Lord Chief Justice’s Report 2014

Cases taking longer with rise in unrepresented litigants

Cases which might never have been brought or would have been compromised at an early stage are often fully-contested as a result of the increase in unrepresented litigants, the Lord Chief Justice has said. In his annual report for 2014 Lord Thomas also warned that the take up of mediation and ADR had reduced as a result.

Lord Thomas noted that the escalating cost of using lawyers in civil litigation in circumstances where legal aid had never been available had coincided with the major legal aid reforms under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) which took effect in April 2013. “This has resulted in a very significant rise in the proportion of litigants in person,” he said. “This increase together with the time taken to control the costs of litigation through cost budgeting has placed a considerable strain on the civil justice system.”

The Lord Chief Justice continued: “Although litigants in person have been a feature of the tribunals since their inception at the beginning of the twentieth century, outside the jurisdiction of the small claims procedure they have not been a common feature of the court system.

“Although litigants in person are not in themselves ‘a problem’ for the courts, the issue for the courts and the Government is that the system has not developed with a focus on unrepresented litigants, and there is now an unprecedented increase in their incidence. The judiciary’s view, based on inquiries it has made albeit so far unsupported by full statistical evidence, is that cases are consequently taking longer.”

The LCJ said the judiciary was “actively taking steps to provide litigants in person with access to justice in a proportionate manner”. The steps taken include schemes in the Queen’s Bench and Chancery Division to provide pro bono help and simplified guides to litigation.

The help that the courts had received from the Personal Support Unit and Citizens Advice Bureau had been “immense”, the judge said. Lord Thomas added that the judiciary was looking forward to further reforms to address “this significant issue”.

The LCJ’s report also noted, amongst other things, that:

  • The average length of care cases had dropped from 55 weeks in the spring of 2011 to about 30 weeks in October 2014. “The trend is downwards and progress towards the 26 week time limit continues to be made”;
  • The Jackson Reforms were playing a vital role in trying to ensure that there was access to justice for the citizen and access at a proportionate cost for businesses. “However, it is becoming increasingly clear that steps must be taken to examine why the cost of legal services is increasing despite the significant change in the legal market and the great number of providers of legal services. Competition should have reduced cost significantly, but this is not happening.”
  • The Lord Chief Justice’s Report 2014 can be viewed here.