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Lawyers told to avoid legal jargon when dealing with LiPs

Legal bodies draw up new guidelines as courts battle influx of 'DIY justice'

8 June 2015

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Lawyers have been advised to communicate clearly and avoid legal jargon where possible when dealing with litigants in person (LiPs) to avoid 'chaos' in the courts.

An influx of people representing themselves in court has prompted the development of new guidelines for lawyers by the Bar Council, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), and the Law Society.

The jointly prepared 28-page document comes in response to the rising numbers of people representing themselves in court as a result of cuts to legal aid, an increase in the small-claims limit, and the introduction of employment tribunal fees.

The guidelines are relevant to the civil and family courts and tribunals, and advise how far lawyers can help unrepresented people in court without such aid conflicting with the duty they hold to their own clients.

Legal aid review

The Law Society president, Andrew Caplen, said: 'Cuts to legal aid and increases in court fees have forced more and more people into "do it yourself" justice, where they find themselves dealing with unfamiliar procedures in busy courtrooms whilst trying to resolve often life-changing issues regarding their families, their homes and their futures.

'We recognise the difficulties that people face in these circumstances and the consequent challenges created for lawyers acting for represented parties.'

Caplen added that he hoped the guidelines would help everyone concerned with cases involving self-represented litigants, but also urged parliament to review cuts to legal aid as a matter of urgency.

These sentiments were echoed by the chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC, and the CILEx president, Frances Edwards.

'There is only so far the legal sector can go in tackling this problem. It won't go away unless the cuts to civil legal aid are restored so that those of limited means can, again, have proper access to justice,' remarked MacDonald.

Edwards said she expected to see LiPs in substantial numbers for many years to come.

'We will continue to press for the cuts to legal aid to be reviewed so that legal help is available to those who need it, and maintain our campaign for better access to justice and legal assistance for all,' she added.

Chaos in court

MacDonald continued: 'It would have been easy for the legal profession to sit back and let the chaos play out in order to highlight the full impact of the cuts. However, we believe access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law and are doing all we can to help limit the impact upon those who find themselves in this dire situation.'

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, has welcomed the guidelines, and congratulated the three legal bodies for producing them for their members.

'An increasing number of litigants in person are coming before courts and tribunals in all jurisdictions, and the challenge for all of us in the justice system is to make sure that everyone is treated equally, fairly and impartially and according to the law,' he said.

'This presents particular challenges for practitioners, with the interests of the client and the duty to the court seemingly coming into conflict. However, ultimately, a client is best served by a fair and transparent system.'

This article first appeared in PCA's sister publication, Solicitors Journal

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