Alone before the court



Every year, hundreds of Quebeckers represent themselves in court without a lawyer. However, their lack of knowledge of the judicial system increases the risk of losing their case and lengthens the trial proceedings. Emmanuelle Bernheim, a researcher in the Department of Legal Sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal, sought to learn more about these self-represented litigants.

Every year, hundreds of Quebeckers represent themselves in court without a lawyer.

The researcher first noticed that, in the writings of legal experts on the subjet, self-representation is widely presented as an individual choice. However, the university research she reviewed showed that the decision to proceed without the benefit of a lawyer is generally motivated by a lack of financial resources. In fact, a survey of 1,500 Quebeckers carried out for the researcher and the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec in 2013 revealed that more than 90% of respondents would like to retain the services of a lawyer should they ever find themselves in court.

On studying recent case law (mainly from 2008 to 2013), Emmanuelle Bernheim went on to note that in 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that being represented by a lawyer in court is not a right. As for the choice to self-represent, case law emphasizes that it is indeed a right, but one that individuals exercise at their own risk and peril. There is certainly a consensus that the the judge must assist self-represented litigants, but without compromising his or her impartiality.