The Law Society has issued a practice note for solicitors on potential issues they may encounter in their dealings with litigants in person (LiPs).
The note includes advice on managing any conflict between their duties to the court and duties to their client, and other areas of sensitivity.
Chancery Lane said that, with the decline in public funding and in the midst of a difficult economic climate, LiPs were likely to become more frequently encountered in some areas of practice, and particularly so in family and civil cases.
It added that there had been a proliferation in the numbers of litigants represented by non-legally qualified persons in small claims hearings, as per The Lay Representatives (Rights of Audience) Order 1999.
The practice note says amendments to the Handbook since the introduction of Outcomes-Focused Regulation in October 2011 do not impact upon solicitors’ duties to clients and LiPs. Their duties to act in the best interests of their client, and to the court remain paramount, it adds.
But the note also says that the SRA Code refers to other specific considerations relevant to solicitors’ dealings with LiPs.
Specifically, IB 11.7 (an indicative behaviour) states that solicitors should not take ‘unfair advantage’ of an opposing party’s lack of legal knowledge where they have not instructed a solicitor. IB 11.9 meanwhile states that solicitors should not use their professional status or qualification to take ‘unfair advantage’ of another individual in order to advance their client’s interests.
The practice note then considers the issue of taking ‘unfair advantage’ in more detail.
It also covers issues such as:
- Solicitors’ duty to the court;
- Keeping the client informed;
- Assistance for LiPs in appropriate circumstances;
- Expectations of the court during proceedings;
- Employment tribunals;
- Family law;
- Persistent unmeritorious claims/vexatious litigants;
- Applications to the Attorney General;
- Assistance available to LiPs;
- McKenzie Friends;
- Citizens Advice Bureaux;
- The Personal Support Unit.
The practice note can be downloaded here.