Lawyers’ Perceptions of the Fairness of Judicial Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants
46 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
How much assistance should a trial judge provide a self-represented litigant [SRL] before the judge’s impartiality will be reasonably questioned? This question has been of continuing concern to both the bench and bar ever since the rise of the pro se litigation movement in the late 1990s, particularly in the context of “mixed” cases involving an SRL and a represented party. Case law and ethics codes provide inconsistent decisions and vague guidelines for judges, who must balance their duty to provide reasonable assistance with their duty to ensure a fair trial for all parties. This paper reports the results of a survey administered to 210 Canadian family law practitioners who were presented with 16 hypothetical scenarios involving an SRL and a represented party. Respondents indicated their views regarding the impartiality and helpfulness of the trial judge in each scenario, involving various procedural defaults by the SRL and different forms of judicial assistance or lack thereof. The results indicate that lawyers' perceptions of a judge's impartiality are affected, inter alia, by the favourability of the outcome for the SRL, and whether the assistance provided dealt with procedural or substantive matters. Future research is needed to determine whether a consensus can be established regarding perceptions of lawyers, lay persons, and judges regarding which forms of assistance are reasonable and required, permissible, or impermissible.
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