National Self-Represented Litigants Project: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants

This qualitative study presents data on the experiences of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario. The author collected data through interviews with 107 court staff and service providers, and interviews or focus groups with 259 self-represented litigants who broadly represented the general Canadian population. The author studied the motivations and experiences of the SRLs, finding that the majority chose to self-represent because they couldn’t afford legal counsel and that most were disillusioned and frustrated at some point in the process. She also describes how SRLs engage with the justice system, and what support and resources are available to them. Finally,the social impact and personal consequences experienced by the SRLs are described, such as loss of employment or personal savings, isolation from friends/family, and health issues. The author includes quotes and personal stories from the SRLs interviewed to illustrate their experiences.

The author concludes that the growing number of SRLs require further initiatives to help them – court forms and applications need to be more user-friendly, current online resources need improvement, in-person information services need to be more accessible and supportive. Recommendations to help the SRL experience include workshops to orient and inform them, coaching and mentoring, mediation services, better access to legal advice, and more information on true legal costs. Judges, court staff, and lawyers should all be trained on working with SRLs. The author emphasizes that further research is required on the social impact to SRLs and that community agencies need to better support them. She concludes that there must be a culture shift within Canadian legal bodies to engage with SRLs in a more open-minded and supportive way.