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Access to Justice and Human Rights

Vital conversations: Use of the Equal Treatment Bench Book

Law Centre NI and Litigant in Person Reference Group joint seminar

On Monday 24 June, Law Centre NI and Litigant in Person Reference Group held a joint seminar on the use of the Equal Treatment Bench Book (ETBB). This important discussion focused on the content and value of the ETBB, and how it can be best further used in Northern Ireland.

The event was hosted by Ursula O’Hare, Director of Law Centre NI and Les Allamby, Independent Chair of the Litigant in Person Reference Group.

We’d like to thank our speaker Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan and our keynote speaker Lady Justice Eleanor King for their insightful contributions.

Lady Justice Eleanor King emphasised in her keynote speech that the ETBB goes hand in hand with good communication and demonstrating fairness. She highlighted that the purpose of the ETBB is to increase awareness and understanding of the different circumstances that people face when appearing in courts or tribunals. It is a practical guide to effective communication designed to improve the experience of all participants.

In England and Wales the ETBB sits alongside Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which provide an overriding objective:

‘that requires in order to deal with a case justly, the court should ensure, as far as practicable, that the parties are on an equal footing and can participate fully in proceedings, and that parties can give their best evidence. The parties are required to help the court to further the overriding objective at all stages of proceedings’.

In Northern Ireland the ETBB has been referenced by the Court of Appeal in Galo v Bombardier Aerospace (UK) (2016) NICA 25 where the Court outlined principles and guidance for a fair hearing including the need to have regard to general non-binding guidance and practical advice given in the ETBB how best to effectively accommodate litigants with disabilities in the court or tribunal process (para 53). Moreover, the Court outlined that courts and tribunals should pay particular attention to the ETBB and ensure it becomes part of the culture of hearings. (para 61).

We’d also like to thank, Tom Herron, a member of the Litigant in Person Reference Group, who thoughtfully shared his own personal experience of navigating the court system in Northern Ireland, as a litigant in person; and Professor Grainne McKeever, who shared some of the vital resources we have available to litigants in person in Northern Ireland.

Look out for a revised version of the ETBB due to be published after the General Election.