Self-Represented Litigants before the Supreme Court

  • May 20, 2021
  • Cameron Fiske, C.S.

Ever since I began volunteering as a Duty Counsel as part of Pro Bono Ontario’s (“PBO”) Amicus project at the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 2012, I have been fascinated by the obscure subject of self-represented litigants appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”). I am not referring to self-represented litigants at the leave to appeal stage but rather once leave to appeal has been granted. While self-represented litigants are certainly common in the Small Claims Court, Ontario Court of Justice, Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, and Court of Appeal for Ontario, what about before the SCC? Similarly, I wondered about the American context. Had there been self-represented litigants before the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) as well after certiorari (the American version of leave to appeal) had been granted? It was something that I needed to find out.

It is remarkable that given this obscure interest of mine, in 2018, I had the good fortune to argue the appellant’s case in Mazraani v. Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc.[1] before the SCC. In that proceeding, the appellant, Kassem Mazraani, had been a self-represented litigant at all stages of the Canadian federal judicial process, and he had even managed to obtain leave to appeal on his own.[2] The case dealt with the rights of lawyers, parties, and witnesses to express themselves in the official language of his or her choice, as well as the active obligation on judges and lawyers to inform participants in the justice system of the right to present or give evidence in either French or English. Given this unique experience, it seems only natural that I would complete my journey by writing about self-represented litigants before both Canadian and American Supreme Courts.