Review: Guide to Good Practice on working with Litigants in Person (Resolution)
This homely guide, as to half of its 9 pages, more or less does what it says on the tin: it assumes its reader (‘you’) is acting for an adult parent in family breakdown proceedings. In Kitchener style prose (all addressed to an undefined ‘you’: presumably a lawyer) is takes the reader through their ‘first contact’ with a litigant in person and makes suggestions as to how s/he should conduct ‘communications generally’. For the remainder of the Guide it makes a few general points about conduct of inter-adult family breakdown litigation with occasional leavening – to make it appear relevant to its title – with references to litigants in person.
It does not do justice to its publishers. It is very short on reflection on, or more detailed development of, the very important subject in hand. For example:
• No attempt is made to consider how any unrepresented vulnerable adult parties should be dealt with
• No mention is made of what is intended by Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 s 31F(6) (in force since April 2014), which enables the court to take over cross-examination for a litigant in person; or indeed of a litigant in person as discussed by Sir James Munby P in Q v Q (No 2)  EWFC 31, 6 August 2014 (this case is not touched upon)
• There is no reference to the excellent Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person: report (Judiciary of England and Wales, July 2013) – http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/lip_2013.pdf ; nor any discussion of what that group may be up to 18 months later.
Reference to Q v Q recalls that nothing is said of perhaps the most challenging aspect of dealing with a litigant in person: in court as advocate and in preparation for trial. At such times litigants in person are likely to be at their most tense and challenging.
Or if not court: how do you encourage a person who is spoiling for a fight, to see benefit from mediation or some other NCDR? This must be a subject dear to Resolution’s heart; and rightly so. Surely a section on this for litigants in person would be valuable: who makes the first move; who contacts the mediator; and how does the lawyer overcome suspicion if the suggested mediator is a lawyer mediator? How does the mediator operate alongside any court proceedings? Should arbitration or ENE be mentioned to the LiP – an off-the-cuff MIAM?
The report is undated, so it may have come out before the Ministry of Justice paper on litigant in person http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/redactor_assets/documents/2189/litigants-in-person-in-private-family-law-cases.pdf ; but the existence of that report, its publication long-delayed, cannot have been unknown to the author(s). Some reference to it and its conclusions would have given a little depth to an otherwise shallow document.