The steady rise in the number of self-represented litigants, individuals who are not represented by lawyers, presents challenges in the Canadian justice system. Generally, the justice system relies on lawyers to function efficiently. Individuals without lawyers often find it difficult to understand the customs and rules of court. However, the Supreme Court of Canada's recent endorsement of the Canadian Judicial Council's Statement of Principles on Self-represented Litigants and Accused Persons ("Statement of Principles") in the recent case of Pintea v. Johns sets a national standard of how the justice system deals with self-represented litigants.
The Context: The Rise of Self-Representation
Research by the University of Windsor's Professor Julie Macfarlane in a 2013 report for the Law Society of Upper Canada suggests that, in some courts, at least 40% of litigants in family cases and more than 70% of litigants in civil cases are self-represented. The prevalence of self-represented litigants is unlikely to change as the costs for hiring a lawyer often amount to hundreds of dollars per hour and are unaffordable for many Canadians.
Many self-represented litigants are unaware of the nuances of court processes and struggle to navigate the judicial system, leading many lawyers and legal commentators to ask how and whether courts operate efficiently and fairly in cases involving a self-represented litigant. Sometimes courts have expressed frustration as the Alberta Court of Appeal did in 2001 by saying of self-represented litigants: "[u]nrepresented litigants are entitled to justice, but they are not entitled to command disproportionate amounts of court resources to remedy their inability or unwillingness to retain counsel.
If they seek free lunch, they should not complain of the size of the helpings" (Broda v Broda, 2001 ABCA 151 para 4).
However, Courts must, and are beginning to, adapt and develop tools to ensure that self-represented litigants have the help they need to present their cases and are treated fairly. The Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Pintea v. Johns signals such a change in approach.
Pintea v. Johns
Valentin Pintea was injured in a motor vehicle accident that was not his fault. With the help of counsel, he commenced a proceeding to recover damages to compensate him for his losses and injuries. As the case progressed, he ended up as a self-represented litigant. Without a lawyer, Mr. Pintea struggled to manage the demands of...