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CLIPS - Chancery Bar Litigant in Person Support Scheme

Extract from the Chairman's speech on 4th December 2013:

How the scheme will work

(a) It will be run by the RCJ Advice Bureau and the Bar Pro Bono Unit.  There is no Advice Bureau in the Rolls Building – yet – though that may change in time; but Alison Lamb will arrange for one of her volunteer case workers to be available near Court 10 at 10.30 in case assistance of the kind that only the AB and its volunteers can give is needed.  The scheme operates so far as barrister volunteers are concerned through the Bar Pro Bono Unit – it is they who are deemed to instruct us; and it is supported by the Personal Support Unit in the RCJ and by LawWorks, the solicitors’ voluntary service to assist litigants in person.

(b) The scheme operates by having one or two barrister volunteers making themselves available each applications day during term.  Initially they will be at court, outside Court 10, where thanks to Tim Pollen in the Rolls Builidng, there will be a dedicated conference room available, with telephone, wireless broadband, and hopefully even a printer and copier; outside the room our new banner will make the service highly visible.  Theoretically, you may be contacted the day before, if a LIP has brought paperwork to the RCJAB in advance, and you can then collect the papers the day before the hearing.  In practice, I suspect, that will be a relatively unusual case.

(c) When you arrive at 10.00, the Associate or usher on duty will hand you on our behalf at 10.00 an envelope file containing some important materials.  First, the key to the conference room – which must be kept locked when not in use – also, some important and useful information, including all the judges’ clerks phone numbers, contact numbers for the AB, PSU, Pro Bono Unit, Law Works, etc, the week’s volunteer rota and, importantly, an up to date list of vexatious litigants and those against whom civil restraint orders have been made.

(d) The barrister or barristers on duty will be available from 10.00 and at 10.30 will go into court whether or not they have been contacted previously by a LIP: there may be a LIP who has gone inside without making contact.  The Judge will invite any LIP to consider whether they would like to make use of the free advice or representation on offer: they cannot be forced to and some may decline.  The Judges will understand that where the LIP is being assisted, the case will need to be put further down the list.

(e) If a LIP makes contact, you will do what you can, within the obvious constraints of the service, to give that person some advice, and if appropriate and possible (and if they agree) to represent them in court.  The Judges will fully understand that there are limits to what you can do.  In many cases, you may simply be asking for the application to be stood over.  In other cases, it will be possible to agree an order with the other side.  Or it may be obvious to you that the LIP needs other help, in which case you will refer the LIP to the RCJAB.

(f)  What we were surprised about when we did a bit of sitting in to see how the applications court works from behind the scenes, and by talking to a number of judges’ clerks, is that a lot of LIPs are seeking to make applications, not just defend them.  Some LIPs turn up to court seeking a freezing injunction!  The limits to what can be done by way of assistance in such a case are obvious; but in many cases the matter may be much more simple than it looks: the application is simply misconceived, or brought in the wrong place; or there is no justification for a hearing without notice, or no urgency or need for the application at all.

(g) Very common applications, apparently, are ones seeking a stay of execution at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, and applications to restrain presentation, or to validate payments (the latter, incidentally, should be sent round to the Registrars).  We will, in due course, seek to write some short notes, to be included in the file, which will assist those volunteers who are not specialists in possession proceedings or bankruptcy and winding up procedures.  The idea is that volunteering should be suitable for anyone who is in practice and has their own insurance – therefore not pupils.  Initially it was thought that the scheme would be ideal for junior tenants to cut their teeth in court in front of full High Court judges; but on reflection we think that there should be no limit on the seniority of those who can volunteer.

(h) If at any stage you think that other help is needed, or that you are out of your depth, the answer is that you refer the matter to the RCJAB.  If there is no AB volunteer at Court 10, simply walk the LIP round to the office in the RCJ, or phone for someone to attend the Rolls Building.

(i) If no LIP has appeared by 11am or thereabouts, you can return to chambers, but you are on call for the remainder of the day (up to 4.30).  You must therefore be by a phone number that you have given.  On many days, therefore, you may only be giving up an hour or so of your time.  But on some days, something much more interesting may happen.

(j) The scheme works though the licensed access rights of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, so there is no need for an instructing solicitor and your Bar Mutual insurance and any top up insurance will automatically cover the work that you do under the scheme.

(k) The officers and past officers of the Association are going to pilot the scheme in the last week of term.  Given what happens in the applications court in the last week of term, “stress testing” may be a more accurate description of what will happen.  So if you see me or Penelope Reed or David Halpern touting for business outside Court 10, you will know what is going on.  The scheme itself is intended to start on the first day of next term, which I think is Monday 13 January 2014.

How do you volunteer?

(l)  Rule No.1 – through your clerks.  Disaster strikes if a barrister volunteers but does not tell his clerk.  Senior clerks, you will play an important role in this scheme, both in terms of persuading your barristers to give up a day a year for this very worthwhile scheme, but also by being the main point of contact with Shucre Musa in the RCJAB.  Shucre is employed there specifically to operate the Court 37 and the CLIPS schemes.

(m) Volunteers, simply ask your clerk to put your name down for a particular day or dates on the rota that Shucre keeps.  Once you have done that, you must, please, keep the booking unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent you from doing so – the RCJAB will of course not mind if you swap dates with another barrister or find a substitute, as long as it is not at the last minute: if that happens, the important weekly list of volunteers and contact numbers will become inaccurate and the scheme will not work as efficiently as it should.

(n) The members of the RCJAB here will be delighted to meet any barrister who is willing in principle to volunteer next term; but what above all they would like to have is the e-mail address of the senior clerks, so that they can compile an address book to which information about the monthly rotas can be sent.  So, senior clerks, please sign up this evening, so that Shucre can create a database and send out information and requests for volunteers at the appropriate time. (You are not making any commitment other than expressing a willingness, on behalf of your barristers, to receive information about the rota.)  I should add that experience with the Court 37 scheme is that this works very well and efficiently, and that there is usually an excess of volunteers for the spaces available.

(o) We have produced documentation for the scheme that has been approved by the RCJAB and the Bar Pro Bono Unit.  These will be available on the ChBA website from tomorrow.  The most important for you now, for the purposes of information, are the documents headed “Protocol”, and “Q&As”.  We have copies of these here so that  you can take them away and find out more than I have had time to say this evening.

(p) Please do volunteer!  With the time that I spend at the Bar Council on your behalf, I am very aware of how lucky we are at the Chancery Bar, in comparison with those practising in some other areas of law.  We can all afford to donate a day of our time, and the cause is a very good one.

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