Representing yourself in court part 3

Representing yourself in court (part 1)

There has been a significant rise in the numbers of litigants-in-person as a result of government reforms to legal aid. These reforms drastically cut taxpayer assistance in areas of civil law, such as family, employment, negligence, personal injury and housing. To reduce costs of a legal dispute, many people are choosing to represent themselves as a litigant in person instead of paying for a lawyer.

What is a litigant-in-person?

A litigant in person is an individual, company or organisation that represents themselves in legal proceedings.

Many litigants in person can struggle to competently represent themselves. The UK courts and legal system are complex and have rules, processes, customs and terminology which can be difficult for non-lawyers to understand. However, in some situations there is little alternative but to represent yourself.

Do you have a case?

Despite the fact that you may have suffered loss or damage, there may not be a legal basis for yourissue. Pursuing legal action can be stressful, time-consuming, expensive, unpredictable and should be avoided if possible. You should consider all your options and circumstances before deciding to bring your claim to court.

At the start, set out what your problem is and what you want to achieve.

Look at such things as:

  • Who are the relevant people involved and what is their relationship to you?
  • What has /has not happened that has caused the dispute?
  • What are the main events that occurred?
  • When and where did this take place?
  • Have you suffered damage, been injured or lost income as a result?
  • Did anybody else witness what took place? If so, do you have their contact details?
  • Do you have evidence that supports your version of events? Are there any weaknesses in your claim?

Think about your issue and order the facts of your case by listing events in the order of  occurrance. Don’t embellish your claim or leave facts out. This will help you focus on relevant issues.

What outcome do you want to achieve?

Once you have done a proper appraisal of the facts you can decide what your aims are in pursuing your complaint. Apply your own common sense and your circumstances to reach a conclusion of what an  ideal outcome would be.

  • Do you want a refund or financial compensation? Would an apology suffice?
  • Do you have and/or want to maintain an ongoing relationship with the other person or organisation involved?
  • What are your feelings and emotions about what has happened?
  • How far are you willing to take things? Are you willing to risk the potential costs of a court case in time, money and inconvenience?
  • What financial resources do you have to pursue a claim?
  • Are your family or personal relationships being affected?
  • Has your health been affected?
  • Is there a history of a dispute between you and the other party involved?
  • Will the outcome affect your personal or professional reputation or standing in the business community?

You may be able to get some free legal advice to help you decide whether or not a dispute is worth pursuing.

Alternatives to going to court

Deciding on your ideal outcome will help you to determine the next steps. You could make an informal or formal complaint which will give you an opportunity to set out your grievance and your opponent a chance to put things right. If your dispute involves a public body (or some certain private sector services) and your complaint hasn’t led to the desired outcome, then a way to get your issue resolved is by the use of an ombudsman scheme. It’s free and can result in an apology, compensation and a recommendation that future practices and procedures are improved.

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) can be a great cost-effective alternative to court action. Mediation, which is the most commonly used form of ADR, involves an independent third party who will help to find a solution that is fair to both sides. Unless your case is considered unsuitable for mediation the courts expect both sides to fully take part and try to reach a satisfactory conclusion by using the impartial and neutral assistance of a mediator. There are many organisations that can offer mediation sessions and advice.

If you’re unable to afford a lawyer for either all or part of your case and your claim is not especially complicated, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to represent yourself competently. Direct your thoughts to the relevant issues, take a methodical approach, invest some time in researching the appropriate rules and evaluate the resources and alternative avenues available to you.  That way you’ll significantly increase your chances of being a winner.