Quick Hit – Litigant in Person

Today the Supreme Court rejected a plea (with a majority of 3 to 2) from a litigant in person for special dispensation in fulfilling civil procedure rules.

The claimant, Mark Barton, had brought proceedings against a solicitor firm in England and had mistakenly believed that by emailing the necessary claim form he could serve the form to begin litigation. As the service was not acceptable under the Court Rules the claim form expired along with Mr. Barton’s action.

Mr. Barton brought the claim all the way to the Supreme Court (the highest Court in the land) to request special treatment as he was a litigant in person and therefore did not possess anything other than a laypersons knowledge of rules and procedure.

The decision by the Supreme Court rules out any special treatment of the claimant and states that the Rules as they stand must apply to all parties.

Lord Sumption giving the lead judgment (which can be read here) stated that lack of representation can justify making allowances in case management situations and the conduct of hearings but compliance with the Rules of the Court are still necessary.

This case was watched with interest by the legal profession as it strikes an interesting balance between access to justice (where Legal Aid is increasingly restricted) and the functioning of the Courts in as efficient and effective manner as possible. Litigants in person begin and run their own case without any input from legal professionals. This is considerably cheaper but obviously fraught with problems if the other side has legal representation given the presumptive knowledge gap in legal affairs. It also causes problems for the Court if the personal litigant doesn’t understand procedure leading to delays on an already straining Court waiting list.

In other words, if you want to be a personal litigant you need to be one smart cookie. If you are to be a litigant in person you can find online resources here (for claims brought in NI anyway) to assist you and if you take nothing else away from this DON’T use email as a method of service.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same.

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