In this case note:

  • Self Represented Litigant
  • Access to Justice

Ho v Greater Dandenong City Council [2013] VSCA 168

Mr Vu Ho is a Vietnamese refugee who works as a mechanic and lives on the outskirts of Melbourne in the suburb of Springvale. Mr Ho and his son have a pet sheep called Dolly (the family calls her Baa). The family raised her from a lamb, and she is now 16 years old. Baa is a much loved part of the family, is hand fed and taken for rides in the family car. Mr Ho’s neighbours view Baa as being like a family dog.

Mr Ho’s case began when a Greater Dandenong Council ranger told him that he had to get rid of Baa because the laws that govern local councils do not allow anyone to keep ‘livestock’ on land that is less than 1/2 hectare (5000 sq. metres) in size. Livestock is defined as “any animal of any species…other than a dog or cat”.

Mr Ho applied for a permit to keep Baa but was not able to get one because the Council did not agree that a sheep can be a pet. Mr Ho took the Council to court. His first case against the Council in the Supreme Court of Victoria challenged the interpretation of two laws that gave the Council the power to make and enforce laws about animals.

He lost the case and was ordered to pay the Council’s costs of around $100, 000. He appealed to the Victorian Court of Appeal and represented himself before the court as a self represented litigant.

Garde AJA and the other two justices said his argument “clearly presented” but denied his appeal. Their reasons stated that by not allowing someone with a small piece of land to keep livestock the Council was making sure that the welfare of animals and people who live in the area was taken care of, and that the Council had the power to make and enforce these laws.

Mr Ho then applied to the High Court for special consideration to appeal the decisions of the lower courts. He did not receive special consideration. Although Mr Ho lost his appeals he received access to justice having two hearings in the Victorian Supreme Court and the Victorian Supreme Courts of Appeal.

Discussion Questions:

1. What barriers do people encounter when they try and access the legal system?

2. Discuss the circumstances that would lead someone like Mr Ho to become a self-represented litigant