Representing Yourself In Court by Shirley Dolan

Published February 1, 2016
Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan

Increasingly, people are deciding to represent themselves in court, including in Ontario’s civil and criminal courts. Cost is the main reason why people decide to represent themselves, either from the outset of the case, or after months, or even years of court appearances with a lawyer whom they can no longer afford. A second reason is the practice of the court prosecutor to try to get litigants to plead to a lesser charge, with the support of their lawyer. Rather than looking for another lawyer to represent them, they decide to go it alone, on their own terms. Is there anything that can be done to help the ever increasing number of self-represented litigants?

There is no doubt that anyone deciding to self-represent is at a disadvantage. Usually, they don’t know the process or the rules and that means many hours spent getting up to speed. The unfamiliarity with the court system can lead to an overwhelming amount of information being filed with the court, resulting in a slowdown of the process. Self-reps become frustrated by the system and the whole ordeal, which can take years, often taking its toll on the person’s health. According to one CBC report, “Kevin Hope and his wife Fay represented themselves in court in Saskatchewan. Under stress, Fay became ill and died. Kevin can’t blame the litigation directly for her death, but now he looks back at their six years of litigation with regret.” Another article from the Ottawa Citizen reports that judges do not look very favourably on self-reps, even if they are themselves lawyers.

I have some first-hand knowledge of how the court system works (or rather how it doesn’t work very well when you are representing yourself). Over the past nine months, I have been accompanying a friend to his court appearances in his attempt to defend himself on charges brought by a neighbour. Neither of us has much experience with the court system and one thing we learned early on, is that if you are representing yourself, then you are the last one called before the judge. So you are asked to appear at the courthouse at 8 AM. When you arrive, you see that the room is filled with people waiting to be heard. So you sit and wait, and in the end some technicality means that the process is delayed and you must return again in a couple of months. Each time you appear means a day of work missed and wages lost.

Denice Barrie, a British Columbia lawyer, says that self-represented litigants are powerless and that this must change. She believes that self-represented litigants are her to stay. Although there has not, to my knowledge, been any study done in Ontario (as there has been in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Quebec) on the number of self-represented litigants in civil and criminal court, anecdotal evidence and interviews point to significant increases.

So, is there anything that can help self-reps? A book by Denice Barrie has been recommended by the Niagara Landowners Association called “Journey to Justice: A Practical Guide to Effectively Representing Yourself in Court”. It is available at Amazon in paperback for $25.64. Miss Barrie has practiced in both British Columbia and Ontario.

7 Responses to “Representing Yourself In Court by Shirley Dolan”

  1. Delmer O. B. Martin February 22, 2016

    Check out UW Law Professor Dr. Julie Macfarlane’s website for in depth analysis and commentary on SRL She is one of a few people inside the system who advocate for the SRL.

    In the meanwhile, just remember that Justice is NOT served until you agree that it has been!

    Freewill and Freedom is a gift from GOD and NO FIAT can take it from you!!!

  2. edward kennedy February 9, 2016

    Last time I self represented, the “injustice” wench who heard the case disallowed me fully cross examining the two goons whose notes smacked of dishonesty and redaction,. As well the witch “injustice prevented me from fully cross examining these clowns and the crown I discovered had not given full disclosure. Interesting. I expect the “injustice” had to spend several hours and several boxes of toothpicks removing the public hairs from the two goons whose derrieres she kissed. We have a legal system, not a justice system that is corrupt.

  3. Adam February 6, 2016

    That’s right, Canadians are governed according to their laws and customs. Canadians are governed by their own will. The way to stop that is to stop being a Canadian. God did not form Canadian of the dust of the ground he formed man. Man who is man has claim to land that precedes the existence of Canada. But for a man claiming to be a Canadian, he is but a member of the Canadian family. He belongs to, is owned by, Canada. Of Canada as in belonging to Canada. Canada was created by an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. An act of the Parliament. It is all an act, not real except ye believes.

