Playing by the rules - the Supreme Court gives guidance for Litigants in Person

The small claims limit will be increased in April 2019 and the reforms in the personal injury sector are continuing apace. Many practitioners expect that one effect of these reforms is an increase in Claimants acting as a litigant  in person.

A Litigant in Person (LiP) is an individual, a company or organisation that has the right to address the Court (i.e. they are a party to an action), but are not represented by a solicitor or barrister.

The judiciary have issued a handbook for LiPs which is designed to help them navigate the civil justice system more effectively.

The Law Society has also issued guidance to lawyers who find themselves acting in a case against an LiP. It contains practical advice for lawyers on good practise across the Civil and Family Courts and Tribunals and the professional duties owed by lawyers to LiPs, whether they are opponents or not.  Generally, the guidance is that lawyers should behave in a professional, cooperative and courteous manner at all times. Technical language or legal jargon should be avoided.

The question however still remains as to whether the courts apply the same standards of compliance on an LiP as on a lawyer when it comes to the Civil Procedure Rules.

The Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify the position when they gave their judgement in the case of Barton -v- Wright-Hassell. In that case, a litigant in person had served a Claim Form by email, which is not a valid form of service. He had left no time to rectify the error and his claim was effectively dead  in the water.

A lawyer would have been expected to know that service by email was not valid.  On the facts of the case a lawyer would not expect to be granted any discretion by the Court which might waive this procedural error and its dire consequences. The question for the Supreme Court was whether a litigant in person should be given greater leniency in complying with the rules.

Lord Sumption noted that, for LiPs, "their lack of representation will often justify making allowances in making case management decisions and in conducting hearings. But it will not usually justify applying to litigants in person a lower standard of compliance with rules or orders of the Court".

Leaving aside whether service by email, in this day and age, should be permitted, the Supreme Court has clarified that litigants in person will be expected to be familiar with the rules and that a different standard should not apply.

This is welcome guidance as the number of litigants in person is likely to increase and will be of considerable interest to any Defendants who find themselves operating in this field.

If you are a LiP or for more information about your duties when acting against Litigants in Person contact Flora Wood.

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