There has already been a “significant increase” in the number of litigants in person and that is only going to increase with the legal aid cuts next year, the Lord Chief Justice has warned.
Speaking at his annual press conference last week, Lord Judge said the growing number of cases with litigants in person – now called self-represented litigants – on both sides was slowing down the courts.
He said that with a self-represented litigant “the judge actually has to help one of the litigants and say, ‘Well, maybe you should take this point’, or, ‘Maybe what you are trying to say is this’. That presents a great difficulty, because the person who is represented is sitting there thinking, ‘Well, whose side is the judge on? The judge is on the side of the self-represented litigant’.
“So this is an extremely delicate balance, to make sure that the self-represented litigant is getting justice and doing justice to his own case, without simultaneously upsetting, and understandably upsetting, the litigant who is represented into thinking the judge has made up his mind against them.”
He continued: “Where you have two self-represented litigants, life becomes very difficult indeed, and up and down the country, particularly in civil cases, district judges up and down the country have long lists in which both sides are now self-represented. The cases take much longer and they are much more difficult for the judge.”
Lord Judge said he was concerned that the bench, particularly at the higher levels, does not have a broader representation of women and those from “the minority ethnic communities”.
He said: “I have spent quite a lot of my time trying to change that. But we are turning a tanker around, and it takes time. You can only appoint people by selecting from those who apply.” He pointed out that just 11% of QCs and 25% of law firm partners are women. “It would be surprising if you had a bench which was not inevitably affected by those sort of statistics when you are choosing from lawyers to become judges.”
He added that – though he was not happy about the fact – the judiciary was reflective of society in that few women are also in roles such as editing newspapers or directors of large companies. But Lord Judge rejected any notion of quotas, saying that “as far as I am concerned, the only basis for appointment to the bench must be on merit”.