Litigants in person have been told they had every opportunity to get legal advice and should not rely on the court to accommodate their decision to go it alone.

In Mainline Pipelines Ltd v Phillips & Anor, His Honour Judge Paul Matthews, sitting in the High Court, stressed he did not criticise the defendants for representing themselves - but said they should expect no special treatment.

The principle that civil procedure rules apply equally to litigants in person was established in Barton v Wright Hassall, where the Supreme Court ruled that being without a lawyer did not justify allowing a lower standard of compliance.

Matthews expanded on this point, saying that in the modern day litigants in person had no excuse for not knowing the rules.

‘It is their responsibility, in choosing to take part personally in formal legal proceedings, rather than by way of professional legal representation, to make themselves aware of the relevant procedural rules, and to follow them,’ said the judge. 'Many litigants in person (though not the defendants in this case) seem to think that it is the judge’s job to look after their interests, or at any rate that the judge will do this, and even advise them what to do. But the judge cannot do any of this this. The judge is both independent of the parties and impartial between them. The parties must arrange for their own legal advice.’

The judge said many published textbooks and handbooks on civil procedure are usually available in libraries, as well as information on the Ministry of Justice website and other sites full of case law precedents and offering free legal advice.

In the underlying case, a dispute over the repair of a multi-fuel pipeline which runs under part of the defendants’ farm, the claimant’s solicitors had written to their opponents urging them to take legal advice. At one stage the claimant even offered to contribute £400 plus VAT to the cost of advice.

In the modern legal services market, said Matthews, it was ‘perfectly possible’ to obtain short, limited advice on a point of construction from solicitors, or from a barrister operating via direct access, at 'modest cost' without engaging lawyers to defend the whole proceedings. ‘It is unfortunate that the defendants did not take up this offer. It might have saved the need for this expensive litigation.’

Failures by the defendants to follow the rules were found to have made matters more complicated, slower and expensive.

The judge found no real prospect of successfully defending the claim at trial and granted summary judgment to the claimant.


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