We offer help for litigants in person making a professional negligence claim
Our professional negligence team provide help for litigants in person making a professional negligence claim. You can call upon our help as and when you need it, limiting your responsibility for paying legal costs to the time we spend dealing with a specific issue, rather than the whole case from start to finish.
Are litigants in person really on an equal footing?
The law requires courts to ensure that parties in litigation are on an “equal footing” and that “everyone is entitled to a fair… hearing”. So surely, with this in mind, when a litigant in person is opposing a party who has full legal representation and seemingly unending resources, the court should play fair and try to level the playing field?
Yes. But not quite as much as you would think.
This complex relationship was considered by the High Court in the case of Axnollar Events Ltd -v- Brake and others where the defendants, finding themselves as litigants in person, asked the claimants to provide them with a hard copy of the trial bundle without charge. Faced with refusal, they asked the Court to intervene.
The claimants had brought proceedings against two defendants. Initially, the defendants were represented by lawyers, but funds ran out and they became litigants in person.
The Directions specified that the trial bundle was to be supplied in electronic form. However, the defendants complained that, with poor internet connection and lack of resources, they would need a paper copy. The claimants said that they could provide it but the defendants would have to pay their charges for copying the bundle and sending it by courier. The defendants said they were unable to afford those charges and applied to the court for a variation of the order.
To be fair, by the time the hearing occurred, the claimants had provided the paper bundle, but they had also sent a bill along with it. The defendants felt that it was unfair and wanted the bundle to be provided without charge.
Years ago parties had always been responsible for preparing their own trial bundle. The claimant would send the defendant an index and the defendant then had to prepare their own copy, hoping that the page numbers would marry up. New rules were then introduced putting responsibility on the claimant but they didn’t specify who should pay the cost. The court therefore concluded that there was no requirement to provide a hard copy trial bundle free of charge.
The defendants made much of the fact that they were litigants in person and did not have the resources, or even the funds, to arrange for a copy of the bundle to be provided. In response to this the judge said:
“I remind myself that, absent specific provision made in the rules, the position of a litigant in person is the same as that of a represented litigant, and it is generally not right to give advantages to litigants in person which are not given to represented litigants.”
He also quoted the case of Barton v Wright Hassall:
“At a time when the availability of legal aid and conditional fee agreements have been restricted, some litigants may have little option but to represent themselves. Their lack of representation will often justify making allowances in making case management decisions and in conducting hearings. But it will not usually justify applying to litigants in person a lower standard of compliance with rules or orders of the court.”
The judge concluded that:
“some expenditure by each of the parties is unavoidable. Equipping yourself with the necessary papers for the trial process is part of that.”
So what about the “equal footing” that the rules refer to? He dealt with that also:
“Equal footing does not mean that litigation cannot take place unless all parties have equal resources”
Professional help for litigants in person making a professional negligence claim
At a time when legal fees can be unaffordable for the average person – especially in claims that fall into the small claims court, where costs generally cannot recovered even if you win – it is understandable why many people feel they have no choice but to become litigants in person. The courts will accommodate litigants in person, but only to a certain extent; their role is to ultimately enforce compliance with rules. The reality is that, in many instances, litigants in person will be at a disadvantage.
Here at Slee Blackwell, we recognise that. So, if the merits of a case are good and the value of the claim is substantial (ideally well above the £10,000 small claims court limit) then we are always happy to consider the possibility of no win, no fee funding.
In cases where it is not financially feasible for us to take on the case completely, we offer a service where we can assist you on an ad-hoc basis. You will deal with the claim on a day-to-day basis and when you get to a point where you need help, we are there to assist you. You then pay our charges for the time we spend dealing with the specific issue and not the whole case.
If you would like to know more about the help for litigants in person that we offer or wish to discuss your options then please do not hesitate to call our free legal helpline and speak to either Emma Slade or David Paull on 0808 139 1595 or email us at [email protected]