Justice minister Lord McNally is facing criticism from lawyers over a claim that cases involving litigants in person (LiPs) are ‘normally’ completed more quickly than those where parties have legal representation.
The Liberal Democrat peer was responding to a report by a judicial working group calling for new measures to cope with an expected influx of thousands more LiPs following cuts to legal aid funding.
McNally played down the problem, saying: ‘There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court – they did in around half of all child custody cases last year – and we provide information and guidance to help them. Evidence shows that cases where people represent themselves are normally completed quicker.’
Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, responded: ‘It’s not rocket science. If you don’t know the procedure, cannot make the legal arguments, or gather the necessary reports and witness statements to support your case, of course it’s going to end quicker – and the chances are you will have lost.’
Hynes said the judicial working group report had highlighted that costs will increase as the number of LiPs goes up. The group, formed last December at the suggestion of the master of the rolls, considered it vital that judges are ‘enabled and empowered’ to adapt the system to the needs of LiPs. The group proposed changes to procedural rules, including introducing a specific power allowing the court to direct that proceedings be conducted by way of a more inquisitorial process.
Mark Stobbs, director of legal policy at the Law Society, said: ‘Any family court in the country would welcome Lord McNally to see for himself what happens when people who are in conflict try to represent themselves against one another with little or no understanding of the court’s procedures or powers.’