In the recent decision in Barton v Wright Hassall LLP the Supreme Court has held by a narrow majority that litigants in person have to comply with the rules of court in the same way as legally represented parties. Mark Baldwin considers the judgment.

Mr Barton was a litigant in person who issued proceedings against his former solicitors for negligence. He served those proceedings on their solicitors by email, one day before the validity of the claim form was to expire.

Under the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) service by email is only effective if the recipient has indicated in writing that they are willing to accept service by email. The defendant’s solicitors had not done so, although they had emailed Mr Barton to say that they were instructed by the Defendants. Accordingly, Mr Barton’s service was ineffective, his claim form expired and his claim became statute barred.

Mr Barton made an application for the steps he had already taken to be deemed good service (under CPR 6.15) and the dismissal of this application made its way up to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had to decide whether there was a good reason to deem the steps that Mr Barton had already taken to bring the claim to the attention of the defendant to be good service.

By a majority of 3 to 2, the Supreme Court dismissed Mr Barton’s appeal.

Lord Sumption stated that litigants in persons’:

“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 overriding objective requires the courts so far as practicable to enforce compliance with the rules: CPR rule 1.1(1)(f). The rules do not in any relevant respect distinguish between represented and unrepresented parties… Unless the rules and practice directions are particularly inaccessible or obscure, it is reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise himself with the rules which apply to any step which he is about to take.”

This decision will be of comfort to represented parties who face litigants in person, who must abide by the rules or pay the consequences.