Good advice for litigants in person

Last week, a District Judge gave me some excellent advice for litigants in person. I am going to share it with you. ‘Appearing in court is both stressful and confusing’, he wrote.

“If asked for advice on what in particular a litigant in person needs to do, I would say that preparation is essential: get all papers and other evidence in order and easily accessible, read it all thoroughly and prepare notes on the points that will need to be made. So often parties attend court without the bare essentials and immediately they are at a disadvantage and whilst a judge will do as much as he or she can, ultimately it is the litigant who has to conduct the case.”

Note the use of the word ‘forced’. Indeed, taking someone to court should not be done lightly. It costs money, a lot of effort and a great deal of time and you can end up owing a large sum to the other party if things do not go your way.

Disclaimer: I am not a solicitor or barrister, but a lay person without any legal qualifications. The law does not grant me the authority to give legal advice and nothing in this post should be construed to be legal advice. Please contact a solicitor if you do need legal advice.

Individuals matter

“Strong theories of rights say that individuals matter, not just as instruments to be used for a larger social purpose or for the sake of maximizing utility. Individuals are separate beings with separate lives worthy of respect, and it’s a mistake – according to strong theories of rights – to think about justice or law by just adding up preferences and values.”

Michael Sandel, in the Harvard course ‘Justice’

Someone taking you to court?

courtFirst, count to 10. The next thing to do is to get a ring binder and a paper punch. (If  you’re skint and don’t have a binder and a punch, ask around, or try freegle and freecycle.)

Keep all documents to do with the case in that binder, in chronological order. Oldest at the back, latest in front, and all in order of date on the document (for instance the date listed in a letter).

It can also be a good idea to make copies of everything and keep those in a second binder, to be on the safe side. Should you then lose a document, at least you’ll have a copy of it.

Letting agent receiving your housing benefits?

If your council is paying housing benefits to your letting agent, for example because you are in arrears, that makes it hard to keep track of the payments to your landlord.home

Make sure that the landlord is actually receiving your housing benefits.

There could be a hiccup in a postcode, address or a reference, which could lead to your landlord not receiving your housing benefits. If you are in arrears, this would mean that your arrears continue to grow, or become much higher than you are aware of.

Are you in such a situation? The first thing to do is simply to contact your letting agent in writing. Have the letting agent confirm to you in writing that they are receiving your housing benefits and are forwarding them to your landlord. Your local CAB may be able to guide you if you need help with this.

If the same applies to you but your landlord has meanwhile started eviction proceedings against you, do the same. Contact your letting agent in writing and have the letting agent confirm to you in writing how much housing benefits they have paid to your landlord, and when. It could help clear up errors before it’s too late.

Legal concepts

Harvard’s Michael Sandel gives a brilliant introduction to what justice means in his book “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”

The material is also available on DVD as a series of lively lectures and discussions. See http://www.justiceharvard.org/ as well.

Contrary to what you might expect, it entails the evaluation of various philosophical concepts, across cultures and country borders. Why is something right? Why is something else wrong? What changes if the circumstances are slightly different?