The Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx have published guidelines for lawyers on how to deal with people who represent themselves in court.
Litigants in person, or LIPs, are an increasingly common feature of the legal landscape, as legal aid cuts mean many people cannot afford legal representation. Indeed, according to plans set out by former family justice minister Simon Hughes last year, law students are to be brought in to advise litigants in person in divorce proceedings and other complex family cases.
Advice for litigants in person themselves has already been published by the Bar Council, in the form of 2013’s ‘A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court’, while earlier this year Keele Uni launched a nationwide legal aid pathway to help them through the justice system.
The new guidelines, aimed at lawyers dealing with LIPs, were drawn up jointly by The Law Society, Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Among the advice, the guidelines warn that “lawyers should not make assumptions about the merits of a LIP’s case simply on the basis that they have not obtained representation.”
They add: “Many lawyers will recognise from their own experience that there is no single type of LIP and that LIPs should not be seen stereotypically as ‘a problem’.”
Law Society President Andrew Caplen said: “Cuts to legal aid and increases in court fees have forced more and more people into ‘do it yourself’ justice, where they find themselves dealing with unfamiliar procedures in busy courtrooms whilst trying to resolve often life-changing issues regarding their families, their homes and their futures. We recognise the difficulties that people face in these circumstances and the consequent challenges created for lawyers acting for represented parties.
”We hope that these guidelines will help everyone concerned with cases involving self-represented litigants, but would again emphasise that the cuts to legal aid need to be urgently reviewed by the incoming Parliament.”
Chairman of the Bar Alistair MacDonald QC added: “We believe access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law and are doing all we can to help limit the impact upon those who find themselves in this dire situation.
”However, there is only so far the legal sector can go in tackling this problem. It won’t go away unless the cuts to civil legal aid are restored so that those of limited means can, again, have proper access to justice.”
The Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx are not the first to release advice for lawyers on how to handle LiPs. Henderson Chambers barrister Rachel Tandy offered her tips in Lawyer 2B last year.