learning from Canadian judges on helping the self-represented


If shlep gave out homework assignments, we would certainly include Judicial Assistance to Self-Represented Parties: Lessons from the Canadian Experience (2006, 44-pp, pdf.).  The paper is written by Prof. Jona Goldschmidt, of Loyola University Chicago’s criminal justice department, who was lead author of Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers (1998).    It proves our point earlier this month that the Canadian bench and bar frequently have some very good lessons to teach their American counterparts. (thanks to Canadian lawyer-mentorweblogger Cheryl Stevens for the link)

JudgeFriendly Canadian Experience points out that, unlike under U.S. law and judicial ethics, Canadian judges have a duty, not merely a right, to provide reasonable assistance to pro se litigants to ensure a fair trial.  I’ll save the particulars for later postings, but urge you to read Goldschmidt’s description of the evolution of the judicial role toward the self-represented, along with details about the very few attempts in the USA to create protocols for judges faced with pro se litigants.   The 44-page report includes a lengthy appendix, with charts showing Required, Permitted, and Impermissable assistance by judges in Canadian courts, in both criminal and civil matters.  (You can find much more on pro se issues and the judiciary at the American Judicature Society resources page, and also in materials on the role of judges and best practices in the courtroom, gathered for a recent access-to-justice conference,which was hosted by the NYS Judicial Institute.)


  1. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » a little international judicial irony

    October 24, 2006 @ 3:30 pm


    […] david giacalone – October 24, 2006 @ 3:30 pm · News Items    Given our post on Saturday praising the assistance Canadian judges are allowed to give self-represented litigants, it is ironic that Monday’s Law Times of Canada had an op/ed piece in which an Ontario justice opines: “Self-represented litigants, and lawyers of lesser quality than Ms. Curtis [a lawyer critical of Family Court judges], often provide the court with inadequate and incomplete evidence. Poor submissions and advocacy can leave a judge with far too little grist for the decision-making mill.”  (Law Times, by Justice Robert Spence, ” ‘Harmful’ decisions often from poorly presented cases,” Oct. 23, 2006).  Justice Spence also added: “The court is not an investigative body. Accordingly, judges are forced to contend only with the evidence they receive and make the best decision possible, based on that evidence.” Meanwhile, SelfHelpSupport.org pointed yesterday to a piece in the Wisconsin Law Journal Judges Directory that spotlights Madison (WI) municipal court judge Daniel P. Koval, and his efforts to better serve the self-represented.  The article notes that “Koval has spent a good deal of time off the bench, updating and/or creating forms, brochures and other documents that explain municipal court procedures: how to get a police report, for example, or an explanation of plea options.”  It ends with a telling quote and a plea: “[Pro se litigants] make more work for Koval; yet he is sincerely determined that each and every one of them leaves his courtroom feeling satisfied that justice was served: ‘I want them to come away from the experience feeling that, while they might not agree with my ruling, at least they were given a fair shot to present their side of the story.’ “Attorneys, please assist him in that endeavor.” […]

  2. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Manitoba judge helps pro se traffic-camera defendant

    January 11, 2007 @ 3:06 pm


    […] See our prior post “learning from Canadian judges,” as well as this posting on Australian and Queensland judges. […]

  3. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » California judges get Benchbook for handling pro se litigants

    March 21, 2007 @ 12:01 pm


    […]    We’ve frequently stressed the important (and often difficult) role that judges have in the process of assuring fair access to justice for the self-represented litigant (e.g., here and there).  Attempting to help the pro se party [called pro per in some western states] understand law and procedure and effectively present their case, while maintaining neutrality toward all parties to a suit, takes agility and skill, and an appropriate temperament. (see our post earlier this week on Ghostwriting in NJ)  Judges in the California court system were given a great tool for understanding and fulfilling this role with the publication of a 245-page guide called “Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A Benchguide for Judicial Officers.” (CA Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children and the Courts, January 2007) (via SelfHelpSupport.org, where members can access the document) […]

Log in