The Canadian Bar Association

Pro Bono Ontario:

Supreme Court of Canada endorses key principles for assisting self-represented litigants

OTTAWA (April 19, 2017) – The Supreme Court of Canada has endorsed the Canadian Judicial Council’s principles for assisting self-represented litigants (CJC Principles), which state that judges “should do whatever is possible to provide a fair and impartial process and prevent an unfair disadvantage to self-represented persons.”  Importantly, this includes the specific principle that judges should make referrals to agencies who are in a position to assist these individuals. 

The Supreme Court’s endorsement of the CJC Principles was included in its decision in the matter of Pintea v. Johns, a case in which the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the personal injury action brought by Valentin Pintea, a self-represented plaintiff with a disability. The Supreme Court overturned the dismissal, thereby restoring Mr. Pintea’s case. 

Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) and the Access Pro Bono Society of British Columbia (APB), both of which provide free legal assistance to thousands of self-represented litigants, jointly intervened in the matter to provide the Supreme Court with their insight into the issues.  They were represented on a pro bono basis by Andrew Bernstein, Jeremy Opolsky and Leora Jackson of the Toronto office of Torys LLP.

In addition to Mr. Pintea’s obvious personal success, PBO and APB view the appeal as a victory for all self-represented litigants and indeed all other participants in the justice system.  “This case is extremely important for both access to justice and the administration of justice”, says Jamie Maclaren, APB’s Executive Director.  “We are very pleased that the Supreme Court has elevated the CJC Principles from an advisory document to the law of the land.  This sends a welcome signal that these vulnerable Canadians deserve a clear and consistent standard of fair treatment when they enter a courtroom in this country”. 

As part of their intervention in the case, PBO and APB argued that treatment of self-represented litigants requires courts to proactively provide them with appropriate guidance.  According to these groups, the underlying goal should be to ensure that proceedings are fair to all parties and ultimately heard on their merits.  Importantly, they urged the Court to encourage judges across Canada to refer self-represented litigants to available court, legal aid and pro bono services.  The groups are optimistic that such assistance is much more likely in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The perspective PBO and APB brought to this case is based on years of experience serving low-income, self-represented litigants every day.  Lynn Burns, PBO’s Executive Director, implores Canadians to keep their attention on the importance of available legal services. “In the organized pro bono community, we have known for over a decade that self-represented litigants with civil cases have nowhere else to turn”, says Ms. Burns.  “Pro bono programs have become an essential part of ensuring access to justice for tens of thousands of Canadians every year.  We are pleased that the Supreme Court recognizes how important it is for judges across Canada to refer self-represented litigants to available legal services, including pro bono.”

About PBO

PBO was founded in 2001 to bridge the gap between Ontarians who can’t afford legal assistance and lawyers who want to donate their services. PBO creates and manages programs that enable these generous lawyers to help low-income Ontarians better navigate the justice system, understand their options and resolve their problems. PBO is funded in part by The Law Foundation of Ontario. It is Canada’s oldest and largest privately funded free legal service provider. In 2016, PBO served 20,807 clients who had nowhere else to turn. www.probonoontario.org

Media Contact: Lynn Burns 416-977-4448 ext. 925; lynn@probonoontario.org 

About APB

The Access Pro Bono Society of BC is an independent charitable organization with a mission to promote access to justice in BC by providing and fostering quality free legal services for people and non-profit organizations of limited means. APB operates 112 legal advice clinics in large and small communities throughout BC, and offers legal representation in courts and tribunals on a province-wide basis. In 2016, over 300 volunteer APB lawyers and staff provided free legal help to over 20,000 low-income British Columbians. www.accessprobono.ca

Media Contact: Jamie Maclaren 604-629-9666; jmaclaren@accessprobono.ca

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