The unrepresented (or self-represented) litigant is an increasingly common sight in Australian courts and tribunals. While some people choose to represent themselves in legal proceedings, others are compelled to do so by cost, chance, or some other reason. Whatever their motivation, unrepresented litigants present a unique set of challenges to the administration of justice, and to the legal practitioners, judicial officers, and others they meet in the system.
The August part of the Journal of Judicial Administration is a Special Issue devoted to this topic. It collates a selection of papers from the conference organised by the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration in April 2014, and entitled Assisting Unrepresented Litigants: A Challenge for Courts and Tribunals.
In his introduction to the Special Issue, General Editor Professor Greg J Reinhardt notes:
The conference covered a wide range of issues including:
- management of proceedings in courts involving unrepresented litigants, including issues associated with procedural fairness and other challenges facing judicial officers;
- legal aid – policy and funding practice and the absence of legal aid on court proceedings;
- the role of pro-bono schemes;
- the role of court administrators and registry services;
- the use of technology in courts and how this impacts upon unrepresented litigants;
- vexatious and querulent litigants;
- current academic research into disputes involving unrepresented litigants;
- proceedings in family courts and children’s courts with unrepresented litigants;
- the role and impact of unrepresented litigants in the criminal and appellate jurisdictions;
- innovative approaches or programs being used/piloted/proposed in Australian and overseas jurisdictions;
- the evaluation of programs and responses to unrepresented litigants;
- the Australian Productivity Commission’s Reference on Access to Justice Arrangements; and
- issues relating to data collection and measuring the impact of unrepresented persons on the justice system.
A constant theme across many sessions was the need for more information and statistics on the impact of the unrepresented litigant on the administration of justice and the need to develop both quantitative and qualitative measures to capture this information. Such measures ought properly to be considered as part of the annual Report on Government Services.
What are your experiences with unrepresented litigants? Let us know on Twitter @JournalsTalk, or below in the comments.