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Guide for self-represented people

Last updated: January 29, 2024

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The reason for this guide

Every day, our tribunal gets complaints from people who have problems about their human rights. These cases involve people going through difficult situations.

Many people have trouble reading and writing. There are a lot of things to read in a tribunal case. It is hard for people who have trouble reading to defend their rights. That is why we wrote this guide. It is to help people understand how our tribunal works.

We cannot explain everything in this guide. We tried to make the information simple and clear. The most important information is here. If you want more information, you can ask at the tribunal.

We hope that this guide will help you.

What is a tribunal

Tribunals handle cases based on rules of law.

Using mediation, tribunals sometimes can settle conflicts or problems between people who cannot agree with each other.

Tribunals also hold hearings and make decisions. Decisions at a tribunal are made by a decision-maker. At the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, a decision-maker is called a “member”.

What is an administrative tribunal

Administrative tribunals are a special type of tribunal. They were created to solve problems fairly between people or between people and their government.

There are many administrative tribunals in Canada, but they all do different jobs. Each administrative tribunal specializes in its own area. For example: human rights, employment insurance and landlord and tenant matters.

At some tribunals, the cases are very short. They take a few months to finish. Other tribunals handle cases that are more complicated. These cases can take longer.

The law says that all tribunals must be independent from the government. An administrative tribunal and its decision-makers must be neutral. They cannot take sides. They cannot have an interest or bias in a case or towards any of the people in the case.

Administrative tribunals can settle different types of problems. Some tribunals settle conflicts between the government and individual people. Administrative tribunals have rules on how to give information to the decision-maker. These are called rules of evidence. They also have rules of practice and procedure. Rules of practice and procedure are about what you do if you want the tribunal to hear your case. Usually, an administrative tribunal makes its own rules about evidence and procedure.

The office of the tribunal

The office of the tribunal makes sure the tribunal works properly. It is called the registry. This is the place where you hand in papers for your file. It is also where you find out how to do things and what papers or “forms” to use.

There are administrative tribunals that act in a certain place. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal acts only in British Columbia. It has an office in Vancouver, but the members go to other places in British Columbia to hold hearings and settlement meetings.

The registry sends letters and official papers to the parties. The Notice of Hearing is a paper sent to the people in a case. This paper tells them the place, date and time of the hearing. The registrar is one of the employees of the office and signs the Notice of Hearing to make it legal.

At the Human Rights Tribunal, the case managers help the registrar by looking after the files. When you make a complaint, a case manager will be assigned to look after your file.

The complaint and the complainant

If you want the BC Human Rights Tribunal to make a decision about your problem, you have to give it a complaint form. It is the way to start a file at the tribunal. It is the basis of the whole case.

The office of the tribunal provides forms for the complaint. You can also get a form from the tribunal’s website on the internet by using a computer. The BC Human Rights Clinic holds a clinic on Mondays at the tribunal. They can provide assistance with filing your human rights complaint.

The tribunal’s rules say that the complaint must have certain information in it. For example, you have to write your name and address and the name and address of the “respondent” on the form. The respondent is the person or company or organization you want to complain about. The organization can be the government.

You must fill out the complaint form completely. You must give the tribunal enough information so that the Registry can see that your problem is something it can make a decision about.

The Human Rights Code is a law thatgives the Human Rights Tribunal the power to make orders. The tribunal can only make orders about the kinds of problems allowed by the Human Rights Code.

The response to the complaint

The “response” is the respondent’s answer to the complaint. The response is also made on a written form. The word “respondent” means the same as “defendant” and it is the person or company or organization the complaint is about. The office of the tribunal can give the respondent a response form or you can find it on our website.

The names of the parties and the file number must be written on the response form. On the form, the respondent explains what they think about the things the complainant says. The respondent must say if they agree with the things the complainant says or if they do not. This is their side of the story.

