HATS OFF TO BUZZFEED: GOVERNMENT RESEARCH ON LITIGANTS IN PERSON FINALLY “DISCLOSED” (IN A MANNER)

This weekend I reported on the decision of District Judge Read that expressed profound concern about the fate of litigants of person in a family law case.  Hats off to BuzzFeed which, after a tussle and an appeal to the information commissioner obtained an “unpublished summary” of research that the Ministry of Justice did in 2015. The Buzzfeed article today that deals with this makes it clear that trying to get information about the legal system from the Ministry of Justice can by like pulling teeth. (If anyone  involved in the legal system wants to let me have their views on the impact of litigants in person, I will respect their anonymity if requested. I won’t publish an anodyne summary of their views.)

 

THE RESEARCH

There was a survey of 15 Crown Court judges and six prosecutors to find out their views on the impact of unrepresented defendants.   A summary is set out in the BuzzFeed post

“The Government Tried To Bury This Research Showing Judges’ Concerns About The Rise In People Defending Themselves In Court”

(The report can be found in full in the article by Penelope Gibbs, Not the “awkward squad”: unrepresented defendants in the Crown Court.)

The Information Commissioner’s Office decision can be found here

THE REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE

The MOJ refused to disclose the reveal the research on the grounds that it “relates to the formulation or development of government policy”.  An explanation that  (presumably) was not accepted by the information commissioner.

LIKE PULLING TEETH

The MOJ disclosed a six page summary. BuzzFeed has now lodged another appeal with the information commissioner, asking for the full research and the statements given by those interviewed.

WHAT THE DOCUMENT DISCLOSED

The very brief summary made it clear that judges prefer dealing with represented defendants.  Among the points made were:-

  • There could be an impact on witnesses of being cross-examined by the accused.
  • Unrepresented defendants’ cases resulted in longer hearings and case progression was slower.
  • All the judges interviewed “stated a very strong preference” to people being represented and would delay hearings to try to make this happen

MORE GOOD MATERIAL FROM BUZZFEED

This is not a one off.  Emily Dugan at BuzzFeed has covered these issues many times.