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31 August 2016

Researching litigants in person in Northern Ireland

  

In the Spring 2016 issue of The Writ, Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, described the research study on litigants in person in Northern Ireland which is being carried out by NIHRC and the School of Law at Ulster University. This autumn, you are likely to see the researchers in the court buildings, and they may approach you to be a research participant.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the research is the first in-depth study of the experience of litigating in person in the civil and family courts of Northern Ireland. The areas of interest are family proceedings, family homes and domestic violence, divorce, civil bills and bankruptcy.

The research aims to understand the reasons why people self-represent, the experience of litigating in person and the impact of the litigants in person on the courts. A human rights analysis using international standards for the right to a fair trial, including requirements for access to legal representation, will also be undertaken as part of the research. Between January and June 2017, a cohort of litigants in person will be offered advice on only the procedural aspects of their case to allow the researchers to assess whether this form of advice is effective in helping the courts and the litigants.

The researchers want to interview and observe litigants in person to obtain their perspective, but they also want to gain the views of other court users. This includes the lawyers and barristers who represent the opposing side in a case with a litigant in person. Judges and court staff too will be approached. The aim is to compile a rounded view of not just the litigants’ experience but of their impact on the court system from the broader perspective.

The researchers will be in court between September 2016 and July 2017. They will then spend some time analysing the data and writing it up for distribution. There will be a conference in April 2018 to disseminate the findings and recommendations.

If you are involved in a case with a litigant in person and would like to take part in the research, the researchers would like to hear from you. The anonymity and confidentiality of the parties involved will be fully respected, and contact with the unrepresented party will be only made with their prior consent. Please contact Dr Lucy Royal-Dawson on LIPNI@ulster.ac.uk or text or phone on 07503 447886 for further details. More information on the project will be made available as the research progresses at www.ulster/law/lipni.