Poor Person
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Poor Person

A poor person is a legal status in many countries[where?] in the world that allows an individual to have fair court even if he/she does not have enough financial savings. If a judge believes that the accused person is without the financial resources to pay the costs of a court action or proceeding, he/she may apply for in forma pauperis (IFP) status. It is a Latin term for "in the manner of a pauper," which describes a litigant who is excused by a court from paying filing fees and court costs because she cannot afford to do so.

Before authorizing a person to proceed in forma pauperis, courts typically require an affidavit that, among other things, discloses the person's assets and income. Although excused from paying court fees and costs, a litigant who is authorized to proceed in forma pauperis still must pay other expenses, such as deposition transcription costs and witness fees.[1]

Poor person in United Kingdom

Early Modern England

The Process and Costs of Filing Suit in Equity by given the segmented nature of the legal field in Early Modern England and the fact that litigants had to enlist and pay several legal professionals to participate in the legal system, filing a lawsuit remained costly. Moreover, litigation in equity courts was more expensive than in the common law courts as trials proceeded via written pleadings, rather than solely through oral argument. The in forma pauperis procedure provided an alternative to these costs for those who managed to draw its benefit. Lawsuits followed a series of procedural steps in courts of equity, with pleadings going back and forth between the parties. Each step imposed an additional cost on the litigant (around £4, or approximately $1401 today) and a plethora of fees for pleadings, copying documents, summons, joinder, discovery, or collection of evidence. Despite the incomplete evidence that remains on legal costs in Early Modern England, the surviving accounts reveal that normal litigation was a relatively expensive undertaking. As a result, only gentry, merchants, and artisans could afford to pursue lawsuits on a whim. In the Court of Requests, where in forma pauperis status was often invoked, a litigant could apply for the status through an oral motion in the court, a request in the bill of complaint, or a separate petition to the Master of Requests. In the petition, the poor person presented a brief summary of the cause of action alongside a statement of his or her poverty. The initial petition was usually written in plain language with an emphasis on the litigant's troubled circumstances.

In the seventeenth century, English courts for the poor emphasized the following practices: "[N]o man [can] be admitted to sue in forma pauperis unless he bring[s] a testimony of credit that he hath just cause to complain; otherwise the court will be filled with clamours and vexatious suits of poor people living in remote parts." [2]

After filing the petition or making the request in court, litigants sometimes strengthened their claims of poverty through the provision of a certificate from one or multiple well-respected members of their communities, such as a parish priest, a neighbour, or a gentleman who could confirm their financial situation. The last step was to swear an oath that the litigant was not worth more than £5,88 excluding his or her clothing, nor owned land that produced a profit of more than forty shillings per year. These petitions reveal the diverse range of litigants who sought in forma pauperis status in equity courts, suggesting that it was a widely known and relatively accessible mechanism. The litigants represented a large swath of society, including prisoners, widows, former soldiers, immigrants, and labourers. Prisoners were able to take advantage of the in forma pauperis right to press their case to the courts with the help of an intermediary. It means that despite the emphasis placed on the oath of poverty, judges were willing to accommodate a prisoner's circumstances to satisfy that oath, such as using the testimony of a trusted figure in place of the petitioner's own. The survey also reveals that women filing for in forma pauperis status were typically widows. For other women in Early Modern England, simply filing suit, let alone gaining in forma pauperis status, presented a unique set of challenges. Under the doctrine of coverture, married women did not possess legal personhood--instead, they were considered legal entities of their husbands. Men were responsible for paying any debts their wives accumulated and for serving as the defendant in any suits brought against them, excepting treason and murder.[3]

Implications for today

In forma pauperis was abolished in the United Kingdom in favour of a legal aid approach as part of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. This means that a poor person is not forgiven for court fees in the amount, as in the United States.[4]

Poor person in United States

In the United States, states did not begin to adopt in forma pauperis until around 1892. The federal in forma pauperis statute allows indigent persons to proceed in the federal courts, yet further provides that courts can dismiss frivolous actions. A frivolous action lacks a reasonable basis in law or fact. The main provision of the modern federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), enables indigents to file civil actions in the federal courts without paying a filing fee. Thus, the federal courts are at least theoretically open to even the most impoverished litigants. The in forma pauperis statute, however, is conditional: under section 1915(d), a court may dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint if satisfied that the action is frivolous.

The chances of obtaining this status are mostly slim. If an application is denied, the court will likely require the person to re-file his/her brief in booklet format to docket the petition. While the preponderance of cases in which an IFP application is denied are civil cases, pauperism status has been denied in criminal cases too. Despite this fact, the status is now used mainly by prisoners.[5] Many in forma pauperis plaintiffs are state prisoners proceeding pro se against prison officials and guards. In 1983, for example, state prisoners filed over 17,000 civil rights complaints. The search for equality also for poor persons focuses on the identification of fundamental rights, whether under equal protection or substantive due process. The present Supreme Court, however, does not adhere to an egalitarian approach in its definition of fundamental rights--the Court is willing to grant minimal protection, not equal protection, to indigents. Therefore, the Court has defined the fundamental right of access narrowly, focusing on the "meaningfulness" of the access, and has refused to recognize a fundamental right of equal treatment in the courts, even in criminal cases.[6]

Today, potential critiques of a uniform and comprehensive in forma pauperis standard include the unpredictability of federal funding to finance fee waivers, an uptick in false claims of poverty, and the inappropriateness of applying a national standard across states where costs of living vary.


  1. ^ "Practical Law UK Signon". signon.thomsonreuters.com. Retrieved .
  2. ^ William Hudson, A Treatise on the Court of Star-Chamber, in 2 COLLECTANEA JURIDICA: CONSISTING OF TRACTS RELATIVE TO THE LAW AND CONSTITUTION OF ENGLAND 1, 129-30 (London, E. & R. Brooke 1792)
  3. ^ https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1412&context=nulr
  4. ^ "The implications for access to justice of the Government's proposals to reform legal aid"
  5. ^ Planalp, Mathew (2015-09-01). "In Forma Pauperis and the Supreme Court". Cockle Legal Briefs. Retrieved .
  6. ^ https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/144224952.pdf

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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