When Judy Gayton, an Alberta SRL suffering from a brain injury and deemed to be "without competency" to represent herself, was unable to find a pro bono lawyer to represent her, the Medicine Hat Provincial Court altered her competency designation and she was forced to go to trial without a lawyer or anyone to speak for her. Her case was dismissed yesterday.
NSRLP were first contacted by Judy more than 3 months ago. Project Director Dr Julie Macfarlane comments: "While the Project does not take on individual cases, it was obvious immediately that Judy's circumstances - where a woman with a brain injury was being bullied into representing herself by the defence, with the approval of the Court - raised a critical systemic issue for people with disabilities who could not afford legal counsel, nor access pro bono assistance. We tried everything we could think of to offer her support - Windsor 3L Mattie-Marie Eansor (a former student in Professor Laverne Jacobs' Law & Disabilities seminar) spent hours by phone and on email with Judy "coaching" her to prepare for case management sessions and, when her efforts to win an adjournment failed, for trial - and scouring Alberta for pro bono counsel who might assist. All these efforts failed, and yesterday Judy's case was dismissed. The issue here is not the merits of Judy's case - although given that no attempt had been made to dismiss it using summary judgment, one must assume it had some merit - but rather the use of legal procedure to expedite the outcome by simply "switching" Judy's competency designation on the application of the defence to enable the trial to proceed, even though she had no lawyer to represent her and no litigation representative to speak to the Court."
NSRLP hears increasingly from SRLs who carry the additional burden of individual disabilities, whether physical, mental or psychological. They present a special challenge for the courts and for A2J in Canada as legal representation becomes unaffordable for most Canadians. NSRLP is developing a new resource for SRLs with disabilities, with the assistance of volunteer Bilal Ahmed.