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Litigant in person? Ignore court rules at your peril

There is no question that many claims are now commenced by litigants in person (‘LIPs’). With reams of legal advice available online and the development of the money claims portal, there is arguably greater access to the legal system for the layperson than ever before. Notwithstanding this, many LIPs fail to appreciate the ‘minefield’ they are about to cross once proceedings are issued.

As cases progress, many LIPs often find themselves in ‘hot water’ through making what many would perceive to be a ‘minor’ errors. Indeed, many fail to appreciate the consequences of not following the applicable rules.

One such example was the case of Barton v Wright Hassall LLP [2018] UKSC 12, in which the claimant lodged an appeal claim against his former solicitors. Thinking all was in order, the claimant chose to serve the defendants by email one day prior to the expiry of the limitation period.

On the basis that the claimant had been in ongoing correspondence with the defendant via email, he assumed that the same would apply to the service of the claim form.

Of course, it is commonly accepted that service via email is not good service and the Court found that:

  • “It is not unreasonable for LIPs to familiarise themselves with the appropriate rules”;

  • “That the claimant should not have assumed that service via email was acceptable”; and

  • “That the claimant deserved little leniency from the Court”

The appeal was therefore dismissed.

In the more recent case of Reynard v Fox [2018] EWHC 443 (Ch), the claimant was required to apply for leave to advance a claim under S.304 of the Insolvency Act 1986. The claimant failed to do so but sought to blame the fact that he ‘did not have a detailed knowledge of the regulations’ in his attempt to obtain permission.

Once again, little sympathy was given by the court, and HHJ Paul Matthews stated that:

  • “You cannot successfully claim that an apple is an orange on the grounds that you do not know the difference”; and

  • “Defendants also have rights, including the right not to be made liable for causes of action which do not lie against them”.

Should I instruct a solicitor?

The cases above demonstrate the importance of seeking legal advice when pursuing a claim. Whilst LIPs undoubtedly deserve a degree of leniency, the courts appear to be taking a tougher approach to LIPs who have not followed the rules.

This begs the question as to what a party should do who cannot fund legal advice. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer.

However, given the outcome of the above cases, it seems more important than ever before for LIPs to familiarise themselves with the applicable rules before advancing their claims.

Fletcher Day offers flexible fee structures to all its dispute resolution clients. Please contact Jovita Vassallo or our Dispute Resolution team for more information about how we can help you to efficiently manage your claim.


The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.