Representing yourself in court
If you are one of the parties in a court case but not sure about whether to hire a lawyer, you are generally entitled to represent yourself in court. This applies, for example, if you are:
- the plaintiff or defendant in a civil or family case;
- the accused in a criminal case.
However, you must take the time to assess the situation you make your decision. You must be certain that you understand all the rules of procedure, since they will apply to you as if you were a lawyer. There are several other aspects that you must also consider carefully.
Even if you choose to represent yourself in court, you can ask a lawyer for advice at any time.
Any person wishing to self-represent may do so in a civil, family or criminal case. You are not required to be represented by a lawyer, for example, when:
- you file an application for divorce or support payments;
- you are sued in a civil matter or prosecuted in a criminal case.
However, you cannot act before the court as the representative of an enterprise or organization. In this case, the enterprise or organization concerned must be represented by a lawyer.
In a case heard in the Small Claims Division, you are required to represent yourself, unless you are represented by your spouse or a friend at no charge.
In the Small Claims Division, a legal person (a company, organization, etc.) must be represented by an officer or employee, and not by a lawyer.
There are no conditions you need to meet in order to represent yourself before a court. However, you must be able to:
- understand your case well enough to explain it orally and in writing;
- understand legal texts and documents containing legal terminology;
- negotiate and discuss the case with the other party, or the other party’s lawyer;
- draft written pleadings;
- determine which court has jurisdiction in your case;
- determine the courthouse where you must file your application;
- prepare for the trial;
- examine and cross-examine witnesses;
- comply with legal rules and time limits.
If any of the above points are a problem, you should ask a lawyer to represent you. Or, without being represented by a lawyer, you can ask a lawyer for advice on:
- how to identify and understand the legal rules that apply in your case;
- how to understand the documents you receive from the other party or the court;
- how to see the key points in a complex case;
- how to summon witnesses or an expert witness.
You have the right to receive a fair trial.
The judge must ensure that the other party, if represented by a lawyer, does not take advantage of your situation. The judge also has a duty to assist you, and during the hearing must:
- provide a brief explanation of the process and methods;
- inform you about the essential steps in a trial;
- provide you with general guidance, if necessary.
However, the judge is not allowed to:
- act as your lawyer;
- give advice;
- favour you;
- lighten your burden of proof;
- exempt you from your legal obligations;
- present your evidence or examine witnesses for you;
- give you legal lessons on the rules or procedure that apply in your case.
This is because the other party, too, is entitled to receive a fair trial.