Self Represented Litigants

The Rising Trend of Self Represented Litigants

The Ontario Court of Appeal in Moore v Apollo & Beauty Care 2017 ONCA 383 discussed the increasing trend of self  represented litigants appearing before the courts.

Self represented litigants present a problem for both the Court and any opposing counsel due to their general unfamiliarity with the procedures of court.

The Court stated:

[41]            The new reality of civil litigation in public courts is the significant number of parties who are not represented by a lawyer, but present their own cases. Presiding over a trial where a party is not represented by a lawyer poses distinct challenges for a trial judge, and also brings with it distinct responsibilities.

[42]            Both the challenges and responsibilities are succinctly described in the Statement of Principles on Self represented Litigants and Accused Persons (the “Statement”) issued by the Canadian Judicial Council in September 2006. The Supreme Court of Canada endorsed the Statement in Pintea v. Johns, 2017 SCC 23.

[43]            The main challenge faced by a trial judge when a party is not represented by a lawyer lies in the difficulty of managing an adversarial proceeding when one party lacks formal training in the law and its procedures. As described by the Statement, at p. 3:

Self represented persons are generally uninformed about their rights and about the consequences of choosing the options available to them; they may find court procedures complex, confusing and intimidating; and they may not have the knowledge or skills to participate actively and effectively in their own litigation.

[44]            While self represented persons vary in their degree of education and sophistication, I think it safe to say that most find court procedures “complex, confusing and intimidating.” That state of affairs gives rise to the responsibility of judges to meet the need of self-represented persons for “simplicity” and to provide “non-prejudicial and engaged case and courtroom management” to protect the equal rights of self-represented persons to be heard: Statement, pp. 4 and 6.

[45]            The Statement, at p. 7, offers specific advice to judges about how to meet their responsibilities to self-represented persons in the courtroom environment:

Judges have a responsibility to inquire whether self represented persons are aware of their procedural options, and to direct them to available information if they are not. Depending on the circumstances and nature of the case, judges may explain the relevant law in the case and its implications, before the self-represented person makes critical choices.

In appropriate circumstances, judges should consider providing self-represented persons with information to assist them in understanding and asserting their rights, or to raise arguments before the court.

Judges should ensure that procedural and evidentiary rules are not used to unjustly hinder the legal interests of self-represented persons. 

 

 

 

 

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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