Canadian Judicial Council Issues Self-Representation Principles


This morning, the Canadian Judicial Council issued a Statement of Principles on Self Represented Litigants and Accused Persons (2006, 12 pp. pdf), with the goal of fostering equal access to justice and equal treatment under the law for those who appear in court without a lawyer (per CNW Group press release, Dec. 12, 2006).  The Statement emphasizes that all participants in the justice system — judges, court administrators, the self-represented, and members of the bar — have important roles to play and responsibilities.  

courthouse1   Honourable Marc Monnin, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, and Chairperson of the drafting committee, 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.”  It is clear that CJC prefers that all parties be represented by lawyers, but it offers principles to follow if attempts to find representation for all are not successful.

Below are highlights from the Statement (including guidance for the Bar), which contains many more suggests and comments.     

– “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.”

– All self-represented parties should be: “Informed of the potential consequences and
responsibilities of proceeding without a lawyer” and “Referred to available sources of representation.”
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 [a list of actions permitted to the court, when appropriate, is given].
– Self-represented persons should not be denied relief on the basis of a minor or easily rectified deficiency in their case.

– 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.

For Self-Represented Persons

1. Self-represented persons are expected to familiarize themselves with the relevant legal
practices and procedures pertaining to their case.
2. Self-represented persons are expected to prepare their own case.
3. Self-represented persons are required to be respectful of the court process and the officials within it. Vexatious litigants will not be permitted to abuse the process.

For the Bar

1. Members of the Bar are expected to participate in designing and delivering legal aid and pro bono representation to persons who would otherwise be self-represented, as well as other programs for short-term, partial and unbundled legal advice and assistance as may be deemed useful for the self-represented persons in the courts of which they are officers.

2. Members of the Bar are expected to be respectful of self-represented persons and to adjust their behaviour accordingly when dealing with self-represented persons, in accordance with their professional ethical obligations. For example, members of the Bar should, to the extent possible, avoid the use of complex legal language. Members of the Bar may be guided by the Canadian Bar Association’s Code of Professional Conduct and the codes of each jurisdiction (see Guiding Principle XIX (8))and references therein.


  1. Orijit

    December 12, 2006 @ 2:29 pm


    I wonder how the Candian Judges and court administrators feel about being charged with developing forms for pro se litigants. It seems like that responsibility is commonly taken by legal aid providers here in the US. Interesting take on the issues of responsibility though, it is good to see the Canadian courts recognizing self-representation as a key component in equal access to justice.

  2. david giacalone

    December 12, 2006 @ 3:49 pm


    Many American courts (a very good example is California) have taken the lead in creating libraries of simplified forms. Perhaps a law librarian or two could provide us with a list of which court websites have simplified (or Plain English) forms and instructions for the self-represented and which merely post the pre-existing legalese forms.

  3. Orijit

    December 12, 2006 @ 7:28 pm


    As far as I know, David, only 17 states have any sort of funding through their court system for self-represented litigants. Which means the large majority of states use non-government (non-court) arenas to provide resources like forms to pro se litigants. Like you said though, it would be good to see a list of court created forms. I am currently working on compiling a spreadsheet of state funding for pro se programs, which I hope to have available sometime in the next few weeks.

  4. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » “pro se pothole” awards?

    December 15, 2006 @ 3:32 pm


    […] If we had the resources, we would turn shlep’s burning spotlight on Pro Se Potholes — on court systems in counties or states that put obstacles in the way of litigants appearing in court without counsel, or which have failed to promulgate or put into effect guidelines or adequate training for judges and court staff, regarding the treatment of pro se parties.   […]

  5. Kate

    December 17, 2006 @ 3:12 am


    Great site! Wish I’d had more support when acting Pro Se.

    I began my case with great trepidation but was always looked down upon by the judges here in CA. Regardless of the fact that CA does have a self help site with forms — the civil courts here [in my opinion ] definitely do not show any patience or latitude to unrepresented parties .

    I read somewhere that many judges attend seminars on how to deal with pro se litigants. However not in a way one might think. It was more on the line of how to rid their court of them as quickly as possible – How? By taking advantage of simple errors [to their disadvantage ] that could be easily corrected and allowing the opposing attorneys all the latitude possible to present their case – even if it lacks credibility.

    Appellate courts for pro se appeals are a joke. I lost appeal after court ruled that although the opposing party failed to address my opening brief headings — my headings were inappropriate for my arguments.

    In other words — They are out but so are you!
    Can you get your mind around that one?

    My interpretation of the word JUSTICE is Just Is ~


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

    January 11, 2007 @ 7:32 pm


    […] See our prior posts “learning from Canadian judges” and “Canadian Judicial Council Issues Self-Representation Principles, as well as this posting on Australian and Queensland judges, and this one on Massachusetts judicial guidelines. […]

  7. Madelynn

    January 12, 2007 @ 3:01 pm


    Orijit stated on December 12, 2006,
    “…it would be good to see a list of court created forms.” The National Center for State Courts has created such a list. See the document: Court Forms: State Links” at: We have several other state-by-state documents relating to self representation such as Self Help/Information Centers State Links, and Unbundling Rules State Links. See:

  8. david giacalone

    January 12, 2007 @ 5:12 pm


    Madelynn, Thanks for the input and reminder. NSCS does indeed have a multitude of materials on pro se matters. That’s why our SideBar has from the start had several links to NSCS resources in the Self-Help Gateways section — including to your compilations of state-by-state pro se Forms, Centers, and Unbundling Rules.

  9. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » sutton’s “no-asshole-rule” works pro se, too

    February 17, 2007 @ 11:52 pm


    […] Acting like a jerk in the courthouse (whether to opposing counsel or the other party, to the judge, or to court personnel) is contrary to the interests of the self-represented litigant — no matter how good it may make you feel momentarily, it can only hurt your case (and could get you held in contempt of court). As noted in our prior post, the Canadian Judicial Council’s recently-promulgated Statement of Principles on Self-Represented Litigants (Dec. 2006, 12 pp, pdf) explicitly state:  “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.” […]

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