In the past week, we have represented a claimant in a fast-track trial and also defended a claim brought by a claimant in a small claims hearing. In both cases, the claimants (one being our client and the other being our opponent) were represented by solicitors at the outset of their claim. However, due to cost constraints they decided to go it alone. At the end of their respective cases, both claimants were penalised significantly as to costs.
In respect of our client, rather than use a solicitor he decided to use his brother who has an IQ of over 150 but was not a lawyer and had no knowledge of the law. His brother undertook a significant amount of research using Google to try and plead our client’s case and not only that, failed to consistently set out his case with various numbers of statements of case being inconsistent with previous ones.
When we were instructed, the case had already been allocated to the fast track and we were just 3 months before trial. By that time, it was too late to make the significant changes required to our client’s statements and pleadings because of the numerous inconsistencies. Strangely enough, the defendant in the fast-track case had offered to settle and despite our client receiving advice from two different barristers stating he was going to lose (and should discontinue, he was wholly swayed by his much cleverer brother who had done lots of research but still did not understand the law. The offers to settle were rejected and we were instructed to represent our client at the fast-track trial. The opposing barrister in that trial tore our client apart pointing out to him and the court the various inconsistencies in his pleaded case and his witness evidence. Our client’s credibility was shot to pieces and most of the questions that were answered by our client contained reference to his brother drafting the various letters, statements and pleadings. Our client lost the case and was ordered to pay a sum of £23,000 in costs (as a result of our representation we did manage to save our client £9,000).
In the second case this week, we represented a small broadband company who was being sued by a claimant who had engaged solicitors pre-action. Again, due to cost constraints, the claimant decided to issue proceedings himself and pursue the small claim via Money Claim Online. The claim form that he had prepared did not replicate any of the claims that were made in the letter of claim prepared by his solicitors. The matter was allocated to the small claims track and directions given for witness evidence. The claimant acknowledged the order in writing but did not file or serve any witness evidence to support his claim. The matter came to the small claims hearing and prior to going in, the judge asked the parties whether the claimant had filed or served any witness evidence and obviously, he had not. Throughout the hearing, the claimant was questioned by the judge and told in no uncertain terms that the rules of the court and directions must be met by everyone. The claimant kept making excuses stating that he was not a lawyer and he didn’t know what he was doing. The judge found on a balance of probabilities that the claimant knew of the requirement to file evidence and struck out his claim. We were successful in obtaining an unreasonable costs order against the claimant in the sum of £795.00. The claimant did protest on the basis that he was not a lawyer and he was told by his solicitors that he would not have to pay costs as this was a small claim.
There is a common theme in both cases where the claimants have used solicitors at the outset but, due to costs and charges of those solicitors, decided to act for themselves. The law now provides that there is no special treatment for people who act for themselves and therefore it is essential for any person embarking on any legal matter in the civil justice system to either seek independent legal advice or ensure that they fully comply with the rules of the court which are contained in the Civil Procedure Rules.
Whilst it is perhaps common that solicitors’ fees are high, or at least disproportionate to the value of the case, we do urge all litigants to thoroughly search the market when embarking on any legal matter to see whether there is an affordable lawyer out there who can advise on the prospects and procedural elements of a case. Had both claimants instructed us at the beginning, we believe that they may have been either successful or would not have embarked on the litigation, which would have saved them significant costs.