Lay Litigation Behaviour in Postcolonial Hong Kong Courtrooms
Language and Law / Linguagem e Direito 2(1): 32-52.
21 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2016 Last revised: 17 Feb 2021
Date Written: 2015
Many jurisdictions have recently experienced a significant increase in their number of litigants in person (LiPs) in their civil justice systems; related research (e.g. Baldacci 2006; Moorhead 2007) has assessed the implications of such shifts. In postcolonial Hong Kong, implementation of legal bilingualism (as a result of which ordinary citizens may use their local language, Cantonese, to litigate) and the changing political environment following the 1997 transfer of sovereignty, have also led to a surge in unrepresented litigation. Drawing both on observation data collected in Hong Kong courtrooms and on interviews with litigants, this article explores how LiPs in Hong Kong engage, and struggle, with the justice system, and how changing patterns of interaction in these courtrooms reflect a postcolonial legality. It illustrates strategies LiPs adopt in presenting their case, which are not displayed by represented litigants or professional advocates, and explains their behaviour in linguistic and sociocultural terms. It is argued that the communication gap between laypersons and legal professionals is ideological and structural, and cannot be bridged simply by adopting present approaches to either assisting or educating the former.
Keywords: ligitant in person, unrepresented litigant, courtroom discourse, Hong Kong, self-representation
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