I remember that before I went to law school, I felt rather optimistic that the legal process should not really be that difficult to learn. After all, if the law could not be easily understood by lay people, then how can you expect citizens to follow it?
Of course, not long after law school began, I realized that nothing related to our legal system is simple, including the rules that govern court procedures.
Right from the start, when you want to sue someone, you cannot just write down on a piece of paper the facts of your dispute and what you want the judge to do (“court order”) and start a claim that way. Normally, a person starting a lawsuit (plaintiff) has no choice but to hire a lawyer to compose the official, legal documents that start a lawsuit, or more officially known as “originating process”. You should be suing for a recognizable kind of lawsuit, or in legalese, a proper “cause of action”.
Your claim must be in a document called a Statement of Claim, which has a special format (http://ontariocourtforms.on.ca/en/)
Similarly, a defendant cannot just write down their response in a piece of paper based on common sense or a layperson’s sense of ethical and morality basis. They must have their defence in a Statement of Defence, also in a special approved form (obtained from the same website). Together, these documents are called “pleadings”. None of this information can be expected to be known by lay people. Yet, it is important to know this, because if you don’t have the right format, the court clerk will likely not accept your claim. Even if you used the right official form, a case can be thrown out if there is no “cause of action”.
Check out our videos here:
The Law Society of Ontario has guides on starting lawsuits. https://lso.ca/lawyers/practice-supports-and-resources/practice-area/civil-litigation/how-to-commence-an-action
The Law Society of Ontario also has articles from previous CPD programs on Access CLE’s website. You can enter keywords like “pleadings”, “statement of claim”, “statement of defence” and learn about these words, or tips on how to draft them. Watch my video on how to use Access CLE (to be released June 17) https://youtu.be/Db1tWF-nfJw
Another resource is to take a look at Hassell Trial Counsel. Civil Litigator Mick Hassell has lots of guides to help lawyers and self-represented litigants on procedural points. A guide on Drafting Statement of Claim is here: https://trialcounsel.ca/how-to-draft-a-statement-of-claim/
Don’t forget to check out our Legalese Translator series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEN09msFpx6KHwKSxstIzKuGmp0a0W9fY
Finally, huge thanks to Heather Douglas for working with me on these videos, without whom there’d be no “Legalese Translator”!