The settlement meeting

Some cases do not need a hearing. The parties agree to meet together with a tribunal “mediator” and talk about the problem. Settlement meetings are voluntary and everything said in the meeting is confidential. The mediator is trained to help the parties decide how to solve the problem. If they agree about what should happen, they sign a Settlement Agreement that explains what each party will do.

When that happens, the tribunal closes the file.

Making applications before the hearing

You can make applications to the tribunal during the proceedings. An application must be related to the complaint. You must use a special form to make an application. You can get the form from the tribunal or on the tribunal’s website. Usually both sides send information to the tribunal in writing.

A member will make a decision for every application. Usually that decision will be in writing. Some applications are made at the beginning of the proceedings and before the hearing. They are used to get ready for the case.

The tribunal’s rules and information sheets tell you how to make these applications.

The proceedings are the time between the beginning and the end of a case before a tribunal. It is the period between handing-in the complaint form and the final decision.

These applications are also called “preliminary” applications. They can challenge the whole case. Sometimes they can stop the complaint and dismiss it before a hearing.

For example, a respondent might say that:

  • the tribunal does not have the right to decide the case
  • the complaint does not have enough information in it
  • the complaint was made too late
  • the hearing date should be changed
  • the tribunal should dismiss the case before the hearing
  • the complainant picked the wrong administrative tribuna

Applications about the hearing

These applications can be about:

  • changing where the hearing will be
  • changing the decision-maker
  • making a party give information or papers to the other party
  • making witnesses leave the hearing room
  • making the public leave the hearing room (closed hearing)
  • not letting the media publish the name of a party or what was said in the hearing

Application for an adjournment

You can make an application for an adjournment if you want to change the date of the hearing. Usually the application for an adjournment must be made in writing before the hearing date. The application must be sent to the other party and given to the tribunal.

Any party can make an application for an adjournment. If the other party agrees to change the date for the hearing, it will be easier to change it. But this is not always enough for the member to say yes. The reasons for asking for an adjournment of the case are also important.

For example, if a hearing is scheduled for three days with fifteen witnesses and was already adjourned twice, it will be more difficult to adjourn that than a one-day hearing without witnesses.

Advocates and representatives

Who goes to the tribunal?

You can go to the tribunal on your own. You do not have to have another person act for you. But if you have someone to help you, they can go to the tribunal with you.

An advocate is not a lawyer but may have legal training about some types of legal problems. An advocate may give a party advice and help them get their case ready for a hearing or a settlement meeting.

A representative could be a friend or relative who speaks for a party. Sometimes a union employee is a representative.

The lawyer and client

A lawyer is a specialist who knows the law. The lawyer gives legal advice and speaks for the client at the tribunal. A lawyer prepares documents for the client. The lawyer and the client figure out the best way to present the case.

A lawyer must be professional and respect the client’s privacy. All the information and papers you give to a lawyer are kept private in preparing for the hearing. A lawyer can only share this information or give it to the tribunal if the client agrees to it.

The lawyer talks to their client so that they understand the situation. The lawyer must know what sort of evidence there is. They decide if there is enough evidence. The lawyer tells the client what their choices are, depending on the law and the evidence.

Even though the lawyer is the expert, it is still up to the client to decide what they want to do.

The hearing

The member can sign an Order to Attend Hearing. An Order to Attend Hearing is a paper ordering a person to go to the tribunal to testify. This paper tells you the place, date and time of the hearing. At some tribunals, it is also called a summons or a subpoena.

The hearing is when the decision-maker and parties meet in the hearing room. The parties give their evidence, question witnesses and make their arguments. The hearing is when the parties give their evidence to the member. This is when they tell what happened and defend their ideas. They give their opinion. They try to show the tribunal that they are right.

The hearing must be public. Anyone can go and watch it. You can go to the tribunal and watch a hearing before your own hearing happens.

At the hearing, the parties have the right to present evidence. They have the right to examine and cross-examine the witnesses. They have the right to discuss and defend their ideas.

