Commentary by Robert Povall.
Robert is a Campaign Volunteer with GMLC. He is currently studying a GDL at the University of Law and is passionate about making a difference. He wants to become a Barrister, specialising in immigration, civil liberties and human rights.
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Barton v Wright Hassall LLP and The Importance of Respecting Regulation
A recent judgment shows that the courts are as strict on people representing themselves as they are on lawyers when it comes to understanding and following regulations. This raises the issue of access to justice: people who do not have access to expert lawyers are usually held to the same standards as professionals.
On Wednesday 28th February, an appeal case came before the Supreme Court regarding the strictness of the Civil Procedure Rules to a litigant in person (a person representing themselves), particularly where there has been a failure to follow them correctly. Currently, documents may only be served by email if the other party’s solicitors have previously indicated they are willing to accept them electronically (paragraph 4.1, Practice Direction 6A). Mr. Barton submitted his claim by email the day before his deadline despite receiving no confirmation of whether electronic delivery was acceptable. Shortly after the deadline, Wright Hassall informed Mr. Barton that they were not willing to accept claims by email and he had therefore missed the deadline, sparking this case. Mr. Barton lost at the County Court and then the Court of Appeal but was allowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Wright Hassall LLP. The Court stated that the rules were to be followed strictly and that it was irrelevant whether a litigant in person is unaware of exactly how they function.
This decision highlights the importance every individual seeking to represent themselves must pay to relevant procedure, because the courts have shown themselves unwilling to apply them less strictly to those more unfamiliar with the law.