Litigants in Person – Are the (kid) gloves now off?

It is often perceived to be the case that it is simply not financially proportionate to engage a legal professional for certain litigious matters, especially those on the Small Claims track due to the inherent difficulties in costs recovery save for a few exceptions.

As a consequence, many choose to issue proceedings or even choose to defend a claim without obtaining legal advice; the consequences of making an error in the latter scenario particularly can be serious and far reaching.  Those who choose to run the gauntlet of the legal system without the benefit of professional advice are known as litigants in person, and until recently the Courts (with some justifiable reason) have afforded litigants in person far more flexibility in respect of the various procedures and protocols that ought to be followed than they would a practitioner.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Barton v Wright Hassall however suggests that the Court is now taking a harsher approach even in the case of litigants in person.  Mark Barton had appealed for special dispensation and sought a Court Order under CPR 6.15 in respect of defective service of his claim form however the Justices rejected this by a 3-2 majority. 

Giving the lead judgment, Lord Sumption acknowledged that although litigants in person are often representing themselves through no choice of their own due to the well-publicised stringent cuts in legal aid over the last eight years, whilst the Court may be able to make allowances in respect of case management decisions, a lower standard of compliance with Civil Procedure Rules or Orders of the Court could not be justified.

We have many funding options available to our clients here at Howlett Clarke.  If the matter is simple, you may find that it is possible to resolve the issue or at least get some clear professional advice by taking advantage of our Ask the Legal Expert sessions which are just £99.00 inclusive of VAT.  If the matter is more complicated and will take some time to resolve, then we are happy for our clients to set up a Standing Order which enables you to spread the cost of your matter.  Finally, in a limited number of cases we can carry out work on a Conditional Fee Agreement; colloquially known as a “No Win No Fee” agreement.  Much like engaging an Accountant to deal with your yearly return, instructing a legal professional can make more financial sense in the long term rather than trying to deal with the matter yourself.

We are always happy to have a quick discussion with potential clients about their scenario and the options available to them prior to either party committing, and will always give you honest and pragmatic advice in respect of your matter.  Therefore in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, if you are considering proceeding as a litigant in person it may well be worth contacting us first to discuss your case and the best way to deal with it.

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