Western Yearbook of Access to Justice
Court forms are complex. Canadians have told researchers this in numerous studies to date. For individuals who can afford lawyers, court form complexity may result in few if any adverse consequences as the legal professionals representing them have the experience and training to navigate these documents with relative ease. The story is different, however, for the increasing number of individuals who end up representing themselves in court because they cannot afford a lawyer. For those individuals – commonly referred to as “self-represented litigants” or “SRLs” – court form complexity can be a major barrier to accessing justice. As a practical matter, if SRLs have difficulty in understanding or completing a court form, their legal rights may be compromised. Complexity can lead to mistakes in completing court forms or, in some cases, even be so challenging or demoralizing that an individual may choose not to pursue or defend a claim. Systemically, court form complexity can lead to significant delay if court staff and judges need to spend time explaining court forms or dealing with the consequences of incorrectly filled out forms. The stakes are high.