The price of DIY law is too high for everybody

September 19, 2017
Article Source
Vancouver Sun

From gowned judges and "learned friends" to the highly ritualized proceedings, Canada's courtrooms can be intimidating places at the best of times.

But most people are there at the worst of times, especially if the reason they are there is to sort out custody and access to their children.

In a perfect world, lawyers are their navigators. But increasingly, even middle-class Canadians are in court without them because the costs are beyond their reach.

To get an idea of how expensive it can be, consider this comment from a self-represented Canadian in the most recent report of the National Self-Represented Litigants: "If you're young and have the funds to pay for a lawyer, consider going to law school instead. It will probably cost the same and you'll get a degree out of it."

Do-it-yourself lawyering is not only expensive and stressful (even for those who have English or French as a first language), it can lead to terrible decisions.

The high-profile case of J.P. v. British Columbia is one of those, says lawyer Morgan Camley. Had her client — the father in a custody battle — had legal representation in the lower courts, she contends the case that began in 2011 likely would not have dragged on for 252 days at trial. It also, she says, would not likely have resulted late last month in the Court of Appeal ordering a retrial.

"This is not a typical case of warring parents," says Camley, who is not a family lawyer. "In my view, it's about the failure of the system to make adequate provisions for people. It's an access-to-justice case."

She got involved at the appeal stage after reading the evidence and, specifically, reading the judge's heavy reliance on a so-called expert witness whose stated credentials had not been earned, but purchased from diploma mills.

A lawyer would almost certainly have checked the expert's credentials more closely. But even if the fake degrees hadn't been discovered and the expert denied the chance to testify, Camley says a lawyer would have argued for the judge to give more weight to the testimony of psychologists who had interviewed the children about the father's alleged sexual abuse and less on the expert put forward by the mother's lawyer who never had any contact with them.

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