Litigants In Person

Litigants In Person

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Litigants in Person: Principles and Practice in Civil and Family Matters in Singapore

Author Jaclyn Neo and Helena Whalen-Bridge
Publication Date January 2021
ISBN 9789811492761
Format Softcover
Publisher Singapore Academy of Law


It is a cardinal principle of a just legal system that every party to a lawsuit has the right to present their interests and have them considered in the resolution of disputes. After all, “the best laws, the most transparent, the most fair, the most just, will still count for nothing if people do not have access to them”.In the common law world, the right to access justice is reflected in the above-quoted provision of the Magna Carta. This clause, which originally appeared as chapter 39, sits at the heart of a set of provisions in the Great Charter that guarantee proportionality, due process, and impartial experts to adjudicate the resolution of disputes. As Lord Woolf of Barnes observed in a lecture delivered to the Singapore Academy of Law in 2005, these provisions in the Magna Carta encompass core features of the common law. The foundational nature of the Magna Carta has also been judicially confirmed in Singapore, particularly in relation to fundamental liberties in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.

Ensuring access to justice implicates the fundamental values of society as a whole. A 2019 global survey conducted by the World Justice Project estimates that more than “5.1 billion people – or approximately two thirds of the world’s population – are not getting the justice they need for both everyday problems and severe injustices”. As law provides the foundation for “nearly every aspect of people’s lives, including health, employment, education, [and] housing”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development asserts that the inability of persons to resolve legal problems “diminishes access to economic opportunity, reinforces the poverty trap, and undermines human potential and inclusive growth”.

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes Sustainable Development Goal (“SDG”) 16.3, which states that countries should “[p]romote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all”. Making progress towards this goal requires countries to ensure that “all people and communities have access to legal and justice services that are of high quality, appropriate, targeted, timely and cost-effective”. There is “growing recognition” that access to justice is “foundational to economic and social development”.

Access to justice, however, can mean many things. A formal conception of access would refer merely to an individual’s formal right to litigate or defend oneself. The “freedom to demand remedies for civil wrongs or, when faced with a criminal charge or a civil infraction, the existence of a fair and transparent forum in which to defend oneself and an opportunity to be heard by an impartial decision maker” is important, but it has to be realisable in practice. There is now recognition that the 19th-century conceptualisation of the formal right to representation “amounted in practice to denials of effective access for much of the population”. This recognition led to the 20th‑century movement to extend access to justice beyond a merely formal right, towards a broader definition of access. The broader approach is consistent with, for example, the definition provided by Christine Parker, which includes:

… accessibility of court processes for resolving disputes over mutual rights and responsibilities, availability of adequate legal representation … access to more informal legal processes such as small claims courts and administrative tribunals, availability of legal advice, [and] public legal education.


1. Introduction
2. Litigants in Person in Singapore and Other Common Law Systems
3. Judicial Approached to Litigants in Person in Civil and Family Proceedings
4. Experiences of Litigants in Person with the Court Process
5. Lawyers and Litigants in Person: Inequality of Arms?
6. Innovations to Better Serve Litigants in Person
7. Conclusion

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