The Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person was set up in December last year under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Hickinbottom, to consider the implications of an expected surge in litigants in person after legal aid cuts in the spring
More than six in ten of the people who previously had access to legal aid are no longer eligible according to government figures – 623,000 out of approximately one million claimants per year. The reports therefore assumes a steep rise in litigants in person and recommends ways to address their needs.
The group notes:
“…the difficulties posed by the highly emotive nature of many cases in the family courts.”
The Working Group recommends the Ministry of Justice produced a suite of material especially for litigants in person, including video material, which clearly explains the court process. Web material should also be thoroughly revised, say the group, to ensure that it is fully accessible to self-represented litigants and provides them with the information they need to choose the best course of action.
Other proposals include the suggestion that the Judicial College look into the possibility of a training course for litigants in person, as well as ‘litigants in person toolkit’ for judges, providing quick access to relevant guidance. The report also makes detailed recommendation on way of amending the court process to best accommodate self-represented litigants.
In their introduction to the report, the Working Group set out its objectives:
“Even bearing in mind the financial constraints to which we are all subject, some feel that a withdrawal of funding of this magnitude has the potential to undermine the right to access to justice and, as a result, the rule of law itself. We offer no views at all on that debate. The reforms are happening. They will, inevitably, result in an enormous rise in the numbers of litigants in person. This report is written with a view to ensuring that the judiciary are optimally prepared to deal with that influx, helping to enable those without legal representation to access the courts and tribunals, and to put their case as effectively as possible.”