The hearing is divided into steps. At the beginning, the member makes sure everyone is there. Then the member explains how things will work during the hearing. Often, the parties summarize their case for the member before they give their evidence and call their witnesses.

The parties might make applications asking to make witnesses or the public leave the hearing room for part of the hearing.

The next step of the hearing is for the complainant. Usually they give their own evidence first and then they ask their other witnesses to give their evidence. Once the complainant is finished, the respondent gives their own evidence and then they ask their other witnesses to give their evidence. Once all the witnesses have finished, the complainant and the respondent tell the member what they think the member should do with the case.

After the hearing is finished, the member will make a decision.

At the hearing

At the hearing, the lawyer can speak for their client. The lawyer questions the witnesses who have been called to give evidence. Once the evidence is finished, the lawyer tries to convince the decision-maker that their client is right.

They explain what they think all the evidence means. They say what they think about how good it is. They tell the member what evidence they think should be believed and what evidence should not be believed. The lawyer tries to show what is wrong with what the other party said. The lawyer also explains what laws they think apply to the case.

The lawyer can refer to other decisions the tribunal made in the past to defend their opinion. This is called “jurisprudence”.

At the tribunal, people who do not have a lawyer can be helped by another person. This person can be an advocate, a friend or a family member. The person helping can also be a union employee.

A person can also decide to go to the tribunal alone. (The tribunal has guides and information sheets to help you if you want to represent yourself.)

The member

The member is the decision-maker who runs the hearing at the tribunal. The decision-maker is trained as a lawyer. They know a lot about the law and what the tribunal does.

Before a hearing, the member reads the file of the case that will be heard. They read the papers that everyone sent to the tribunal. This gives them a good idea about the case and what the conflict is about. They prepare for the case and can look at the law in the case.

During the hearing, the member makes all the decisions and listens to the evidence given by the parties. This is an important job because the member makes a decision based on the evidence.

The parties are the people in a case who have a conflict. The complainant and the respondent are parties. A complainant is the person or party making the complaint. A respondent is the person, company or organization they believe discriminated against them. The decision-maker, lawyers and witnesses are not parties.

The member decides what papers or other evidence can be used at the hearing. If someone does not have a lawyer or representative, the member may ask the witnesses questions. The member decides what is important from the evidence that the parties give to them at the hearing.

When the parties finish giving their evidence and try to convince the member, they can do several things: They can go away to think about their decision. They can also go away and check the law.

They take the time they need to think about everything. The time they take is called “reserving” the decision. Usually this is what happens. The decision will be given in writing.

Sometimes, they will make his decision at the hearing. This is called making an “oral decision”. If they do this, they will also give a decision in writing later.

The decision

The office of the tribunal sends the written decision to the parties. The decision is public. It is also put on the tribunal’s website on the internet. Sometimes information about the decision is reported on television or in the newspapers.

You can ask the tribunal to limit your personal information in the decision. You should do this before the decision is made and is public.

If you do not agree with the decision

Even though the final decision is made by the tribunal, you can still make application to the British Columbia Supreme Court if you disagree with the decision. This is called a “Judicial Review”. It is not the same as an appeal.

You can ask the Supreme Court to cancel a decision or to let you start the hearing over. This application is only for special cases.

You must make your application to the Supreme Court within 60 days from the date of the decision. You will need special papers called a “Petition” and an “Affidavit”. You can get examples of these papers from the the Community Legal Assistance Society website:

For a judicial review, you need to show the Supreme Court that the member:

  • made a mistake about the law
  • made a decision that was not reasonable after listening to the evidence
  • was not fair

Getting more help

If you need help or legal advice, you should contact a lawyer or human rights advocate. See who can to help

See other Tribunal guides

You can also find legal information about human rights on the following websites:

BC Human Rights Clinic
BC Government


Rules of practice and procedure

Practice directions


Public hearings


Leading cases




Special programs



Information & guides