The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) was founded in 1971, under what is now Part II of the Judges Act, largely stemming from concerns from the Royal Commission of Inquiry from the Justice Leo Landereville affair.
The Council has 41 members, and in the modern world helps the Canadian judicial system keep up with the values of society. However, the the CJC has faced criticism over its policies and procedures in recent years.
The CJC has released several important guidance documents over the years, including the Ethical Principle for Judges in 1998. In 2006, the CJC released the Statement of Principles on Self-represented Litigants and Accused Persons, reflecting the single greatest challenge of our judicial system in the modern era. Judges in Canada are charged with ensuring fairness in judicial proceedings, while providing self-represented persons information or references to help them understand and assert their rights.
The 2006 Statement of Principles also indicated that members of the bar are expected to participate in designing and delivering legal and and pro bono representation, and also to be respectful of self-represented persons. This may include adjusting behaviour in dealing with self-represented persons, including avoiding complex legal language. Despite calling on governments to provide sufficient resources to legal aid plans, the issues around self-representation in courts continues to pose considerable challenges.
This past week, the CJC released three new guides for self-represented litigants:
- Criminal Law Handbook for Self-Represented Accused
- Family Law Handbook for Self-Represented Litigants
- Civil Law Handbook for Self-Represented Litigants
The development of these guides can only be interpreted as some inadequacy for the resources available to self-represented persons prior to the creation of these resources, and the need of the judiciary to create comprehensive sources that they can point to with confidence about the appropriate tone and complexity.
The guides include detailed step-by-step information and instructions about the different stages in a proceeding, but also explain the role of a judge, options for legal assistance, and the responsibilities of a self-represented person within the justice system.
We can expect that members of the judiciary will direct many self-represented persons to these guides in the future. They will also be useful for members of the bar to direct self-represented parties on the other side of proceedings to, in the hopes that these individuals can better understand and assert their rights.