Litigants in Person

Wed 11th Nov 2015

Litigants in Person, known as LIPs refers to a person who is representing themselves in Court proceedings. They may or may not have solicitors in the background from whom they are obtaining ad hoc advice. The loss of legal aid has increased the number of LIPs.

The difficulty, therefore, for one person in a family dispute (divorce, finances or children) can be that they have solicitors but their former partner/spouse does not. One side is a legally represented person and the other side is a person representing themselves. What is the problem you may ask? Sometimes, it is the perceived unfairness of the Court rules. For example, if one person makes an Application to the Court it is their responsibility to provide the Court (and the other person) with all of the documents in an orderly and paginated way, for each Court Hearing. However, if the Applicant is a LIP then that role falls to the Respondent if s/he has solicitors acting for them. This means that the time involved and, therefore, the cost of preparing these documents (known as trial bundles) falls to the non Litigant in Person although s/he may not want to be on Court proceedings at all and is just on the receiving end of an Application by a former partner.

Another worry for the legally represented person is that the LIP will increase their legal costs by the way they do things.

In my own experience, I represented a Wife and I had a Litigant in Person (a well respected man at a senior management level) bring in all his financial documents in a carrier bag. If they had been provided by his solicitor they would have been collated and listed which would have significantly shortened the time that had to be taken putting them in order. It is quite usual when financial documentation is produced in Court proceedings for either person to have questions they want to ask in relation to it. In this case, when I raised questions, I was informed by the LIP that he had not kept any copies of the documentation and, therefore, could not answer the questions unless I returned them to him. To enable us to have the questions answered I then had to provide him with copies of all his documents if we were to obtain the further information required.

LIPs can often ask questions of their partner’s solicitor as they do not have legal advice themselves. A solicitor cannot provide any advice but they can provide information (for example the term “file and serve” in a Court Order means that the person has to send one copy to the Court and one to the other person. Answering such questions takes time and costs money for the legally represented person.

LIPs can also sometimes bombard their former partner’s solicitor with communications, usually by email, sometimes 10 to 15 in one day.

This is just a few examples and it can be very worrying for the legally represented person, because of the cost implications.

What can be done? The best help for the person who finds themselves in a situation where their former partner is going to be a Litigant in Person is to choose a solicitor who specialises in family law and also has experience of having Litigants in Person involved in cases. The benefits are very cost effective as well as in terms of in assisting in the smooth running of the case. For example, a solicitor can send out to the Litigant in Person just one short email setting out the steps that the Court require to be taken, making the additional points (which will not be in the Court Order) that copies have to be retained by the LIP. Being able to “manage” a LIP can save a legally represented person thousands of pounds.

There is also good news in the recent decision by Mostyn J in the case of Veluppillaiv where he described the contact of a Husband (who is a Litigant in Person) as “abysmal”. The final outcome was that the Judge ordered the Husband to pay the Wife’s legal costs assessed in the sum of £146,609. It is good to see that if a LIP’s conduct in the litigation is seen by the Court as litigation misconduct the Court may address this by ordering the LIP to pay the other person’s costs.

It is hoped that Litigants in Person who feel hostile and angry toward their former partners and see no disadvantage to themselves in behaving in a certain way within Court proceedings will take note of this case and the possible financial consequences to them.