Becoming familiar with the Rules of Court and how to conduct yourself in court, should be an important part of your preparation for a hearing.
It is not uncommon that, as a self-represented litigant, things will happen when you are in court that you are not prepared to deal with because you don’t know what your rights are or whether proper procedures have been followed.
This lack of knowledge may result in a court order that is unfavourable to you. You come out of court thinking you have been unfairly treated but you don’t know exactly how or why it happened.
It may have been a situation where the principles of natural justice were not followed. What are the principles of natural justice?
Essentially, you have a right to have sufficient notice of what the opposing side is going to say to the court and what they are going to ask the court to order. You also must have an opportunity to respond to what the opposing side is presenting as their evidence and argument.
An order that is granted by the court where these principles have not been followed is a ‘nullity’ (a ‘nothing’, unenforceable) and will be set aside when it is challenged. Because this kind of challenge (usually an appeal of the court order) causes more time and money to be spent by both sides, it should be something that all parties are aware of and avoid.
As an example, in a recent decision from the BC Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Bowden found that the self-represented wife, who had applied to adjourn the trial, had not been given sufficient notice or opportunity to respond to what the respondent husband had asked the Master to order at the hearing.
On appeal, the judge set those orders aside as nullities. DECISION: Guivian v Goldarre
The decision is a short one because, unless the Master’s order was set aside quickly:
- the wife would have had to move out of the family home where she had lived since separation in order to allow the husband to move back in,
- the house would be listed for sale, and
- the husband would have sole conduct of the sale, all of which was to take place within 10 days of the hearing.
If you are representing yourself, and can afford some legal advice to help you through the process, look into whether unbundled legal services are for you.
For family cases, where self-representation is increasing every year, there is now the BC Family Unbundling Roster which lists lawyers all over the province who are willing to provide unbundled (broken down, bits and pieces) legal services in the family law practice area.