According to the government's own figures, 623,000 of the 1,000,000 people who previously received public funding each year ceased to be eligible for such assistance when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 came into force on 1 April 2013.
On 5 July 2013 the Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person (LIPs) published its report on how the judiciary proposes to deal with the massive increase in LIPs in courts and tribunals. It merits careful reading by all practitioners.
The challenges are immense and will be further increased by the impending rise in the financial limit for the small claims track from £5,000 to £10,000. A doubling of this limit will inevitably mean more cases fall within the small claims track where public funding is not available. As for alternative sources of assistance, the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that local advice and community based services will lose over 77% of their public funding.
In 2012, District Judge Richard Chapman, the immediate past president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges observed that already:
“Judges like me are spending more and more of our time having to deal with litigants who simply do not know the law, have never heard of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 or the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and have breached most of the case management directions”.
The report recommends that the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service should devote the necessary time and resources to producing, with judicial involvement, appropriate materials, including audio-visual materials, to inform LIPs what is required of them and what they can expect when they go to court as well as reviewing the information that is currently publically accessible on the various judicial websites – see [2.8] and [3.49-3.52] of the report.
The Judicial College should also urgently assess the feasibility of providing training on LIPs – a sort of “Quick Lit” course for judges – together with developing a “litigants in person toolkit” utilising the existing judicial guidance – see [2.9] and [4.9-4.19] of the report.
More far reaching proposals include:
- The inclusion in the CPR of a dedicated rule which makes specific modifications to other rules where one or more of the parties to proceedings is a litigant in person.
- The introduction of a power into Rule 3.1 CPR to permit the court to direct, where at least one party is an LIP, that proceedings should be conducted as a more inquisitorial form of process.
- The introduction of a specific general practice direction or new rule in the CPR to address, without creating a fully inquisitorial form of procedure, the needs of LIPs in obtaining access to justice whilst enabling courts to manage cases consistently – see [2.10] and [5.11] of the report.
The stark reality is that in some courts and tribunals LIPs will be the rule rather than the exception. This will inevitably slow down and drive up the cost of proceedings and take up valuable judicial time. Equally inevitably, the call will surely go out from the judges to practitioners at all levels for assistance in responding to the challenges that lie ahead.