"Saving" Money by Representing yourself in Court without Legal Advice can prove very Costly

The importance of obtaining legal advice when you are involved in any kind of legal matter cannot be overstated; even if you think you have such a sound case you cannot lose; as no doubt Robert Hazeldean thought. Mr. Hazeldean is the cyclist who recently lost in the case where an inattentive pedestrian that he collided with, Gemma Brushett, won substantial damages and her legal fees.  The basic facts of the case are well documented, Ms. Brushett was engaged with her phone and did not look before stepping into the road causing Mr. Hazeldean to crash into her.  Mr. Hazeldean is now facing a legal bill which could potentially amount to £100,000, unfortunately. Mr. Hazeldean's decision to represent himself initially without taking legal advice has contributed to the high legal costs in that he made two fundamental errors:

  • He accidentally breached court procedure and incurred additional legal costs
  • He failed to counter-claim for his own injuries which meant he was not protected against a large costs order

When he eventually recognised that he needed legal advice and sought advice from a law firm, it was too late to alter his position and he now awaits the decision regarding costs.

Litigants in Person (LiP), as those representing themselves are known, are often driven to represent themselves due to financial reasons; however there is a vast difference in costs between being guided by a competent lawyer before you step into the court to represent yourself and being represented in court by a lawyer who has conduct of the case and appears on your behalf in court.  The lawyers in the Giambrone litigation team have considerable experience in assisting individuals to bring legal cases before the court and has for many years successfully can put LiPs in a position of advantage by providing guidance for part or all of the matter and preventing inadvertent breaches such as Mr. Hazeldean made, to his cost. 

The Civil Procedure Rules are complex and a person who has not had the benefit of legal training may struggle to interpret them.  In the case of Barton –v- Wright Hassall LLP (2018) the LiP made an elementary error which would not have happened had lawyer been providing guidance as to how the basic procedures should be carried out.  Mr. Barton, the LiP claimant, served the claim form on the respondent's solicitors by email on the last day that service was permitted.  Unfortunately, he was unaware that permission must be sought as to which method of service (email, letter etc.) is acceptable to the respondent's solicitor; the respondent's solicitor was able to say that they not given permission for email service.  The late service of the claim form and its invalid method of service resulted in the claim form expiring and the action being statute-barred. Mr. Barton attempted to obtain a retrospective order validating the service, taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Supreme Court held that there was no justification for applying a lower standard of compliance to a LiP and to do so would affect the balance of interests of all parties.  Only in circumstances where the Civil Procedure Rules were "inaccessible or obscure" would such indulgence be granted.  Mr. Barton's simple presumption that email service was acceptable, something that a lawyer would never have presumed, cost him, not only his case but a considerable amount of money trying to overturn the initial consequences of his own actions.

A similar situation arose in the case of Reynard-v- Fox (2018).  Mr. Reynard had been made bankrupt and he attempted to bring a claim for damages against the trustee in bankruptcy.  Again, Mr. Reynard was not sufficiently familiar with the legal procedures nor with the insolvency regulations and Mr. Reynard's plea that as a LiP it would be unjust if his claim was struck out simply because he was unfamiliar with  the rules was rejected by the judge who commented "I can see no injustice arising merely from the fact that the claimant was a litigant in person"

Guidance given to a LiP by a lawyer can be delivered for part or all the matter.  It may be that an individual may feel that they require assistance for an appeal but not until the matter reaches that stage.  Or they may want guidance as to how to start a case and what is required by the court. Giambrone's litigation team can provide as much or as little advice as the LiP requests and help them avoid obvious procedural mistakes as well as how to deal with the case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.