Litigation Guardian vs. Section 3 Counsel
When a party is incapable of instructing counsel, or his or her capacity is in question in a proceeding, there are safeguards in place in the Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194 (the “Rules”), and the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”) to ensure that the incapable party’s interests are protected. The Rules provide for the appointment of a litigation guardian for a party under disability, while the SDA provides for the appointment of “section 3 counsel” when the capacity of a person is in issue in a proceeding under the SDA and they do not have legal representation. While a litigation guardian and section 3 counsel may have a similar purpose, their roles are quite different. Situations may arise where one or the other is required, but there are also times when it may be difficult to determine which one is necessary in the circumstances. The recent decision of Dawson v Dawson, 2020 ONSC 6001 is one such instance.
In Dawson, one of the parties, Michael, was incapable of managing property or instructing counsel, and was the subject of a proceeding under the SDA. Michael’s wife, Josephine, sought to be appointed as his litigation guardian in that proceeding. The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) opposed the appointment of a litigation guardian, and took the position that the appointment of section 3 counsel would be appropriate in the circumstances.
Ultimately, the court appointed Josephine as litigation guardian for Michael, notwithstanding that section 3 counsel would typically be appointed in such a situation. Part of the court’s reasoning was that “[b]oth a litigation guardian and s. 3 counsel are responsible for protecting the interests of a vulnerable litigant, but they do so in significantly different ways.”
The court highlighted the limitations on section 3 counsel, being that they are counsel, not a party. If a lawyer is acting for a client with capacity issues, as may be the case with section 3 counsel, it may be difficult or impossible for the lawyer to ascertain the client’s wishes and instructions. Without instructions from his or her client, a lawyer cannot take a position in a proceeding, even if one assumes that the client would have agreed with that position, or that it is in the client’s best interests. Section 3 counsel cannot make decisions on behalf of his or her client.
A litigation guardian on the other hand, stands in the shoes of the party under disability, and is able to make decisions on behalf of the party. As stated by the court: “[a] litigation guardian therefore does precisely what s. 3 counsel cannot do, that is, make decisions on behalf of a vulnerable person.”
The role of section 3 counsel is very important in the context of proceedings under the SDA, given the significant impact that, for instance, a finding of incapacity, and the appointment of a guardian can have on an individual’s liberty. However, where section 3 counsel is unable to get instructions, the appointment of a litigation guardian may be necessary in order to protect the individual.
Thanks for reading,
These other blog posts may also be of interest: