Litigants In Person Must Observe Court Rules
Proceedings can often be complex and daunting for a litigant in person. For that reason, they are usually afforded a degree of latitude by the Court. However, as the recent case of Ogiehor v Belinfantie demonstrates litigants in person cannot ignore court rules and will be punished if they do so.
In that case, the Claimant was pursuing a claim for damages of £225,000 against the Defendant following a road traffic accident.
Although liability was admitted, the Defendant claimed that the Claimant had only suffered minor injuries and contended that he had fraudulently exaggerated his injuries and relied upon surveillance evidence which had been obtained to prove that. In response to that allegation and despite being warned not to do so by both the Judge and the Defendant’s Counsel, at the trial of his claim the Claimant revealed the existence of a “without prejudice” offer for £10,000 from the Defendant which he had rejected, questioning why the Defendant would make such an offer if the claim was a fraudulent one.
As a consequence of his actions, the trial was adjourned and the Claimant was ordered to make an interim payment of £10,000 for the costs which had been thrown away by his actions to be paid within four months and if the payment was not made within that time by the Claimant then his claim would be struck out.
The Claimant appealed against that decision arguing that he did not know the meaning of “without prejudice” and that the circumstances of the case did not justify a wasted costs order against him. However, the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
The Appeal Judge said that while litigants in person will attract the assistance of the Court, they could not be treated as being in a privileged class relieved of their obligations to comply with the Civil Procedure Rules. Although Judges would show common sense and be flexible, they had to enforce the Rules.
Whilst the rules concerning without prejudice offers are complex and may not be immediately clear to a lay person, in this particular case the Claimant had been expressly warned not to disclose details of the offer and there had been efforts from both the Judge and the Defendant’s legal representatives to try to prevent him from doing so but he had simply ignored those warnings.
This case serves as a warning that the Court can order wasted costs against not only against a party’s legal representatives but also against litigants in person who act in ways which are either improper or unreasonable.
If you are involved in or require advice in relation to any litigation matter then Blacks Solicitors can assist. Please contact Luke Patel on 0113 227 9316 or by email at “LPatel@LawBlacks.com”.