Going to Court Without a Lawyer

In the News

It’s not a secret: lawsuits and other legal procedures can be expensive. According to 2021 statistics from Justice Québec, nearly four out of 10 Quebecers who had a civil case chose to go to court without a lawyer. But do you know what self-representation entails?

Lots to prepare

Self-representation involves much more than just appearing before a judge and pleading a case.

Before even getting to the trial, you’ll have to do many things to prepare your case, such as:

  • determine before which court to appear,
  • identify the judicial district for your case,
  • do legal research to understand the applicable law,
  • draft relevant documents for your case,
  • collect evidence, and
  • prepare your witnesses.

A right to self-representation in court?

Whether your conflict concerns family law, criminal law, civil law or another area of law, you generally have a right to self-representation in court.

In some cases, self-representation is imposed, and you can’t choose to be represented by a lawyer.

This is the case, for example, at the Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec. You have to choose between acting alone or being represented by someone who is not a lawyer, like a friend of a family member. However, you can still get the help of a lawyer to prepare your case under something called “limited scope representation.”

Get informed!

There are many available resources to help you, including the Fondation du Barreau du Québec’s guides on representing yourself in court. English versions of these guides can be downloaded from the Fondation’s French webpage.

Beware of exceptions

Like for most rules of law, there are exceptions that apply to self-representation! In certain cases, you must be represented by a lawyer.

For example, this is the case if you are acting as liquidator of an estate or as mandatary for someone who is no longer able to care for themselves.

Companies that are sued or that start a lawsuit must also be represented by a lawyer, unless the case is brought before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec. In this latter case, a member of management or an employee that isn’t a lawyer will have to represent the company.

With great power comes great responsibility…

If you choose self-representation, you must follow the same rules of procedure that lawyers must respect. 

These rules can be complex, and the consequences of non-compliance can be severe. For example, depending on the situation, you may have to ask for your case to be “set down for trial and judgment.” This is a procedure that indicates to the court that the parties have completed certain preliminary steps and that the case is ready to be presented to a judge at trial.

However, there are deadlines to respect for setting down a case for trial and judgment. If your application is submitted too late, you lose your right to be heard by the court at trial.

Another example: if you bring a case against your landlord or tenant before the Tribunal administratif du logement (rental board of Quebec), you must send them a copy of your application. You must also send them the supporting evidence or a list of said evidence with a note letting them know the evidence can be viewed upon request. 

You then have 45 days to prove to the Tribunal administratif du logement that you communicated these documents to the opposing party. If you fail to do so, the Tribunal administratif du logement will close your file.

Partnership with the ministère de la Justice du Québec

This content was produced with the financial support of the Government of Quebec.

Visit their website.