By Charlie Gillis - Monday, February 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Do-it-yourselfers flood a system set up for lawyers and judges
She has been threatened with abduction, shaken down for bribes and stopped at gunpoint by hostile police. But nothing in Alison MacLean’s work as a combat camerawoman in Afghanistan has proved as scarring as the legal battles she has waged on her own behalf in B.C.’s family court system. They began in 2008, when after a messy divorce, MacLean learned at the last hour that her ex-husband was applying for the forced sale of their house. She was in hospital at the time preparing for a knee-replacement surgery. Instead, she raced to Vancouver’s Robson Street courthouse in time to attend a registrar’s hearing, where she succeeded in getting the action set aside. “My lawyer told me she couldn’t go speak for me that day,” recalls MacLean, 53. “I had no choice but to go. It was the first-time I self-repped, and it was a success. For me, that was a turning point.”
Three years on, MacLean is still fighting her ex in court, representing herself in all but the most complex proceedings. “I’m your average, middle-class working mom,” she says. “I don’t have access to huge amounts of money.” And while she’s honed her skills over 10 court appearances, familiarity hasn’t enhanced the experience. The justice system, she says, is set up for lawyers, judges and clerks—more than a few of whom make no secret of their exasperation with self-represented litigants. She can research case law, swear an afﬁdavit and ﬁle documents as expertly as a paralegal. But when asked what it’s like to navigate this bewildering subculture on her own, MacLean doesn’t hesitate: “I prefer being in Afghanistan.” Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM - 865 Comments
SPECIAL REPORT: Fees are soaring, and thousands are being left behind
The Ontario Court of Justice, housed in a grey building with small slitted windows, could leave any visitor feeling like a tiny speck before the mighty judicial system. For Antoinette Augustine it was especially true. A single mother, she filed a lawsuit against her ex seeking child support and sole custody of their two kids. He hired a lawyer; she was on her own. “I don’t make a lot of money,” says the Toronto child-care worker. “But I make too much to get legal aid, and not enough to pay a lawyer.” Augustine was left with little choice but to represent herself.
Do-it-yourself legal work, she soon learned, isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s back and forth, speak to the clerks, get it served, get it filed,” says Augustine, who used up all her vacation and sick days in a gruelling odyssey to sort out her family life. The stress took a toll: she broke down crying in front of court clerks, and was often overwhelmed at work. “I’d be online all night, or calling friends,” says Augustine, 36. Despite her best efforts, over a year later, the case had gone nowhere.