Generally, courts respect your right to have counsel
Q: Could you tell me what a refugee claimant should do if, on the hearing day, his lawyer does not show up? Is it possible for a refugee claimant to have his hearing without his lawyer? Many times we couldn’t reach him and he never answers e-mails.
A: This scenario happens more often than you may think.
You only have one chance to make a refugee claim. So it is important that the basis of your refugee claim is properly explained and that you understand and address the many legal issues that can arise in the course of a hearing.
There is no legal requirement for you to have a lawyer or a consultant at your hearing, even if you had previously notified the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) that you had one.
However, since you hired a lawyer to represent you, you probably felt you needed one.
Accordingly, it’s unlikely that your need for assistance has changed by virtue of your counsel’s failure to show up.
No doubt, it took several months to get your hearing scheduled and that a postponement would trigger another lengthy delay.
The presiding IRB member will likely want to proceed with or without counsel since the board is under pressure to move these cases along as quickly as possible.
Do not be tempted to go it alone.
Instead, you should show up at your hearing as prepared as possible and ask for an adjournment.
Have a friend attend with you for support. Explain your circumstances to the board truthfully.
Do not say that the lawyer “didn’t show up” when the truth is you failed to pay the lawyer the retainer you promised. Any kind of dishonesty can come back to haunt you later since your refugee claim is heavily dependent on your credibility.
If the request is granted, find yourself more reputable representation.
Don’t be afraid to file a complaint with the law society in the province where the no-show lawyer practises.
The complaint may help to straighten him/her out, which, in turn, may help someone else.
If the board is resisting your adjournment request, do not allow yourself to be pressured into “agreeing to proceed without counsel.”
Do not abandon your request.
If the adjournment request is denied, proceed with the hearing and simply do the best you can. If your refugee claim is denied, hire a lawyer to judicially review the decision in federal court and cite a denial of natural justice as one of the grounds for your application.
Generally, the court doesn’t like to see claimants robbed of their right to counsel.
Others who suspect this may be happening to them should remember that they have to disclose all their documentary evidence to the IRB at least 20 days before the hearing.
Those who find themselves with a non-responsive lawyer prior to that time should consider switching lawyers quickly to avoid missing this important deadline.