DIY Rumpoles bring havoc to the law courts

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The Independent Online
COURTS throughout Britain are being brought to a standstill by DIY lawyers whose only legal qualification is having watched Kavanagh QC.

Many people cannot afford lawyers and, because of cutbacks, no longer qualify for legal aid. The amateur Rumpoles are often convinced they can do a better job than barristers and solicitors.

The Citizens' Advice Bureau at the High Court in London received 2,516 enquiries from people representing themselves in the first six months of this year. There were 3,584 enquiries in the whole of 1994.

At least one in three cases in the Court of Appeal now involves someone representing themselves, compared with one in 10 five years ago.

Traditionally judges are patient with DIY litigants, but they become increasingly irritated as cases go on and on, with ill-prepared litigants wasting time and using the courtroom to air their grievances. They are pressing for dedicated legal advisers in court to explain "the language of the court" to those representing themselves.

Gerald Kelly, from Southampton, decided to pursue a claim against Anglia Water. He thought his case would be over in months. Nearly a year later, Mr Kelly is fighting a counter-claim of pounds 7,000 by the water company.

Geoffrey Scriven, a company director, spent nearly seven years attempting a private prosecution against a man who, he claims, cheated him of a substantial sum of money. He has spent at least pounds 100,000 on the case and has lost count of the hours spent in court. "I've never been in front of a judge who has not told me I should hire representation, but I don't trust the legal system," he said.

Michael Walker, a district judge, believes urgent action needs to be taken to explain the mysteries of the courtroom to people representing themselves.

"You can't blame people for wanting to bring their own cases," he said. "But a litigant in person does require more court time, because you need to explain legal matters to them. The process would be greatly helped if there was an advice system in each court."