So, like Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’, this is to be the year of the KLIP (Kiss a Litigant In Person). It certainly hasn’t always been that way. When I was articled and trailed behind the outdoor clerk he was very dismissive of those strange people who could be seen in the bear garden at the law courts packing and unpacking great bags full of documents.
When I asked him who they were he said they were to be avoided. If I went near them, at best I would only pick up lice. One day he left me on my own – he had a weak bladder – and I fell into conversation with a LiP. I even went on to suggest he might like to consult our firm. On his return the outdoor clerk was furious, metaphorically boxing my ears. When he learned I had actually mentioned the name of our firm I was in such disgrace that I forfeited coffee with him for the rest of the week.
Of course, some LiPs were treated disgracefully. When the wrestler Norbert Rondel, known in the trade as Mad Fred, tried to sue his barrister (whom he considered to have been negligent), he was refused legal aid to appeal. Even though the German-born Rondel could not speak English well the court made him present his own case. Professor Michael Zander, who had prepared it for him pro bono, was not allowed to do so.
Too many LiPs were treated as unbalanced, if not worse. They had only to say (or be goaded into saying) the magic words ‘Prince Philip/the lord chancellor/the archbishop of Canterbury is taking a personal interest in my case’ for any likelihood of a decision in their favour to disappear.
On the other hand, some LiPs had no need of help. When the eccentric Colonel Alfred Wintle debagged and later sued Brighton solicitor Frederick Nye, who he believed had cheated him and his sister out of an inheritance, he ran out of funds and appeared on his own in the House of Lords. He won a unanimous decision and later said that was the first time he had met his intellectual equals.
Carry on kissing.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor