No Leniency for Self-Represented Litigants – Self-Reps Must Know the Legal Practices and Procedures Pertaining to Their Case

As courts across Canada continue to see a rising trend in self-represented litigants, it becomes increasingly important for them to understand court rules and procedures to ensure access to justice.

In the recent case of Blomer v Workers Compensation Board, the Alberta Court of Appeal considered whether the motions judge could correct the procedural missteps of the self-represented litigant. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the motions judge had no authority to do so and reinforced the expectation that self-represented litigants familiarize themselves with the relevant legal practices and procedures pertaining to their case.

Trial Decision

Ms. Blomer, a self-represented litigant, sought to appeal two decisions of the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation but failed to file and serve the required originating applications on time. Instead of filing two originating applications as required by the Workers’ Compensation Act, Ms. Blomer filed a statement of claim, an amended statement of claim, and an amended amended statement of claim—all served beyond the 6-month deadline.

Ms. Blomer then applied under Rules 1.4 and 1.5 of the Alberta Rules of Court to convert her twice amended statement of claim to an originating application. Rule 1.4 permits the court to make procedural orders while Rule 1.5 permits the court to cure contraventions or non-compliance with the Rules. However, an exception under Rule 1.5(5) prohibits the court from curing any contravention or non-compliance if doing so would have the effect of extending a time period that the court was prohibited from extending.

The motions judge dismissed Ms. Blomer’s application, and the Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal held that even if the motions judge converted her twice amended statement of claim to an originating application, Ms. Blomer had missed the deadline to file and serve by over two years. The motions judge therefore had no authority to cure Ms. Blomer’s fatal procedural misstep given that doing so would have the effect of extending a time period under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Court of Appeal also found that Ms. Blomer had failed to bring the Rule 1.5 application within a reasonable time as required under Rule 1.5(2).

While the Court of Appeal acknowledged the disadvantages faced by self-represented litigants, it nonetheless confirmed that the same statutory regime and court rules must apply regardless of whether the litigants have legal representation. This was in fact explicitly set out in Rule 1.1(2) of the Rules of Court. The Court of Appeal went on to say:

"[s]elf-represented persons are expected to familiarize themselves with relevant legal practices and procedures pertaining to their case. Nor are there two sets of court rules – one for persons who are represented by counsel and persons who are not." [1] 

What does this mean for self-represented litigants and parties dealing with self-represented litigants on the opposing side going forward?

Self-represented litigants need to be aware of the substantive court rules and limitations periods that apply to their case. There are limits on the Court’s ability to relax the rules for self-represented litigants, particularly when it comes to contraventions or issues of non-compliance that affect applicable deadlines and limitation periods.

[1] Blomer v Workers Compensation Board, 2020 ABCA 334 at para 64, citing Pintea v Johns, 2017 SCC 23 at para 4 (SCC endorsed the Canadian Judicial Council’s Statement of Principles on Self-represented Litigants and Accused Persons”).

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  • Grace  Kang
    Associate

    Grace practices general civil litigation and dispute resolution in Lawson Lundell LLP’s Calgary office. Building a broad litigation practice, Grace regularly assists in various energy, commercial, administrative ...

  • Isabelle  Lam
    Associate

    Isabelle Lam is an associate in the Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group in Calgary. She maintains a general commercial litigation practice, which includes conducting research for legal opinions, drafting, and ...

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This blog is authored by members of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department. We follow new and interesting issues emerging in the legal and business communities. The wide range of experience among the members of our litigation group will provide a diverse and insightful examination of current legal trends and topics. Our goal is to provide a source of valuable information and insight on a wide variety of matters for our readers.

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