You have the right to represent yourself in court, whether you are doing so because you prefer to represent yourself or because you cannot afford a lawyer. However, there are some risks to representing yourself.
A warning about representing yourself
It is often helpful to have legal advice or representation. This guide cannot deal with all cases and situations, so try to get advice from a lawyer.
Many people involved in court cases in BC have lawyers representing them in court. Judges are used to having lawyers make presentations, so sometimes judges can get frustrated with self-represented people. This is especially true if the self-represented person is not prepared, rude, or unable to present their case in a concise and organized way.
If you lose your judicial review you could have to pay the other side’s court costs. This can be several thousand dollars. This is yet another reason why it is good to get legal advice on the strength of your case before going ahead with a judicial review.
Deciding when to seek legal advice
Even if you are going to handle your own case, you can seek a lawyer’s help at any step in the legal process. While there is a lot of legal information available to British Columbians, a lawyer can provide you with legal advice specific to your own situation. There are different ways to get legal advice, here is a link that explains the range of options you have in British Columbia-Free and Low-Cost Legal Services. Should you seek out legal advice here is more information about the different points where you can seek advice and the documents you should bring with you. You can also reach out to one of the many legal assistance service providers in British Columbia. These organizations are often specialized in a specific issue or population group and can provide free or discounted services.
Tips to help you prepare for representing yourself
When preparing your court documents and preparing to speak in court, the following tips may help you with your case.
- Take the time to prepare. Preparing for a judicial review takes quite a bit of time and you need to spend the time required to put all the materials together.
- Type your documents. If you have access to a computer, it will help the judge.
- Have a friend available through the process to bounce ideas off and to go over your material. It is also useful to have a friend go with you to the court hearing.
- Always tell the truth in your court documents and in your presentations to the court. Lying to the court is a serious violation of the law and it may also hurt your case.
- Keep all receipts for expenses related to the judicial review. These include court fees, hearing fees, photocopying fees, the cost of binding documents, postage fees, etc. If you keep these receipts you may be able to get the other side to repay those expenses if you win.
- Go and see what court is like. Go to the courthouse and ask at the information booth when the court will be hearing a contested chambers application, since these are the types of cases that are most likely to be similar to a judicial review. Court typically starts at 10 a.m. and is open to the public. Do not eat, drink, or disrupt the court process and please turn off your cell phone.
Tips for your presentation to the court
When it comes time to speak to the judge or to write an argument for the judge, follow these tips:
- Keep it short and simple. Decide what you think is fundamentally wrong with the Tribunal decision. Your job is to make the problem(s) with the Tribunal’s decision clear to the judge. Most judicial reviews can be reduced down to a few simple sentences. Make sure that you include all the important points, but keep it simple and as short as possible.
- Stay on topic. Once you have identified what the judicial review is about, stick to that. Focus on showing the judge specifically what is wrong with the Tribunal decision. It may be tempting to go into a lot of background, perhaps to try and make the other side look bad or make yourself look sympathetic, but this is usually not helpful. Going off topic makes it harder for the judge to understand what is really wrong with the Tribunal decision. Again, you should be able to summarize your case in a few sentences.
- Be polite and patient. There is a lot of waiting in chambers and it can take time for your case to be called. Once your case is called, the judge may want you to slow down, and you may have to listen to the other side say things that you do not agree with. Stay calm, do not get frustrated, and do not talk over top of other people (especially the judge).
- Be organized. The more organized you are, the clearer you can make things for the judge. Remember, your job is to help the judge see why the Tribunal’s decision is problematic. When presenting to the judge, come up with an organized way to explain your case. Chronological order is often a good way to organize a presentation, but there may be other approaches that make sense.
What NOT to do when representing yourself
These things will hurt your case for judicial review:
- Do not wait until the last minute. Deadlines are important, and it is essential to properly prepare.
- Do not be late for court.
- Do not eat or drink in the courtroom (other than the water provided in the courtroom).
- Do not have your cell phone on.
- Do not attempt to contact the judge outside of the courtroom (by phone, in writing, etc.).