I have recently received a response to my Freedom of Information Act request to the Judicial Office in respect of judicial training regarding the management of cases involving litigants in person. It has not really reassured me.
For ease of reference the response, which incorporates the questions posed, is pasted below. It can be accessed on the What Do They Know? website here.
26 October 2011
Dear Ms Reed,
Freedom of Information request - 72676
Thank you for your email of 1 October 2011, in which you asked for the following information from the Judicial Office:
‘1 Please could you provide details of what mandatory training is currently provided to the judiciary in respect of litigants in person? Please provide details of any optional training on the same topic.
2 Please state what proportion of current judicial office holders have undertaken any training specifically in respect of litigants in person. I would be grateful if you could break down these figures for a) district judges and b) circuit judges and recorders.
3 Please state how many judicial office holders undertook such training in financial years 2009/10, 2010/11, and 2011/12 to date and how many are projected to undertake such training in 2011/12 and 2012/13.
4 Please state what budget has been allocated to training in respect of litigants in person in each of the financial years 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12. What is the budget for 2012/13?
5 What specific plans do the Judicial Office have for enhancing or increasing their judicial training in respect of judicial management of litigants in person?
6 Does the Judicial Office have specific plans for making training concerning the management of litigants in person mandatory for any level of judge, and if so, which level?’
Questions 1, 5 and 6 are not requests for recorded information, and have thus been treated outside the scope of the Act. The following general information concerning judicial training may assist you and help answer the points raised in your email.
All judicial training events are listed in our Annual Reports, and available online (see www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications-and-reports/judicial-college/jsb-annual-reports). There are no dedicated seminars on litigants in person.
The Lord Chief Justice is responsible for arrangements for training the courts' judiciary in England and Wales under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Since 1 April 2011, the responsibility for the training for judicial office-holders in the courts and in most tribunals now rests with the Judicial College. The Judicial College was created by bringing together the separate arrangements that had previously existed for training judicial office-holders in the courts (the Judicial Studies Board) and the Tribunals Service (through the Tribunals Judicial Training Group). The Judicial College seeks to provide training to the courts judiciary in England and Wales to carry out their duties effectively, and in a way which preserves judicial independence.
Senior judiciary are keen that litigants in person should be given as much assistance as possible to comply with the judicial process. Members of the judiciary are asked to show sensitivity to the needs of litigants in person and to seek to ensure that litigants in person are able to understand and comply with court processes. There are, of course, limits to the proper role of the judiciary in this area, as judges must also be careful to avoid offering legal advice on how a litigant should take forward their case, as this would interfere with due process.
Whilst the Judicial College does not run a specific seminar on litigants in person, the subject matter occurs within the training provided for both the civil and family jurisdictions. It is closely linked with fair treatment issues and vulnerability, and permeates training in similar ways. So, for example, the module on the civil law seminar on trying housing cases will deal with the subject itself, but will additionally look at how things might be different when dealing with unrepresented parties and what the best practice might be in that instance.
It follows that the Equal Treatment Bench Book, which is publicly available on the website (see www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications-and-reports/judicial-college/equal-treatment-bench-book) should devote a whole section to unrepresented parties. It highlights the disadvantages litigants in person face, such as being unfamiliar with the language and specialist vocabulary of legal proceedings and having little knowledge of the procedures involved.
There are specific sessions on dealing with litigants in person on the civil induction course (for recorders) the Deputy District Judge Induction course (for new deputies) and the Private Family LawInduction course (for all those newly authorised to hear cases - district judges, deputy district judges, recorders and district judges (magistrates’ courts)).
A new development is The Craft of Judging, a cross-jurisdictional seminar which aims to help judges develop their judicial skills. During this seminar an actor plays a litigant in person and the judge is presented with a number of situations which have to be dealt with. For all the continuation seminars available to judges please see the prospectus for 2012/13 atwww.judiciary.gov.uk/publications-and-reports/judicial-college.
Questions 2, 3 and 4 of your request have been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). I can confirm that the Judicial Office does not hold the information that you have requested.
You can find out more about information held for the purposes of the Act by reading some guidance points we consider when processing a request for information, attached at the end of this letter.
You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act, available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents and further guidance http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/foi-step-by-step.htm
You have the right to appeal our decision if you think it is incorrect. Details can be found in the ‘How to Appeal’ section attached at the end of this letter.
I hope that this is of some help.
On the one hand someone has gone to the trouble of putting together a careful narrative answer to my question, and have signposted me to a number of informative documents: the Equal Treatment Bench Book does contain some useful guidance in respect of LiPs, but the lengthy 63 page prospectus of judicial training for 2012-13 contains only 2 instances of the phrase "litigants in person", indicating in respect of civil trials and appeals courses the topic will be one of many covered. There is no reference in the brochure material for family courses to litigants in person at all. For that part of the answer I cannot fault them.
On the other hand it might be seen as somewhat concerning - and contradictory - that the information requested at 2, 3 and 4 about the proportion judges who have had LiP training is not held. My understanding of the narrative response is that there is no specific training for the judiciary concerning litigants in person and the answer therefore to questions 2 and 3 must be 0%. I understand they are saying that LiP training has been "mainstreamed" but will this be enough to enable the judiciary to meet the unenviable challenge that is looming?
One can also extrapolate that if there were a specific budget allocated to training for litigants in person that would have been indicated in response to question 4. That the information is "not held" suggests that there is no such budget. Who knows? Its not really clear.
What is in fact more interesting though than the lack of facts and figures I had sought, is that part of the narrative answer that reads:
"Senior judiciary are keen that litigants in person should be given as much assistance as possible to comply with the judicial process. Members of the judiciary are asked to show sensitivity to the needs of litigants in person and to seek to ensure that litigants in person are able to understand and comply with court processes. There are, of course, limits to the proper role of the judiciary in this area, as judges must also be careful to avoid offering legal advice on how a litigant should take forward their case, as this would interfere with due process."
And there's the nub of it. You can run as many seminars as you like on Litigants in Person, but ultimately the judiciary are not in a position to fix this problem without transgressing the professional boundaries that are essential in order for them to remain visibly impartial, and for fairness to be done and seen to be done (one example of the dangers of the judiciary trying to help but getting the balance wrong is covered in my recent blog post "Go Solo To Gain Tactical Advantage?". For the judiciary to send out a signal that they could pick up the slack by upping the training would give the Government the opportunity to offload the responsibility for this catastrophe on them. The judiciary can and will do their best but they cannot be the antidote to LASPO however well trained they are.