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Supreme Court of Canada Endorses Access to Justice Principles for Self-Represented Litigants

In a new ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that self-represented litigants can both face and present special challenges with respect to the court system. In Pintea v. Johns 2017 SCC 23, the self-represented plaintiff was found to be in contempt of court by the case management judge for failing to obey court orders and attend court as directed. The plaintiff argued that he had not received the court orders upon which the contempt finding was based. There was an issue as to whether the plaintiff had properly notified the court and the opposing parties of a change in his address for service.

The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the case management judge’s decision to hold the plaintiff in contempt. However, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that decision.

In a brief but unanimous decision, the SCC endorsed the Statement of Principles on Self-represented Litigants and Accused Persons (2006) established by the Canadian Judicial Council, which states that all aspects of the court process should be open, transparent, clearly defined, simple, convenient, and accommodating, and that judges and other counsel should refer self-represented people to available sources of information and representation if possible.

Case Summary by Karen Orr