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Language of DIY Justice: Communication practices and processes

Exploring the world of DIY justice and how those who represent themselves in court navigate the many communication pitfalls in the courtroom. The project seeks to analyse the language and perspectives of those in courtroom settings to suggest practical ways of addressing complex language and communication-related challenges.

DIY law language

Researchers

Research background

The project explores the language and communication of an emerging culture of DIY Justice. Cuts in legal aid that came to effect in 2013 left many people without an opportunity to receive legal advice for free and further increased the number of Litigants in Person (LIPs), i.e. people who represent themselves in court proceedings. Yet, there has not been sufficient research into legal-lay communication or language use and communication challenges for self-represented litigants or the legal professional and the judiciary.  

The project takes a holistic approach to DIY Justice by investigating communication as an inherent part of court hearings as well as court processes and procedures. By bringing language and communication to the forefront, the project is in a unique position to explore key players and factors that shape DIY Justice: (1) LIPs and their perceptions of their experiences and roles within legal proceedings (2) judges and lawyers and their perceptions of LIPs’ capabilities and roles within legal proceedings; (3) communication challenges that arise during legal-lay interactions; (4) communication and elicitation processes inherent in court administrative procedures; (5) communication and elicitation processes embedded in civil procedure rules. This allows the project to contribute to the understanding of perceptions and self-perceptions of LIPs and communication requirements imposed on them by the legal profession, courts and the legal system and suggest practical ways of addressing complex language and communication-related challenges.

Research aims

The main objectives of the project according to are as follows:

Language used by LIPs, judges and lawyers

Relate LIPs’ perceptions of DIY Justice to legal professionals’ perceptions of DIY Justice and investigate how such perceptions impact legal proceedings. This will lead to the development of (a) resources for supporting LIPs, (b) initiatives on raising awareness of the ambiguous role of LIPs among the judiciary, legal professionals and voluntary sector, and (c) suggestions as to strategic and holistic support for DIY Justice.

Legal-lay communication challenges

Explore differences between legal and lay language use and communication styles in written and spoken contexts. Make specific suggestions on accommodating these challenges during legal proceedings.

Communication and elicitation processes embedded within court administration procedures

Investigate communication and elicitation processes inherent in court administration systems (e.g. methods of eliciting information via court forms, witness statements and other genres; comprehensibility of court correspondence and guidance materials; provision of information through different channels). This will lead to (a) specific recommendations for court administration on essential features for court forms, guidance and court correspondence; (b) materials and workshops for the voluntary sector on supporting LIPs with preparing their documentation;

Communication and elicitation processes embedded within legal procedure rules

Investigate communication and elicitation processes inherent in civil procedure rules with a specific focus on the differences between represented cases and semi-represented or fully unrepresented cases. Make specific suggestions for updates of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).

Research methods

The project uses a quantitative and qualitative mixed-methods approach to investigate the following aspects: the language used to construct perceptions around DIY Justice; legal-lay communication; and communication and elicitation processes embedded in court administration and procedures (e.g. how information and evidence is elicited through administrative steps and procedural rules). The data collected by the project includes: observations of court hearings with LIPs, a survey of LIPs, interviews with LIPs, interviews with legal professionals and analysing court forms and court bundles.

Intended outcomes

The project will produce academic publications, research reports for government bodies and legal charities as well as engage with the wider public via an exhibition, media engagement and production of leaflets for court users. 

Public engagement

The research team held an online exhibition around experiences of self-representation in court. The findings from the research and online exhibition can be downloaded here.