The Perils of the Litigant in Person
- October 27, 2015
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Michael McDonnell of Cohen Cramer Solicitors looks at the perils that await those who chose to represent themselves in court.
Recent cuts in the level of funding for legal aid and assistance has, not surprisingly, resulted in many people being unable to access affordable legal advice and the representation they need.
This has led to an increase in Litigants in Person (LIPs) basically, those who represent themselves in court. While a seemingly sensible response to the problem this can often result in problems and delays due to the individuals, understandable, lack of knowledge of procedure and law. As a result, and the need for the courts to function, Judges have tended to be much more lenient when it comes to enforcing procedural compliance against LIPs.
However, such benevolence comes with provisos, as seen in the recent case of
Akcine Bendore Bankas Snoras v Yampolskaya  EWHC 2136 (QB) (02 July 2015),
This involved the freezing of assets stated to be 482 million euros, and the applicant’s (Mrs Y) failure to file documents with the court leading to her case being struck out.
Mrs Y made an application for the matter to be reinstated. Her application was, in essence, that she really didn’t know what she was doing and hadn’t really understood the need to file the documents, nor had she sought independent legal advice.
The court was not overly impressed by such an argument and rejected her application for the matter to be reinstated.
In reaching their conclusion the court applied the Denton test for determining what, if any, sanctions should be imposed in relation to the breach:
- Was the breach serious or significant?
- Why did it occur?
- When considering the above the court are to deal with the matter in a just manner.
In applying stage two of the Denton test, the court provided useful guidance on the correct approach to assessing defaults by LIP’s, emphasising that not all litigants in person should be treated the same.
The court may take into account the needs of a party who is impecunious or unable to speak the language. However, Mrs Y was a sophisticated person with sufficient access to resources to protect her interests, therefore there was no good reason for her breach. The fact that she was able to hire solicitors and barristers for her application for leave indicates that she had the money for legal advice and representation in the first place.
In short, if you can afford a lawyer then get one and don’t expect the court to be merciful and understanding if you don’t and get it wrong.
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