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Panorama on litigants in person

Penelope Gibbs
31 Mar 2015

Is the only answer to the squeeze on legal aid to find more funding for lawyers?  Panorama focussed on two family cases and one medical negligence case, where someone had represented themselves in court, without a lawyer.  Two of the cases were pretty atypical – the litigants had devoted years to preparing the case in question and ended up pretty expert in the law.  In the medical negligence case, the son of someone who died in hospital needed to find a heart surgeon to be an expert witness pro bono.  He wrote to many surgeons and, perhaps surprisingly, one did offer an expert report for free.  The report led to the hospital settling the medical negligence claim out of court.  So a good result.  But one a legally aided lawyer and expert witness might have got to much quicker.   All agreed that it was very difficult to manage the process involved in a court case without the help of a lawyer.   A couple of retired judges put their head above the parapet to say that money is being wasted (in court cases taking longer) and that miscarriages of justice could result from so many people being unrepresented.  But what was not questioned was the system itself.  If there will always be at least a significant minority of litigants in person in the civil courts, it makes sense to change the system itself so an ordinary person can represent themselves without having to spend every bit of spare time studying law and legal procedure.  Only through adapting the system to better suit litigants in person will justice be done.