Invaluable Assistance for Self-Represented Litigants
With an increasing number of persons finding themselves having to represent themselves before courts and tribunals, one of the first problems many of them face is the need to fill out complex and often lengthy legal forms.
This is the story of a successful Vancouver project to provide free help in filling out those with the goal both of ensuring litigants don’t put their cases in jeopardy through improperly-done forms and also of improving the efficiency of the system through avoiding delays to get forms redone.
The Legal Forms Workshops, known as Amici Curiae (Friends of the Courts) are the brainchild of Dom Bautista of the Law Courts Center. Paralegals donate their time as volunteers to help clients with the forms; and at each workshop, a lawyer, also a volunteer, oversees the work done by the paralegals. It is always made clear to the clients, though, that the lawyer won’t be providing them with any legal advice.
The idea for the workshop started in 2010 when Dom approached then-Chief Justice Donald Brenner with the concept of using a group of paralegals to help self-represented litigants complete legal forms. Dom suggested that since knowing forms and arcane procedures, performing legal research and providing client care are key paralegal skills, paralegals could play a meaningful role in increasing access to justice. The Supreme Court of BC Chief Justice referred him to the Vancouver Justice Access Centre, and a partnership was born. The first Amici Curiae Legal Forms Workshop took place on February 8 2011, in partnership with Access Pro Bono BC as well as the Justice Access Centre.
The workshops are free, and there’s no limit on the number of times a client can return to get further help from the paralegals. There is no income test. The program has a particular interest in helping victims of gendered violence, but also helps with forms for the BC Court of Appeal, BC Supreme Court, Provincial Court, Federal Court, and tribunals such as BC Human Rights Tribunal and Civil Resolution Tribunals. It doesn’t deal in criminal law.
Dom and his team are working on increasing the number of workshops, developing specialized workshops, and expanding the locations at which workshops are held. As an example, they have developed a workshop designed especially to help Indigenous people. This workshop takes place at the Carnegie Community Centre on the Downtown Eastside, and a second lawyer with expertise in aboriginal law attends each workshop. As well, the volunteers receive continuous training in cultural awareness and aboriginal law so they can provide the best possible help to Indigenous clients.
Dom says they are taking these workshops away from the downtown courthouse for the same reason that workshops on domestic abuse are held at the agencies where women gather. “We want to be where we should be,” he says, “and that’s where our clients are.”
Using these locations, he notes, allows clients to come to them who might be too nervous to come to an urban office setting.
The paralegals are now helping clients fill out forms that need to be done online, and Dom says this has alerted them to a different set of needs – clients who might otherwise be quite able to fill out the forms themselves but who may not have either the skills or the computer equipment to do so online.
To book appointments, call or text: 778.522.2839 or write: firstname.lastname@example.org.