no solicitors sign on door

It is a criminal offence and contempt of court to carry out ‘a reserved legal activity’ unless you are entitled to do so. In other words: thou shall not conduct litigation unless you are a solicitor. There is, however, a statutory defence of ignorance. 

The High Court in London recently considered a case of a paralegal and an honest mistake.


The first respondent is a graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX). Having worked as a paralegal for solicitors’ firms, she identified a gap in the market and, in 2014, set up her own business (the second respondent) to help landlords with tenancy issues.  

In 2017, the respondent was given a formal warning by CILEX over conducting litigation. It had been her practise to write to the court using her letterhead. As a result, she sought advice from a specialist solicitor and changed her practise accordingly. The respondent reassessed her practise in 2019 to comply with guidance issued by the Court of Appeal

The respondent’s business subsequently advised the Claimant’s landlord concerning possession proceedings, where judgment was entered against the Claimant. 

The Claimant sought to have the respondents committed to prison for conducting litigation in contempt of court.


The High Court was satisfied that the respondents had, indeed, conducted the litigation against the Claimant. 

The[y]… did everything for [the landlord] in relation to the proceedings that a solicitor or other authorised person would have done… Someone must have conducted this litigation, and it would be wholly artificial to say that [the landlord] did it himself, albeit with support and guidance from the Respondents. This would be to under-state their involvement. They conducted the litigation for him. 

per Cavanagh J at [202]

That said, the judge was “…full satisfied that [the respondent] did not know, and did not believe for a moment that she was committing an offence.”


ignorantia juris non excusat

In general terms, ‘ignorance of the law excuses not’.  In the instant case, ignorance of that ignorance gave rise to a statutory defence.   

…the Claimant has proved, to the criminal standard, that the Respondents were conducting litigation between 12 March 2019 and 31 October 2019. However, the statutory defence… is made out, and so I find that [the Respondents] are not in contempt of court.

per Cavanagh J at [235]

The application to commit the respondents for contempt was dismissed. 

Get in touch today to discover how delivering unique, engaging content can help build your bottom line.