What Obligations Does the Court Have to Self-Represented Litigants?

In Grand River Conservation Authority v. Ramdas, 2021 ONCA 815, the Ontario Court of Appeal discusses the obligations that the court has to self-represented litigants. Below is an excerpt of some key points:

  • Self-represented litigants are required to familiarize themselves with the relevant legal principles, practices, and procedures pertaining to their case. “However, the court has a duty to ensure that self-represented litigants receive a fair hearing”. (para 18)
  • Judges must permit self-represented litigants to explain how they understand where things stand in the litigation. (para 19)
  • Judges can consider whether providing self-represented litigants with an option to give live evidence under oath and permit cross-examination is appropriate. “This is a tool judges might wish to use in applications or in ordinary motions on a motions day (where such evidence is necessary and otherwise admissible).” (para 20)
  • Judges can consider whether they need to engage in active adjudication to parse out the relevant information from a self-represented litigant. (para 21)

This decision provides helpful guidance to the courts, along with useful references to resources for judges. However, I can’t help but notice that some of the problems litigants face could be addressed with user friendly court forms.

Easily fillable court forms should be a public offering. The courts should be providing forms that are (1) easy to fill out (e.g. a simple, fillable PDF), (2) have simple ways to make Tabs and hyperlinks within and outside the document, and (3) can be uploaded directly to the court’s electronic filing system.



  1. As someone who has faced more judges than most SRLs I have rather strong opinions about this topic. Most people who are representing themselves for the first time are largely if not entirely unaware that there has been any discussion about providing them with some measure of consideration tailored to address their disadvantaged position.

    In my past courtroom experiences I didn’t know enough to ask for such consideration, but I do now. And that was one of the things I had in mind when I wrote the short comment that is the most recent one posted here – https://representingyourselfcanada.com/enact-the-gayton-principle/#comment-3806 – on the National Self-Represented Litigants Project blog.