  4. Aj February 1, 2016

    Interesting points Andre
    I guess I can speak from the other side of the coin (g’vt). One thing is for sure, when they suggest that the gv’t has the full power of legislation and the backing of taxpayers, they mean it! I see firsthand the power the gv’t can have just in the simple means of the amount of unending resources available in any litigation. Being on this side, it is fantastic! Makes life easier and ensures you have ample time to accomplish the task at hand as you have the time, money and resources available to generally make this happen. That said, on the flip side, I would completely suggest that it makes for an unequal match-up against a self-represented individual. It is unnerving enough to go up against the full weight of the gv’t, but another thing when you have to go up against the bottomless pit that is the coffers. Perhaps the best way to change things and make it fairer is to look at the allocation of resources within the gv’t and allow a cap on those cases whereas someone is representing themselves and has a specific means to play with. We all accept justice will prevail in an honourable and fair court preceding as the facts will represent themselves. I suggest it might not be fair for someone to have little resources to go up against a limitless payroll like the gv’t has. Make no mistake, it is easy for us in the gv’t to drag out a case, or make it as painful as possible to get the results we are looking for and are responsible for – but that doesn’t guaranteed fairness, justice is served or that the truth comes out and is applied.

  5. Andre Blanchard February 1, 2016

    I have always maintained that nothing will change in Canada (especially Ontario), until a new Govt party is formed by the blue collar district.
    Let’s not forget that the world only allows the wealthy to run for Govt Office, because apparently they know better? This goes back to the Kings era, where you make the peasants pay taxes to your kingdom, and you give them just enough money to stay alive, but too poor to organize a revolt. Any peasants that would show such signs would be made examples of by the noose!
    Not much has changed today, now has it?
    We are still taxed to death, and when we start getting somewhere, Govts introduce new laws & ministries & policies.
    They drag the process so long over years, so that you become I’ll, broke & loose the drive to pursue your cause.
    So how do we change the way Canada treat their citizens, we must create a new Govt! And take control of our country once again, where we can iliminate and create laws that benefit the peasants.
    The deficit can be handled quickly, iliminate the banks, create only the Bank of the Canadian Residents, where profits would be distributed to the residents. Make laws for credit card companies that all they could charge would be 1% interest. Laws that would only allow increase for home expenses to increase by a a certain % yearly.
    Laws that would introduce new property taxes, after the age of 55 your taxes should be income determined and not assessed value determined.
    Same thing with courts and self rep, place rules that if the crown waste time in proceeding, then they forfeit the case.
    Most important, introduce laws that would punish & jail corrupt Govt officials to the Max!
    Look at the EI funds, the Govt doesn’t contribute a single penny to the fund. This fund is funded by employers and employees only, but who sets the rules & policies for candidates – the Govts!
    Who steals the revenues of these funds – the Govts! It’s pure fraud & theft, with no punishment?

    It’s easy to sit and complain, but if you want to see these Govts panic in a hurry, get organized and form a new Blue Party Govt.

    A. Blanchard
    N.W. Ontario.

  6. Grace Joubarne February 1, 2016

    In Ontario, Wynne decided to just get rid of pesky self-litigants altogether. She introduced legislation called the Administrative Monetary Penalty (AMP), which would make anyone charged of anything (eventually) absolutely guilty upon being accused. No court, no lawyers, no Judges. Just a government-approved (patronage appointment) administrator to set the penalty. Only the penalty would be negotiable.

    This Liberal government is surely layered with psychopaths/sociopaths and … . However, because 14 million Ontarians put up with this, when we could march up to the Legislature and remove them, one has to wonder just who is craziest.

  7. eric jelinski February 1, 2016

    Demand a date. Don’t put up with the sh$t of the court system run by a bunch of egos stuffed into starched shirts. Everything else in the country runs according to a schedule from buses, planes, doctors appointments. Allowing cases to run indefinately is just an inexcusable practice by lawyers to soak up as much money as they possibly can and thus they and the judges show no respect for justice.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Get all the latest OLA news
delivered monthly right to your inbox!