Action to help litigants in person

Profession

The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has predicted a rise in the number of litigants in person and set out a series of steps to tackle the challenges this will present.

The CJC working group anticipates in its report, Access to justice for Litigants in Person, that litigants in person will become “the rule rather than the exception” as a result of cuts in legal aid and reduced public funding for advice agencies.  “Every informed prediction is that … the number of self-represented litigants will increase, and on a considerable scale,” it says.

It notes that the civil justice system is “designed for lawyers”. Consequently, “it is hard to overstate just how difficult it can be – for the person, for the court, and for other parties – when someone self-represents”.  It makes ten recommendations for immediate action, including improving online resources, producing a ‘nutshell’ guide for self-represented litigants, advising judges on the availability of pro bono services, drafting guidance for court staff and lawyers on dealing with self-represented litigants, introducing a code of conduct for McKenzie Friends and freeing up in-house lawyers to provide pro bono services.

The CJC group’s longer-term recommendations range from increasing the number of personal support units at courts to promoting public legal education.   Robin Knowles QC, chair of the working group, said: “It is impossible to overstate how important it is for people to have access to justice in a free society.”

Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls and CJC chair, said: “It seems clear that there will be increases in the number of litigants in person wanting to use the courts and requiring practical assistance.

“The report produces a very comprehensive overview of the issues likely to arise, and offers some ideas for how best those issues can be addressed given the financial context we are operating within.”
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