LITIGANTS IN PERSON: SUBJECT TO THE SAME LAW AS EVERYBODY ELSE (BUT CASE MANAGEMENT DIRECTIONS MAY BE DIFFERENT)
The judgment in Reynard v Fox  EWHC 443 (Ch) has already been written about in the legal press. Indeed it bristles with procedural issues, I want to concentrate on the issue of the treatment of litigants in person.
The claimant had been made bankrupt. He had attempted to bring an action against his Trustee in Bankruptcy in the bankruptcy proceedings, that action had failed. He issued proceedings for negligence against his Trustee. The defendant Trustee applied to strike them out.
NO SPECIAL RULES FOR A LITIGANT IN PERSON
The claimant also argued that it would be unjust if his claim were to be struck out because he did not bring it under s 304, because he is a litigant in person and “didn’t have a detailed knowledge of insolvency regulations.” At the hearing there was no discussion of how far the status of a party to litigation as litigant in person could affect the proceeding. But, in fact, a month after the conclusion of the hearing in January 2018, the Supreme Court gave judgment in Barton v Wright Hassall LLP  UKSC 12, where this very issue was raised. In summary, although the court was split on the particular procedural point arising in the case (whether service by email was to be validated retrospectively), on the general position of litigants in person the judges were unanimous. They held that the fact that a litigant was acting in person was not in itself a reason to disapply procedural rules or orders or directions, or excuse non-compliance with them. The exception was that a special indulgence to a litigant in person might be justified where a rule was hard to find, difficult to understand, or it was ambiguous.
In my judgment s 304 does not fall into any of those categories. In any event, from the way in which the claimant has written in his letters and pleadings about this case, and the way in which he addressed me at the hearings, it is clear that he is an intelligent and articulate litigant, who has learned a great deal about insolvency law in particular and civil law and procedure in general since he has had the misfortune to be adjudicated bankrupt. I see no injustice arising here merely from the fact that the claimant is a litigant in person.
But even if being a litigant in person were some sort of excuse in general, it would not avail the claimant anyway in relation to the strike out application. The fact is that, if the court strikes out a claim under CPR r 3.4(2), it does not do so to punish the claimant. It does so because the claim as formulated is either not sustainable or it is not fair in the circumstances to proceed with it. Here we are concerned with the former. It is nothing to do with the claimant’s being a litigant in person. It is simply that the kind of claim he or she has chosen does not apply on the facts of the case. You cannot successfully claim that an apple is an orange, on the grounds that you do not know the difference because you are a litigant in person. Defendants also have rights, including the right not to be made liable for causes of action which do not lie against them.
BUT CASE MANAGEMENT DIRECTIONS MAY BE DIFFERENT
Case management – unrepresented parties
(1) This rule applies in any proceedings where at least one party is unrepresented.
(2) When the court is exercising any powers of case management, it must have regard to the fact that at least one party is unrepresented.
(3) Both the parties and the court must, when drafting case management directions in the multi-track and fast track, take as their starting point any relevant standard directions which can be found online at www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil and adapt them as appropriate to the circumstances of the case.
(4) The court must adopt such procedure at any hearing as it considers appropriate to further the overriding objective.
(5) At any hearing where the court is taking evidence this may include—
(a) ascertaining from an unrepresented party the matters about which the witness may be able to give evidence or on which the witness ought to be cross-examined; and
(b) putting, or causing to be put, to the witness such questions as may appear to the court to be proper.
APPLICATION OF THIS IN THE REYNARD CASE
The Reynard judgment also involves a consideration of case management issues insofar as they relate to litigants in person. In an age when counsel are constantly being encouraged to make skeleton arguments more succinct the judge directed that the defendant’s skeleton be made more detailed.
THE JUDGMENT ON THIS ISSUE
Accordingly, I adjourned the hearing to be listed in the week of 22 January 2018, a date which was convenient to both sides. The claimant asked whether he could have a transcript of the hearing so as better to understand the arguments made by the defendant. After consulting Mr Atkins, I directed instead that the defendant should within seven days file and serve a more detailed skeleton argument. This would obviate the need for a transcript to be obtained (and thus avoid both extra expense and delay). I further directed that the claimant should file and serve a skeleton argument by 5 January 2018, and that if so advised the defendant could file and serve a further skeleton by 12 January 2018.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE BUNDLES PREPARED BY THE RESPONDENT: KAUR -v- LEEDS TEACHING HOSPITAL NHS TRUST
Similar principles were considered by Lord Justice Underhill in Kaur -v- Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 311.
The appellant was a litigant in person. The court directed that the respondent be responsible for the preparation of the bundles, after input from the appellant. The appellant attempted to overturn that order (but did not attend the application). The appellant had refused to accept the bundles served by the respondent in accordance with the court order.