Following the withdrawal of legal aid in areas such as Family law disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has significantly increased. The literature on this issue indicates that these 'litigants in person' place a great strain on court resources and that their increased numbers, combined with cuts to court staff, are having a significant impact on the administration and quality of justice. CEPLER is undertaking a pilot study to explore: the impact this increase in litigants in person has on the administration of justice; and how litigants in person experience the justice system.
Stage One- Proposal and Agreement: outline proposal; submission to the University Ethics Committee; court meetings to agree research parameters and access to the court; a comprehensive literature review.
Stage Two - Fieldwork: a mixture of quantitative and qualitative work with both litigants in person - involved in family, housing and debt matters - and court staff. Through questionnaires, the objectives were to gather data such as:
- the approximate numbers, demographic profile and financial status of litigants in person in three areas of civil justice;
- the broad nature of their court application;
- the reasons they were representing themselves;
- if they had access to legal aid, or other legal advice;
- the litigant in person's experience of dealing with their case prior to court and during their appearance in court;
- the experiences of court staff in dealing with litigants in person;
- the general impact on the administration of justice within the court.
Stage Three - Further Analysis: this stage involved one-to-one interviews with those respondents who consented to providing more detailed information, followed by collation of questionnaire data and coding and analysis of interview responses to provide statistical evidence.
The project lead is Professor Robert Lee, Head of Birmingham Law School and Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER).
Professor Lee has been supported by:
- Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University
- Professor Hilary Sommerlad, Professor of Law and Social Justice, University of Leeds
- Jonathan Collinson, Postgraduate Researcher, Birmingham Law School
- Lesley Griffiths, Senior Administrator, CEPLER
A research paper was delivered at the Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference in Newcastle in April 2017 by Professor Lee and Dr Tkacukova, and later published as a CEPLER Working Paper