What LASPO has meant in many cases is that someone has to decide whether to pay for their own legal action if they can, to step back from pursuing their case, or to find some other way forward. When put in this position, some people have decided to act as their own solicitor and become what is known in legal terms as a ‘litigant in person’ to save solicitors’ fees and in the hope of getting the result they want.
This may sound like a smart idea, but DIY litigants suffer certain drawbacks. There are many unfamiliar procedures involved in preparing and presenting a case to the court. Most people would not know how to prepare their case, they could fall foul of court timetables and they may not be able to present their case effectively.
Yes, courts rightly treat litigants in person reasonably and fairly and it is right that someone unable to pay for representation should be allowed to represent themselves and be heard. It would be unfair if, for example, a father could not see his child just because he could not afford legal costs or get help with funding.
Self-representation is not just a challenge for the person concerned but also for the other party. Poor preparation, missing of court timescales and weak presentation in court can all add to the time and costs of the case for the party who is using a solicitor. Prolonging a case in this way just adds to the expense and stress all round.
Our firm has also found that some litigants in person, being without sound legal advice or legal cost, may be less likely to take a pragmatic approach to compromise. So, settlement is far less likely to be achieved at an early stage of the proceedings. Long, disputed cases are of course the most expensive for everyone involved and the most stressful for other family members.
The main purpose of LASPO may have been to save taxpayers’ money, but part of the rationale was to steer people towards ‘alternative dispute resolution’ that does not involve court action. Examples of this are collaborative law and mediation, where a settlement is sought in a less formal setting than the courtroom.
Our firm’s view is that cost-effective alternative dispute resolution is usually preferable to an attempt to pursue action through the courts without professional legal support. That is not to say that the alternative will be an easy route to an amicable settlement. It does need to be effective, and to be effective both parties must commit to the process.