Cuts and changes in legal aid have led to an increase of the number of people who appear in court without a lawyer by their side.
A litigant in person or LIP is the current name for someone who takes one or more other parties to court without having a solicitor conduct the case for them. LIPs represent themselves in court, although they can hire the services of a lawyer every once in a while for advice. It is a good idea to do that if you can afford it. I recommend consulting several lawyers, if possible, because they may come up with different angles and a solicitor can make a mistake just like any other human being.
You may also find yourself in court without a lawyer because someone else has started proceedings against you. Certainly in that case, appearing in court can be a confusing experience.
It helps to be well-prepared and having some idea of what to expect. It can also be a good idea to have someone else with you when you need to attend a hearing, instead of going alone.
- The Bar Council has a Guide to Representing Yourself in Court (written in April 2013).
- In November 2011, “Access to Justice for Litigants in Person (or self-represented litigants)“, a 94-page Report and Series of Recommendations to the Lord Chancellor and to the Lord Chief Justice was published. One of its conclusions (see page 61) is:
“a helpful person standing by can make the difference.”
- You can step to the Personal Support Unit, if there is an office nearby. The PSU has offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne.
- Also available is a review, which outlines what types of problems LIPs run into and what kind of cases they bring to the courts.
- There is a report on the complaints LIPs submitted to the Bar Standards Board between 1 January 2011 and 31 March 2012.
- in addition, there is an article in the Law Gazette that you may want to read.
The various reports mention several reasons why people without lawyers are at a disadvantage in court. It often starts with a lack of organisation, a lack of preparation. Generally, Britons are not very well-organised and often a little sloppy. There can also be a lack of resources such as a lack of access to information or the problem of not knowing how to use those resources and how to interpret various matters. There are often misunderstandings about the role of the judge and the role of the lawyers for the other side.
In my experience, the legal process works differently than everything else does, in Britain, and it takes many Britons by surprise.
- In daily life, British language use is still under the influence of Victorian habits that dictate that you often don’t say what you mean. That’s generally not how the courts and the laws work. “That’s right. We sort of skirt around the issue and hope that if we do that long enough, you’ll eventually get the message.” responded a woman to me at the University of Surrey where I attended a few workshops for women in business in 2005. I had expressed my frustration to her, of often having no clue what English people meant when they were speaking to me and with often having my words interpreted into something that I never intended.
- Another aspect of life in Britain is a random degree of flexibility when it comes to all sorts of deadlines and procedures. Judges do have some leeway, but they also have to follow many rules that do not allow them any flexibility at all. I think that this often catches Britons by surprise too.
A helpful person standing by can make the difference. I can be that helpful person for you, as long as you keep in mind that I am a lay person with no qualifications in a field of law. Among other things, I have no right to speak to the judge on your behalf, in court.
Benefits for you if you and I team up:
- Time savings;
- Greater efficiency;
- Increased peace of mind;
- Possibly, greater respect from the court.
Specific tasks I can assist you with:
- Your research, legal as well as practical;
- Drafting and editing of your documents and letters;
- Helping you organise your documentation;
- Thinking along with you when you plan your strategy;
- Helping you gain greater insight;
- Helping you plan and spotting matters you may be overlooking;
- Taking notes during court hearings when I am allowed to be present as a McKenzie friend and sit next to you (and attend as a member of the public, when not);
- Obtaining documentation you need, including evidence, for example through subject access requests;
- Endeavouring to find solutions that avoid having to start court proceedings (which can mean that I refer you to another party);
- Helping you keep track of deadlines;
- Sharpen your public speaking skills so you will feel more confident and more relaxed when you have to go to a court hearing and address the judge.
Also important is that I can help you keep your cool. It can really make a difference to have someone you can call and talk freely with about your case. Taking someone to court on your own can be a stressful and lonely experience.
No matter how supportive the people around you may be, will you find true understanding when you want to share your thoughts about the piece of legislation you just discovered? Can you discuss the interesting case you just ran into, or talk with them about what the judge said to you in a hearing? At such a time, I could be just a phone call or Skype call away.
I should tell you that I never pretend to have all the answers. I don’t, and I have no need to pretend that I do. Some people find that confusing.
My mobile number is 075 1826 1184.