The responsibilities of people going to court without a lawyer

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Help
05/24/2016

John-Paul Boyd is the executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, a non-profit organization associated with the University of Calgary. Last year he drafted a statement of the rights and responsibilities of people who participate in Canadian court proceedings without a lawyer and it got a lot of attention.

Last week’s eNews summarized the rights Mr. Boyd identified. But rights come with responsibilities. Here are some of the responsibilities he discussed.

First, he pointed out that everyone involved in a court proceeding must follow the court rules that govern each step of the matter. In BC the Provincial and Supreme Courts have different rules, so you need to learn about the rules of the court you are in. You’ll find links to the rules that apply in family and Small Claims cases in Provincial Court on our website resources pages under Laws.

Mr. Boyd also says you should learn about the law that applies to your case. Although figuring out the applicable law can be difficult, it can help to meet with a lawyer who can explain it. If you can’t afford to consult a private lawyer, see the lists of ways to get free or low cost legal advice on the Clicklaw HelpMap.

You can also research the law online or at the library. The rules of court and the laws of the provincial and federal governments are available online. Courthouse libraries are open to the public although they may have restricted business hours. Courthouse Libraries BC also provides legal information to public libraries, so talking to a librarian can help. In addition, many websites offer information about the law. But remember that some laws are different in each province and territory. Family law, for example, is not the same in every province, so make sure any website you consult applies in BC.

Second, Mr. Boyd mentions that just as court staff should be polite to you, you should be polite and courteous to them. The people working in our courthouses are provincial government employees who must follow court rules. They may not be able to process your papers as fast as you would like or in the way you want. While this can be frustrating, it is important to remember that they are doing their work as they’re required to. Getting the paperwork right at the beginning can avoid problems and delays in the courtroom later.



He adds that it is important to treat the judge with respect. The judge represents the rule of law in our society. In the courtroom people stand, assuming they are able to, when speaking to the judge and when the judge enters or leaves the room. For more information on courtroom behaviour see Preparing for Court.

Third, Mr. Boyd notes that you must obey the judge’s orders and directions, whether or not you agree with them. The law requires a judge to make orders and directions to manage and decide your court case. If you don’t follow them, you could be punished with a fine or jail, or the judge could draw legal conclusions from your behaviour that will be bad for your case. If you don’t like a judge’s decision, you may be able to appeal it to another court, but you must follow it until the appeal court says otherwise.

Finally, he points out you are responsible for preparing and presenting your case to the best of your ability. While a judge should provide you with limited help, they must remain neutral and fair and they cannot give you legal advice. The bottom line is that it’s your case and you’re responsible for presenting the evidence to prove it.



The Rights and Responsibilities of Self-Represented Litigants

Dealing with Lawyers

  1. You should expect to be treated with respect and courtesy by the other party’s lawyer.
  2. You should expect your emails, letters and calls to the lawyer to be returned reasonably quickly.
  3. You should expect the lawyer to give you accurate information about court dates and court processes, and to keep his or her word to you and to the court.
  4. You should NOT expect the lawyer to give you legal advice or to help you with your case.
  5. You can complain to the Law Society if you believe the lawyer has behaved improperly.

Dealing with Judges

  1. You should expect the judge to treat you with respect and courtesy.
  2. You should expect the judge to give you basic information about the rules of court and court processes when you need it, and to give you basic help with court processes.
  3. You should expect the judge to follow the rules of court and the law, and to give you a fair hearing.
  4. You should NOT expect the judge to give you legal advice, or to give you special treatment because you do not have a lawyer.
  5. You can complain to the Chief Judge if you believe the judge has behaved improperly. You cannot complain because you are unhappy with the judge’s decision.
  6. You can, usually, appeal a decision you are unhappy about to another court.

Dealing with Court Staff

  1. You should expect court staff to deal with your business accurately and reasonably quickly.
  2. You should expect court staff to give you accurate information about the rules of court, court processes and court forms.
  3. You should expect court staff to tell you how to arrange a hearing or trial for your case.
  4. You should NOT expect court staff to give you legal advice, to tell you how to complete court forms, to help you with your case, to tell you what to say in court or what orders to ask for, or to predict the outcome of your case.

Your Responsibilities

  1. You are responsible for learning about and following the rules of court and court processes.
  2. You are responsible for learning about the laws that apply to your case.
  3. You must treat court staff with politeness, respect and courtesy.
  4. You must treat the judge with respect and courtesy.
  5. You must to do as the judge directs, even if you disagree. If you do not, you can be punished.

For more information on the Rights and Responsibilities of Self-Represented Litigants by J.P. Boyd, see:

The Rights and Responsibilities of Self-Represented Litigants, Clicklaw Wikibooks

The Rights and Responsibilities of Self-Represented Litigants, Slaw, August 28, 2015

Self-Represented Litigants’ Response to “the Rights and Responsibilities of Self-Represented Litigants”, Slaw, October 30, 2015