Paralegals provide invaluable guidance to self-reps
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
A string of cases before the Human Rights Tribunal that led to a man being deemed a “vexatious litigant” should serve as a warning to those who choose not to seek legal advice, says Ottawa paralegal Amri Murray.
“Without a legal background, experience and knowledge, you risk being classified as a vexatious litigant, which for the Human Rights Tribunal essentially means you can no longer apply to that tribunal without their approval,” says Murray, principal of AJ Murray Legal Services.
In the case, the tribunal determined the man had, without merit, filed numerous applications alleging reprisal.
Murray says, in such cases, it’s possible for applicants to have legitimate legal matters for consideration, but because of missed deadlines or inappropriate filings, the issues become blurred. For someone who is already emotional about their situation, it can add further complications to navigating proceedings.
For example, many people don’t realize a “request for reconsideration” is not the same as an appeal. She is working on such a case for a client involving the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT).
“There is a misinterpretation that a request for reconsideration is a chance to re-argue their case,” Murray tells AdvocateDaily.com. “But one of the key opportunities this process provides is being able to bring forward evidence the tribunal may not have previously heard, through no fault of the applicant.”
It’s important to seek proper legal representation because litigants may otherwise clog the legal system with meritless claims — potentially wasting public funds, she says.
“People are tempted to represent themselves before tribunals,” Murray says. “It’s a common trend because of all the information available online.”
The prospect of not receiving high damage awards also comes into play for applicants when they are deciding whether to retain legal advice, she says.
“An assessment has to be made — is it worth it?” Murray says. “At the end of the day, without hiring a professional, you stand to lose your entire case, and possibly be labelled a vexatious litigant.”
She says many people don’t realize a paralegal is an affordable alternative for representation before tribunals, including the Human Rights Tribunal, WSIB or Statutory Accident Benefits claims.
The advantage, Murray says, is the ability for your legal representative to separate emotions from the case to be argued.
“It can be difficult — when you’re going through a problem, and you’re emotional and upset — for you to zone in on the arguments and the evidence you need to point to,” she says. “We’re human beings. If you’re hurt because you’ve gone through something leading to a legal process, it’s going to be tough.”
Someone with a trained eye can make sure the correct procedures are followed, Murray says.
“Without help, you risk the main issue being sidelined, and suddenly you’re caught up in procedural matters — and the whole basis of your application may not even be considered because other factors have come into play.”