New guidance from the judiciary on electronic bundles bring focus to the difficulty for litigants in person to navigate the court system, the Law Society has stated.
In an announcement published this week, senior judges revealed that electronic bundles in the financial remedies court had shifted from being moderately rare to verging on universal in the past two years, which they reported to be an ‘excellent outcome’. However, they had been notified that guidance on electronic bundle preparation for litigants in person needed a ‘modest degree of clarification’.
The guidance outlines that the duty to provide forms ES1 and ES2 was as much relevant to litigants in person as it does to represented parties. ES1 is a case summary. ES2 records assets, liabilities and income values.
‘We recognise that there may be circumstances when the applicant LIP simply has insufficient IT ability to prepare the bundle. If this happens than that person should contact the court and explain the difficulty as far as possible in advance of the relevant court hearing,’ the guidance says. ‘Where possible that person should suggest a practical way of overcoming the problem, which may be that the respondent should be invited to prepare the bundle. A respondent in this situation is encouraged to offer assistance where possible.’
If neither party has adequate IT ability to put together a bundle, ‘then the court will have to do its best to find a solution which overcomes the problem’.
The Law Society welcomed the guidance, but I. Stephanie Boyce, president, noted that it emphasised the continuation of problems encountered by litigants in person attempting to navigate the court system.
Ministry of Justice data reveals that the number of cases where both parties were regarded was 41% in the three months foregoing the legal aid slashes. Towards the end of 2021, it was 21%.
Boyce stated: ‘Often forced to represent themselves due to a lack of legal aid, litigants in person can struggle to understand court procedures and their legal entitlements. This struggle can be exacerbated by the increased digitisation of court processes, which the courts system must ensure doesn’t leave people behind. Providing legal aid for early advice in family cases would help divert litigants from the court system towards mediation and the early resolution of their cases.’
The Ministry of Justice has been approached to make comment. In August 2020, the department revealed an extra £3.1m to help sustain litigants in person to add to the £9m invested since 2015 through its current support strategy for litigants in person.