The impact of Litigants in Person on the Northern Ireland court system

Research shows that parties to legal cases who are not legally represented commonly experience difficulties accessing justice and that courts encounter problems addressing the adversarial deficit. These issues have become increasingly salient following reduced access to publicly funded legal aid.

This project seeks to tackle the problem by undertaking research to better understand the characteristics of the population of Litigants in Person (LiPs) as they progress through the courts in Northern Ireland, and by designing and evaluating a specific initiative that would address their needs. It will involve a qualitative analysis of LiPs’ experience through hearing observations, qualitative interviews with LiPs and professionals, and analysis of case files to understand the paths to justice and support needs of LiPs and investigate how LiPs impact on the courts. A second stage will involve statistical profiling of LiPs using anonymised data provided by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS).

Lastly, the project will trial an intervention that gives LiPs access to basic legal support through a pre-hearing legal assistance clinic within the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The research team will collect qualitative and quantitative measurements of the experiences of LiPs with and without intervention, to assess the extent to which basic legal support can assist LIPs and protect their human rights.