In the last week, there has been much discussion around a case in which a litigant in person was ordered to pay almost £100,000 in interim costs, after being reminded by the Court that unrepresented people cannot expect ‘special treatment’.
Many commentators say that this case evidences a significant shift in the Court’s approach to dealing with litigants in person, and that there are not different sets of rules for those acting in person and those with legal representation.
However, while this case clearly demonstrates that litigants in person are not immune from adverse costs orders – as was always the case – the suggestion that the Court is now taking a uniform approach to those with and without legal representation is perhaps an overstatement.
Is it now time for us to consider whether the better solution is to simply adopt a different overall strategy to litigation brought by litigants in person?
Dealing with cases against litigants in person
- Although disputes lawyers all rightly focus on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, in dealing with a case against a litigant in person, there could well be significant merit, rather than investing significant time and in ADR, in getting a case to Court as quickly as possible, as it may ultimately result in a quicker and cheaper resolution to just have a judge rule on the case.
- It is important to consider the issue of costs at an early stage. In many cases, when dealing with a case against a litigant in person, there will be limited cost recoverability as many litigants in person will have insufficient assets to satisfy any cost order that may be made against them. Therefore, it is particularly important to assess from the outset the amount you are prepared to invest in the case and whether some sort of preliminary issue or other summary disposal – such as a summary judgement or strike out – might save costs overall.
- From experience, Courts and judges do still afford litigants in person considerable latitude that wouldn’t otherwise be given to a represented party. To a certain extent, this is a fair approach as the litigation process is complex and not common knowledge.
- However, if an opponent is a litigant in person, this does not prevent the need for the case to be fairly and properly put before the Court. Furthermore, being up against a litigant in person can place a significant additional burden on a represented party. Getting a case to a case management conference as quickly as possible to get a good set of directions in place helps to keep costs in check.
If you have any questions about dealing with cases against litigants in person or would like to discuss this recent case in more detail, please contact Nick Scott on 020 3814 2020 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jade Brooks on +44(0) 207 397 3722, or at email@example.com.