Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)
Chapter 10: Sherbrooke, Quebec (continued)
Our key findings with respect to the key questions raised by the study include:
With respect to frequency of self-representation
- The number of criminally accused adults who proceed through the criminal court process in Sherbrooke without the benefit of legal representation is relatively small – in the order of 9 percent.
With respect to impact on the accused
- Our key informants in Sherbrooke reported only limited direct experience with unrepresented accused. This limitation notwithstanding, they expressed the view that unrepresented accused are less likely to be aware of the legal remedies available to them at key stages in the process or to understand the key decisions and events in the process.
- Unrepresented accused in Sherbrooke are equally likely as accused with legal counsel to plead guilty and be convicted. They are much less likely to receive custodial sentences on conviction.
With respect to impact on the court
- Many judges, as well as other court officials, try to reduce the impact on accused persons of their lack of representation. Some such efforts may appear to threaten the impartiality of the judicial role.
- Self-represented accused typically make fewer court appearances than do accused represented by private counsel.
- Cases where the accused are self-represented are typically of shorter overall duration than are cases involving private counsel.
- Individual appearances by self-represented accused are typically shorter in duration than are appearances with private counsel.
According to interviewees, on the rare occasion that an accused was not represented, when facing more serious charges, it was for one of two reasons: the accused was ineligible for legal aid and unable to financially afford legal representation, or the accused had fired his or her lawyer. In situations where the charges were relatively minor, the accused often saw legal representation as an unnecessary expense and so didn't bother getting a lawyer.
For the most part, interviewees did not feel any solutions were necessary since they saw no real problem with unrepresented accused in Sherbrooke. However, two solutions proposed were:
- Opening up the legal aid criteria. Specifically, increasing the financial eligibility thresholds.
- Implementing a staff system to ensure that someone is always around to guide an accused person through the legal system.
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