Expanding Amicus Services in Civil Lawsuits

I was recently interviewed by Law Times regarding Pro Bono Law Ontario’s (PBLO) focus on expanding its amicus curiae services in civil lawsuits. Both Elizabeth K.P. Grace and I were approached by PBLO in connection with this project. In our view, it is a positive move and an important component in promoting access to fairness and justice.

Last summer, Superior Court Justice Eva Frank reached out to PBLO for amicus counsel when faced with an unrepresented defendant in a complex civil sexual assault case.  Law Times reported on the PBLO amicus project, noting that both Elizabeth and I were on board. In October, Elizabeth and I were appointed to the role of amicus, and we recently completed a three day trial in which we assisted the court through this role.

I believe that working with PBLO, and doing pro bono work in general, is an important way to give back to the community and assist the courts. This is an excellent initiative and Elizabeth and I both see it as a privilege to have been asked to take on this role. Elizabeth is quoted in AdvocateDaily.com: “…the legal system can be difficult to navigate for self-represented parties. Amici are in a position to assist the court by ensuring that complex matters do not get bogged down with procedural problems, and that the broader goals of justice are met”.

“In our adversarial system, trial judges cannot themselves test and challenge the evidence. However, the system is premised on the theory that evidence will be tested through cross-examination and this process will assist in the search for truth. Self-represented parties, however, may not have the legal knowledge and skills necessary to test the evidence in an effective manner. Experienced counsel acting as amicus will have the skills to assist the court by ensuring that the evidence is probed and analyzed in a way that will ultimately help the judge make findings of fact on which his or her ruling will be based.”

Elizabeth and I were aware that challenges would arise as we took on the role of amicus curiae. It was necessary to very quickly acquaint ourselves with the complexities of the case as we did not have carriage of the file from the beginning. Other challenges for lawyers acting as amicus include the fact that in this role, you do not act as an advocate for a client but must focus on impartially assisting the court with its truth-seeking function. Also, as amicus, you do not have a client and must prepare without the insight that a client can offer with respect to the case.

We believe that despite these challenges, PBLO’s amicus project is a positive development that will benefit both lawyers and the community. We wish the PBLO every success with this initiative.

Anna Matas

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