An appeal judge has called for extra powers to curb the activities of litigants in person who inundate courts with communications.
Lady Justice King, sitting in the Court of Appeal, wrote a postscript to a judgment in a business dispute in which she said the court had been ‘bombarded’ with applications.
The case, Agarwala v Agarwala, involved a dispute between two family members. The High Court decided one should pay £40,000 in compensation for loss of profits; the appeal was allowed to a limited extent.
King described progress in the dispute – which started in 2007 – as ‘tortuous’ and said the court was faced with a multitude of applications and cross-applications. Cheryl Jones, instructed by direct public access for the appellant, referred to a ‘slew’ of emails from both parties to the judge and the court, which made the case ‘nearly impossible to case manage effectively’.
In her postscript, King said the court had been forced to make orders that neither party could file an application without the leave of the court.
‘The refusal of either party to accept any ruling or decision of the court has meant that the court staff and judge have been inundated with emails, which they have had to deal with as best they could, with limited time and even more limited resources,’ said the judge.
While she expressed sympathy for the challenges faced by litigants in person, King said justice could not be done through a ‘torrent of informal, unfocused emails’, and she called for stricter penalties for those who refuse to comply with requests to stop.
‘Neither the judge nor the court staff can, or should, be expected to field communications of this type,’ said King.
‘In my view judges must be entitled, as part of their general case management powers, to put in place, where they feel it to be appropriate, strict directions regulating communications with the court and litigants should understand that failure to comply with such directions will mean that communications that they choose to send, notwithstanding those directions, will be neither responded to nor acted upon.’
The ongoing issue of litigants in person has come into focus this week with the suggestion from master of the rolls Sir Terence Etherton that law graduates could help to plug the advice gap by representing people in court proceedings.
Etherton said this option would be a ‘far better’ way to address the issue than relying on unregulated and uninsured McKenzie friends.