Canadian Judicial Council Issues Statement of Principles on Self-Represented Litigants and Accused Persons
Ottawa, 12 December 2006 – The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement of principles today on self-represented persons, to foster equal access to justice and equal treatment under the law.
Commenting on the principles, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada and Chairperson of the Council, said "Ensuring better access to justice is a Council priority. The Council views the increasing numbers of self-represented persons who appear in the court system as a serious matter. These principles will assist key participants in the justice system to ensure that self-represented persons are provided with fair access and equal treatment in the courts".
Publication of the Statement of Principles follows extensive work by a committee of the Council chaired by the Honourable Marc Monnin, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba. He praised the contributions of all those who participated in the development of the document.
Chief Justice Monnin pointed out that "the Principles are advisory in nature and are not intended to be a code of conduct. However, judges and other participants in the justice system have a responsibility to promote opportunities for all persons to understand and meaningfully present their case, whether or not they have legal representation."
"After a detailed examination of the issue, the Committee concluded that self-represented persons are generally uninformed about their rights and about the consequences of the options they choose," said Chief Justice Monnin. "They may find court procedures complex, confusing and intimidating and they often do not have the knowledge or skills to participate actively and effectively in their own litigation."
"The guidelines underscore the need for better information and tools for those who wish to represent themselves," added Monnin. "All parties to the system have a role to play in promoting equal access to justice for everyone, as well as for the timely and efficient administration of justice."
The Council hopes that the Statement of Principles will be a useful tool to foster better access to justice for Canadians.
The Canadian Judicial Council is composed of the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada's superior courts. The Council's web site address is http://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca
For further information:
Contact Norman Sabourin, Executive Director and General Counsel, 613-288-1566, extension 301.
The CJC Statement of Principles (Highlights)
A. To promote rights of access:
- Access to justice for those who represent themselves requires that all aspects of the court process be open, transparent, clearly defined, simple, convenient and accommodating.
- The court process should, to the extent possible, be supplemented by processes including case management, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures, and informal settlement conferences presided over by a judge.
- Information, assistance and self-help support, self-represented persons should be made available through the normal means of information, including pamphlets, telephone and courthouse inquiries, legal clinics and internet searches.
- All self-represented parties should be:
- Informed of the potential consequences and responsibilities of proceeding without a lawyer;
- Referred to available sources of representation, including those available from Legal Aid, pro bono assistance and community and other services;
- Referred to other appropriate sources of information, education, advice and assistance.
B. To promote equal justice
- Judges and court administrators should do whatever is possible to provide a fair and impartial process and prevent an unfair disadvantage to self-represented persons.
- Self-represented persons should not be denied relief on the basis of a minor or easily rectified deficiency in their case.
- Where appropriate, a judge should consider engaging in such case management activities as are required to protect the rights and interests of self-represented persons. Such case management should begin as early in the court process as possible.
- Depending on the circumstances and nature of the case, the presiding judge may:
- may explain the process;
- inquire whether both parties understand the process and the procedure;
- make referrals to agencies able to assist the litigant in the preparation of the case;
- provide information about the law and evidentiary requirements;
- modify the traditional order of taking evidence; and
- question witnesses.
C. Responsibilities of the participants in the justice system – both justices and court administrators
- Judges and court administrators should meet the needs of self-represented persons for information, referral, simplicity and assistance.
- Forms, rules and procedures should be developed which are understandable to and easily accessed by self-represented persons.
- To the extent possible, judges and court administrators should develop packages for self-represented persons and standardized court forms.
- Judges and court administrators have no obligation to assist a self-represented person who is disrespectful, frivolous, unreasonable, vexatious, abusive, or making no reasonable effort to prepare their own case.
Read the full document here.