Sunday, 8 June 2014
Litigants in Person; a Guide to the Perplexed
With the cuts in legal aid, many people are choosing to conduct their own cases. This is seldom a good idea, especially if your mental faculties are impaired or you are not as bright as you wish others to suppose. I want to look today at a couple of the ways in which litigants in person can easily come a cropper, especially if their knowledge of the law is of a purely theoretical nature; drawn from library books and not actual court practice. It is all well and good studying law with the Open University, but unless you know what you are doing, it is so fatally easy to get your fingers badly burned.
Let us look first at the case of Mrs X, a vexatious litigant from the provinces. She arrives in the capital for her big day in court, the whole adventure being rather overwhelming; after all, she is not used to big cities. There are so many cars, and the buildings are far taller than the cottages and farm buildings with which she is familiar. Never the less, she makes her way resolutely to the Royal Courts of Justice in the famous Strand, full of her own importance. Perhaps she is the first member of her family ever actually to visit London; only previously having seen the place on pathe newsreels at her local cinema.
Once in court, Mrs X at once makes a terrible faux pas, which immediately alienates the judge in her case! It is the convention that all High Court Judges are addressed as ’My Lord’; even if they are only knights. Having only read about courts in a book called, perhaps, ’Every Woman her Own Lawyer’, and having no direct experience of them, poor Mrs X cannot be expected to know this and calls the judge, ’Your honour’. It is twenty years since he was addressed in this way, as though he were only a humble circuit judge. At once, Mrs X has put his back up, without even realising it!
Or take the case of Mrs Z, a decrepit farmer’s wife from a remote part of the country. She is determined to recover her costs in travelling to the court from Giggleswick and feels that the best way to do this is to deny that she has any money or occupation and to claim that she is wholly reliant upon state benefits. Surely, this will melt the hardest judge’s heart? What an error! If only she had known about the Litigants in Person (Costs and Expenses) Act 1975. By admitting that she was running a business, she would have been able to claim for loss of earnings. But because she insisted on maintaining the fiction that she had no money other than her benefits; she got nothing!
Next week, we shall be looking at the mysterious case of the woman who couldn’t tell the difference between her witnesses and her legal advisers and also examining the disadvantages for a litigant in person of speaking in a slow, patient, patronising and annoying tone of voice, like a cross between a teacher for the deaf and a relationship counsellor.