling disputes between individuals or does it benefit all of society to the extent that it should be funded overwhelmingly by the state? Is it just a questions of degree?   The Law Society has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Minister of Justice and it will be interesting to see how it puts its arguments if the matter reaches a hearing. 2 March 2015 Court fees increase from Monday 9 March Government increases in some civil court fees are due to come into effect on Monday 9 March. The increases affect money claims - both 'specified' and 'unspecified'. The Law Society, with other legal professional bodies, has criticised the fee increases and has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Ministry of Justice. Firms may wish to consider whether they should issue claims this week in order to avoid the increase. Example fee increases: Value of claim £ Fee now £ (paper) New fee £ Increase in fee £ % increase 20,000 610 1,000 390 64% 40,000 610 2,000 1,390 228% 90,000 910 4,500 3,590 395% 150,000 1,315 7,500 6,185 470% 190,000 1,315 9,500 8,185 622% 200,000 1,515 10,000 8,725 576% 250,000 1,720 10,000 8,280 481% Read about our campaign against the increases and our consultation response