Judges must treat unrepresented litigants in person fairly and not class them as a problem to be resented, a new guidebook has stressed.
The latest edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the Judicial College, provides detailed guidance on a wide range of social issues, outlining the ways in which the representatives of different groups can be disadvantaged and experience prejudice, including Muslims, Jewish people, the physically and mentally disabled, transgender individuals and black and minority ethnic (BAME) people.
But chapter one is devoted in its entirety to “Litigants in Person and Lay Representatives”. The latter term refers to courtroom advisors who are not legally qualified, such as McKenzie Friends.
Amongst the guidance offered to judges presiding over cases featuring litigants in person are the use of plain English, preferring, for example, the use of names instead of dry terminology like ‘respondents’. In addition, the guidance suggests, commonly used terms like ‘trial bundle’ should be defined.
Judges are advised to show consideration to litigants in person, given them a reasonable opportunity to present their case, and to try and avoid saying things that make them feel excluded.
“A thoughtless comment, throwaway remark, unwise joke or even facial expression may confirm or create an impression of prejudice.”
Unrepresented litigants should not, it stresses, “be seen as an unwelcome problem for the court or tribunal”
The book stresses that increasing numbers of litigants in person are now appearing before judges thanks to the drastic cuts in legal aid introduced in recent years. Their numbers will only continue to rise, the authors insist.
The Judicial College is the organisation through which the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals deliver training material to the judiciary of England and Wales. Lady Justice Rafferty DBE chairs the college. The new publication was intended, she explained, to help ensure that people left court “conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal”.
The Equal Treatment Bench Book is available here.