Tips and Traps for the Self-Representing Litigant?

Later this month, I’ll be speaking to a group of women on the topic of representing yourself in legal proceedings. The focus of my presentation will be on what you need to know and can expect from the courts if you’re choosing to represent yourself.

In preparing for that presentation, I’m on the lookout for comments from courts across the country on what is expected of the self-representing litigant and conversely, what won’t be tolerated from a self-representing litigant. For example, in the recent decision in Delichte v Rogers, 2013 MBQB 93 (CanLII), the Court plainly and strongly criticized the conduct of a self-representing litigant:

[29] The attitude and behaviour that the mother brings to this litigation is troubling as it only increases the intensity of the conflict and creates an environment in which any kind of settlement discussions are impossible.

[30] It must be obvious to the mother, even as an unrepresented litigant, that the time deadlines imposed at the case management meetings for the filing of affidavits and briefs and concluding cross examinations are significant and cannot be casually disregarded on a whim. The mother must have known, or ought to have known, that the father would have already incurred significant legal costs in compliance with those deadlines when she attempted to cancel the March 1, 2013 Hearing on less than five business days notice.

[31] Somehow the mother is also oblivious to the obvious fact that by running up the father’s legal bills she is also depriving her children of potential financial resources.

[32] Moreover the mother somehow expects the court to ignore the fact that her last minute demand for an adjournment would not only have a significant financial impact on the father and the children but also on the court’s time and resources. A half day was reserved for the hearing that she demanded and that time slot was denied to other litigants and made an already backlogged list even longer.

[33] The court has a duty to administer its scarce resources wisely and cannot allow litigants to run roughshod over its own process by ignoring deadlines, the rules of court and capriciously failing to show up at scheduled hearings….

[36] Accordingly, I will not make an award of solicitor/client costs in these circumstances. I am however prepared to make an award of costs significantly higher than the tariff to send a strong message to the mother that her disregard for the rules of court and the meticulous timelines set out at the case management conferences and her unilateral decision to fail to appear at the March 1, 2013 Hearing are totally unacceptable. This kind of behaviour is simply intolerable and must be sanctioned by the court to protect the integrity of the court process and as a warning to the mother and other litigants that this kind of behaviour will have significant consequences.

What other comments about the conduct of self-represented litigants have you noted in recent Canadian decisions?


  1. Julie Macfarlane

    Great that you are doing this Karen I applaud you. If I can help with my own data from women SRL’s let me know.

  2. Julie,
    Your reports are helpful in my preparation for this presentation; but also discouraging, as I see so much there that isn’t new to me.

    More than 10 years ago, I authored a publication for Manitoba Justice on the process to vary a child support order, designed for SRL ( It was obvious to me then that the process was exceptionally complex and would be difficult to navigate for someone without a strong family law background. Sadly, the guide is still available today and the process largely unchanged.

    I hope something will come of your recommendations. I intend to ask my full-capacity (no surprise!) attendees this week for their suggestions for change and also for their messages to lawyers and the legal profession as a whole. I expect they will echo many of the comments heard in your research. Stay tuned.