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.

Application of Procedural Rules and Litigants-in-Person

There can be little doubt that modern litigation involves the increased presence of people representing themselves in court. Particularly amongst some kindlier judges (in all courts) there could be said frequently to be a culture of benevolence towards such litigants-in-person when it comes to non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules and other procedural rules.   This can lead to significant frustration amongst represented parties, particularly in circumstances where a Strike Out or other such punitive sanction is sought, but denied on the grounds that the defaulting party should be afforded another chance (perhaps applying the third limb of the Denton test?). Yet further frustration is likely to be felt should the prospect of recovering any costs from the said defaulting party is considered, notwithstanding those thrown away by any such default, assuming as one may that the reason most litigants-in-person are just so is for reasons of pecuniary necessity.   Lord Justice Briggs in giving the sole judgment of the Court of Appeal (Underhill and Moore-Bick LJJ concurring) in Nata Lee Ltd v Abid & Anor [2014] EWCA Civ 1652, may provide such represented and non-defaulting parties with some hope. This was an appeal concerning the trial of a boundary dispute, at which the Appellant was represented by a company director and the Respondent by leading and junior counsel. The Appellant’s application for to change its expert was unsuccessful on the grounds that it was “too late” and provided insufficient reasons for its request. The Court of Appeal found that this decision was “seriously flawed”, but not before emphasising that  the application of procedural rules of the court were to be applied levelly to represented and unrepresented litigants.   Briggs LJ held:   53.       I make it clear at the outset that, in my view, the fact that a party (whether an individual or a corporate body) is not professionally represented is not of itself a reason for the disapplication of rules, orders and directions, or for the disapplication of that part of the overriding objective which now places great value on the requirement that they be obeyed by litigants. In short, the CPR do not, at least at present, make specific or separate provision for litigants in person. There may be cases in which the fact that a party is a litigant in person has some consequence in the determination of applications for relief from sanctions, but this is likely to operate at the margins.