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07 February 2014

The perils of DIY litigation

Following reforms in April 2013 (the so-called "Jackson reforms") and the Court of Appeal's guidance in Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Limited [2013] EWCA Civ 1537 the Courts are taking an extremely tough approach to non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules (the rules that govern the conduct of civil litigation in England and Wales).

There have been numerous Court decisions in recent months where the rules have been vigorously enforced and severe penalties imposed for parties who have made only minor breaches of the rules.  There seems to be little proportionality between breach and penalty.  Justice is now in the application of the rules.

There is something to be said for this approach – justice should be efficient and parties should not be allowed to "get away" with dragging their heels and wasting Court time.

One of the many questions raised by these reforms is how the Court is going to apply them to parties who represent themselves i.e. litigants in person.

From the recent decision of Scriven v Scriven & Ors [2013] EWHC 4223 (Ch) the answer appears to be that the Courts are going to be much less sympathetic to litigants in person. 

In that case, the Defendants were litigants in person.  Trial was listed for January 2014.  The Claimant had obtained permission to amend his statement of case relatively late in the day, in November 2013.  The Defendants had on-going issues with obtaining disclosure from third parties and also they said that they would not be able to arrange an expert in time for trial (as a result of the late amendments by the Claimant) and therefore without that expert evidence their case would be severely prejudiced.  The Defendants applied to adjourn the start of the trial.

The Judge acknowledged that he did not find their application an easy one to decide and that he did need to take carefully into account the fact that the Defendants were litigants in person. 

However, he was also conscious of the need to ensure that the case was dealt with at proportionate cost and taking into account the appropriate allocation of court resources (i.e. the trial listing).  The judge weighed up the overriding objective, proportionality, expedition, fairness etc. and felt that there were not sufficiently strong reasons to delay the trial.

The Judge therefore refused to grant the application to vacate the trial date.

In conclusion, Simon Carroll, associate in the litigation and dispute resolution team offers this advice:

  • Litigants in person need to be aware of the Rules and the need to comply with them and Court orders, including deadlines. 
  • The potential consequences of delays and missing deadlines can be disastrous for a case.
  • The Court is increasingly conscious of the need to allocate Court resources fairly and delays and non-compliance will be looked upon unfavourably, even for litigants in person.

If you are involved in litigation, it is extremely important to seek expert legal advice at an early stage – more so than ever before. Contact the litigation team on 01753 279039 or email disputes@bpcollins.co.uk.

Stay in touch

Phone: +44 (0) 1753 889995

Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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