Beginner’s Guide To Representing Yourself In Court. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Amanda Hamilton, CEO of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP). Amanda will be offering a beginner guide on the stages of going to court if you are planning to represent yourself (as a Litigant in Person) in a civil court case.
Although most people choose to get help from a solicitor or paralegal when bringing or defending a civil action, it is possible to represent yourself as a Litigant in Person. To do so, you need to understand the stages of going to court.
Beginner’s Guide To Representing Yourself In Court
If you plan to represent yourself in a civil case in court, you need to understand the steps and know where to get help if needed.
Perhaps you are bringing the action or being forced to defend an action. In either case, you can represent yourself, but getting professional help or support is always advisable. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must use a solicitor or a barrister. You can engage the services of a licenced paralegal practitioner to help you. They are much more cost-effective and can do almost all the same jobs as a solicitor, with a few exceptions, known as ‘Reserved Activities’. For example, they cannot ‘conduct litigation’, meaning that they cannot be an agent for you to receive service of documents or letters on your behalf, nor can they sign or file court documents on your behalf.
However, they can assist you in your role as a litigant in person (LIP) and complete forms and draft documents on your behalf, but you need to sign and submit them yourself.
Complying with Civil Procedure Rules
The first step in a civil action is to comply with Civil Procedure Rules, and this means that you must send the other party (the potential Defendant) a letter describing what the issues are and what is required to resolve them and to give a date by which this needs to be done. Failing to comply with such a resolution or timeline will mean they will take court action without further notice. This is known as the ‘pre-action protocol’.
If there is no response, or the matter has not been resolved to the claimant’s satisfaction, you can commence proceedings. You must ensure that you are fully aware of the consequences of taking this step. Some civil actions take many months (sometimes years) to resolve and can be extremely costly.
On the one hand, collecting a debt is one case that can be dealt with relatively simply if the debt is not more than £10,000, as a District Judge can hear this in chambers rather than in open court. On the other hand, anything with a higher claim or more complexity will be dealt with in open court.
If you are dealing with a complex case, you need to ask yourself whether you need to instruct a solicitor or a direct access barrister to assist. There are many areas where a paralegal practitioner can help you, but sometimes, you may have bitten off more than you can chew. A level of specialised expertise may well be required. Think about whether you could instruct a barrister directly. This may cut out a considerable amount of cost. Still, the downside is that as a LIP, you will receive all communications from the other side’s solicitors, which could add extra stress to what is probably already a stressful situation.
When a claim form is issued, it is done so in triplicate:
- The court keeps one
- The second is given to the claimant
- The third is sent to Defendant with a response pack.
This requires Defendant to respond within 14 days, either by producing a defence or by acknowledging receipt and stating that the defence will follow. Of course, the defendants may decide to settle the case at this point, but if a defence is filed, the ball starts rolling, and the costs start to pile up.
At this point, the next stage depends on the case type. The case will be allocated to a court ‘track’, depending on the subject matter. There are three tracks. The first relates to small claims (see earlier). Essentially track allocation depends on the value and complexity of the case and the CPR overriding objective, which relates to ‘representation’, ‘fairness’ and ‘proportionate cost’.
The other tracks are’ Fast Track’ for claims over £10,000 and up to £50,000 and ‘Multi-Track’ for high claims or complex cases, although sometimes a case could be allocated to the Multi-Track if it is a lower claim amount, but only if it is pretty complicated. Generally, there will be directions that the court will give the parties as to the conduct of the case, and these must be adhered to precisely.
With more complex cases, there may even be a requirement to have a ‘costs budget’ hearing requiring the parties to assess the costs they may incur throughout the court proceedings, and this will include lawyers’ fees for drafting and attendance at hearings, expert witness costs if required and permitted, and can consist of your LIP costs in dealing with the matter personally, plus any incidental expenses incurred. At such a hearing, the judge will decide what may be fair in the circumstances and adjust the draft budget produced by both parties.
After that, the court case will unfold according to the Direction Order of the court, which gives precise dates and times when each stage has to be completed.
So, to sum up, the most important thing to consider is whether you are willing to go ahead with court proceedings given the stress, length of time and cost involved. If not, then you must be willing to compromise. Mediation is sometimes an excellent avenue to explore possible settlements, but only if both parties are eager to meet halfway.
Sometimes there is no other choice, for example, if you are forced to defend yourself because of the aggressive nature of the claimant and their solicitor and an unwillingness to compromise on their behalf. And, of course, sometimes, it could just be the principle of right or wrong that spurs you onwards. Whatever the reason, you must be clear about what you are getting yourself into.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and admitted professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal experienced.