Saturday, July 14

Representing Yourself at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC)?

The Court Challenges Program has been cancelled by the Conservative minority government.

The Court Challenges Program (CCP) is a very important program that funds test-cases initiated by individuals and groups to challenge federal laws and policies that violate their constitutional equality rights. With the help of CCP funding, women’s organizations and other equality-seeking groups have been able to access the justice system, and present progressive interpretations of the law. This has resulted in more egalitarian outcomes for women, gays and lesbians, persons with a disability and other disadvantaged groups.


Late June 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada launched a new portal for litigants wishing to represent themselves before Canada’s highest court. The “Representing Yourself” portal provides litigants with step-by-step guides to both bringing and responding to an application for leave to appeal.

Naturally, all this is provided with a much needed proviso:

We always recommend that you get a “lawyer”. Remember that this is a guide meant to give you helpful information, not legal advice. We always recommend that you get a “lawyer”. A lawyer is in the best position to give you advice about the process and the likelihood of success.

At times like this we are reminded of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s comments on the issue of unrepresented litigants in her address to the 2006 CBA Canadian Legal Conference & Expo (a video of which can be found at CPAC’s Podium Archives):

[Lack of representation in the courts] does create great problems, not only for the litigants who are struggling to put their case forward without the aid of a lawyer, but for the judge, who–in a system which is designed to function with an able and independent adversary on each side–finds themselves in the difficult position of trying to aid the unrepresented litigant to the extent possible…while maintaining the judge’s role of impartiality, of impartial arbiter…

The judiciary of Canada is trying to cope with this epidemic of lack of representation and we’re doing better I think. But these solutions are imperfect at best. People seeking justice need not only judges, they need lawyers: competent, independent and affordable lawyers.

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