A recent decision of the Supreme Court, Barton v Wright Hassall, has confirmed that there should be no special treatment for litigants in person, individuals in court who are not represented by a solicitor or barrister, over court rules.
In this case, Mr Barton, the litigant in person, served a claim form on the defendant’s solicitors by email without seeking consent from them beforehand. According to court rules, consent must be given first.
The Supreme Court decided that the rules as they stand must apply equally to all parties. While Lord Sumption recognised that litigating in person is not always a matter of choice, especially at a time when legal aid has been restricted, applying a lower standard of compliance with rules or orders of the court is not justified.
We are seeing a rise in the number of litigants in person on the other side of disputes and finding judgments involving them can be unpredictable so this decision presents an important clarification on how lenient the courts are prepared to be when dealing with litigants in person. It’s also a reminder that litigants in person should familiarise themselves with the rules applying to any step they prepare to take.