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Rights and responsibilities of people who represent themselves in court

Self-representing litigants are nothing new in court. However, courts have stringent rules of which self-representing litigants should be aware, else they might not have much success.

At the same time, self-represented litigants also have a number of rights and this article will list some of their rights and responsibilities.

Rights of self-representing litigants

The first and most important right that you have the constitutional right to represent yourself in a court of law and you cannot be forced to retain a lawyer.

Further rights a self-representing litigant has include:

  • The right to be treated with courtesy and respect by the lawyer on the opposite side, as well as the judge;
  • The opposing lawyer has to act in good faith and therefore you have the right to get all the disclosure materials that you are entitled to, as well as comply with undertakings, and keep their promises to you;
  • The opposing lawyer has to communicate with you and return your calls or emails within a reasonable period of time, though they can choose to only communicate with you in writing instead of returning your call;
  • Not to take advantage of you because you are self-represented. If the lawyer is guilty and breaking any other of the above, you can file a complaint with the law society of the applicable province/territory.
  • Judges have to give you some information about court procedures, usually the basic things you may not know, but don’t expect him or her to fully instruct you on procedures or the law because that is not his or her job; and
  • You have the right to a fair hearing and a fair trial.

Responsibilities of self-representing litigants

Though you have quite a few rights as a self-representing litigant, you will also have heavy responsibilities imposed upon you. You can’t just go to court and expect to be told everything you need to know in order to deal with your case.

However, that is not the only responsibility you have if you are representing yourself. Further responsibilities include:

  • Showing up to all court dates;
  • You have to learn and follow the rules of the court. If you are self-representing you are expected to learn the things you will need to represent yourself, which include the rules of the specific court at which you are pleading or defending your case;
  • You have to learn the law for your particular case in your particular and for your jurisdiction. Learning about the law includes looking for case law and statutory rules and regulations that may apply to your case as this will likely form part of your arguments. A lot of legal material including case law, statutes and the rules of the court are available online, and many courthouse libraries are open to the public;
  • Just as with lawyers, if there is possibility for settlement and you can settle the case out of court you should consider it;
  • You have the responsibility to treat the judge, opposing lawyer, court staff and more with respect and courtesy; and
  • You have to follow the judge’s instructions and respect the court process.

If you are self-represented and cannot afford a lawyer, most provinces and territories have legal aid societies that help financially struggling litigants through the court process, if they qualify for legal aid.

If you decide to represent yourself, it’s often a good idea to at least book a consultation with a lawyer to go over your case and get advice.

Read more:

Guide to representing yourself

Going it alone? Resources for Self-Represented Litigants