The Grim Parade: Supreme Court of Canada Self-Represented Appellants in 2017


  • Donald J. Netolitzky



Self-represented litigants (SRLs) are persons who appear in legal proceedings without a lawyer. This study is a document- and court record-based quantitative, statistically valid profile of 122 SRLs who filed 125 leave to appeal applications in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2017.

Male SRLs outnumbered female SRLs almost 3:1. Most SRLs focused on their perceived rights and did not engage Canadian law. Instead, most study SRLs claimed lower court judges were biased or engaged in illegal or criminal conduct. Over a third of the study SRLs filed two or more Supreme Court leave to appeal applications over their lifetime. One filed 19 applications, all unsuccessful. Nearly one in four study SRLs were subject to court access restrictions, an extreme form of litigation management. Problematic litigation activity was associated with repeated Supreme Court appearances. Only a small number of study SRLs self-identified or were identified by a court as having mental health issues, but nearly one quarter of SRLs’ litigation records exhibited an atypical pattern of expanding litigation identified by mental health professionals as a characteristic of querulous paranoia.

This investigation successfully developed a profile of the 2017 Supreme Court leave to appeal SRL population and their litigation activity and provides a model for future parallel investigations. This population is very unlikely to be representative of Canadians SRLs as a whole, but it represents a comparator and identifies characteristics that are potentially useful to understand what occurs in other Canadian appeal courts.