How Do I Conduct Myself in Court at an Application?
The drawing here shows how most courtrooms are laid out. In some courtrooms the witness box will be on the right rather than the left. Other courtrooms may have seating for a jury; others may have a separate entrance and seating for criminally accused; others may have a very small or a very large area for the gallery.
Get to the courthouse about 20 minutes ahead of the time shown on your Notice of Application or Notice of Hearing. In the Provincial Court, hearings generally start at 9:30. In the Supreme Court, the court day starts at 10:00.
Somewhere around the entrance to the courthouse there will be a bulletin board with lists of all the hearings that are going on that day and which courtroom each hearing is in. Find your courtroom, and get there early.
The clerk will open the courtroom about 10 or 15 minutes before the court day starts. Enter the courtroom and walk to where the clerk sits. Tell the clerk who you are. The clerk will find your file on the day's list and will ask you how long you expect the hearing to take.
After you've checked in, take a seat in the gallery. Lawyers will sit in the row of chairs just beyond the gallery, past the bar, although in some busy courtrooms like the chambers courtrooms in Vancouver and New Westminster, all of the seating is considered past the bar. In a case like that, where there is no obvious gallery, sit wherever you find a seat.
The start of the court day
The court day starts when the judge enters the courtroom. The clerk will make an announcement when the judge is entering the room. Stand up when the judge enters the room, and sit down only when the judge sits down.
The clerk will then start calling the day's cases, one by one. In the Supreme Court, the clerk calls the cases in order from the shortest cases to the longest cases. In the Provincial Court, the clerk will call the cases where one or both parties are represented by lawyers before moving on to the cases where neither party has a lawyer.
When your case is called
Walk up to the long table in front of the clerk, and take a position to the right or left. It usually doesn't matter which side you choose.
While you're doing this, the judge will probably be taking some notes. Remain standing until the judge looks up from their notes. The person who is making the application, the applicant, should introduce themself first, followed by the other person, the respondent, introducing themself:
Applicant: "Good morning, my name is Jane Doe and this is my application."
Respondent: "I am John Doe."
Once that's done, the respondent can sit down. Usually, the applicant will then move to the little lectern at the centre of the table and make their pitch about why the judge should make the orders they are asking for. When the applicant is done, the applicant sits down and it's the respondent's turn to stand up, move to the lectern, and say why the application is a bad idea.
The judge, the court clerk and the other party are deserving of your respect and courtesy. Plus, you really want the judge to think well of you. Here are some general guides.
For women, something along the line of business casual will do. It doesn't matter whether you're wearing a dress, skirt or slacks. Avoid excessively casual clothing like jogging suits, sweatshirts, runners and such. If you feel driven to wear make-up, remember that you're going to a formal event, not a night out at the Roxy.
Men should also think business casual. If you have a sport jacket, wear that along with a clean pair of pants. Ties and proper suits are nice but not necessary at all. Your shirt should be of the button-up variety and not have a beer logo on it. Don't wear a hat in court.
The general goal is to look respectable and respectful, not like you just rolled out of bed or are gearing up for a night out on the town. Do your best to make it look like it matters to you that you're in court.
Addressing the judge
In the Provincial Court, the judge should be addressed as Your Honour. Masters of the Supreme Court are also addressed as Your Honour. Justices of the Supreme Court are addressed as My Lord or My Lady. Do not call the judge or master "sir," "ma'am," or "dude," or anything else for that matter.
Addressing the other side
If the other side is a lawyer, "Mr. Smith" or "Ms. Smith" will do. Ignore how the lawyers address each other in front of the judge.
If the other side doesn't have a lawyer, it's usually all right to use first names, but it's better to address each other formally as "Mr. _____" and "Ms. _____".
Standing up and sitting down
Always stand when the judge is speaking to you or when you're speaking to the judge, unless of course you are unable to stand. Sit down at all other times.
- Always be early. Simply being on time is your last resort.
- Don't interrupt, no matter how much you want to. Interrupting is rude and makes the transcript impossible to read, if it needs to be read. Above all, never interrupt the judge.
- Don't use foul language. Be polite and courteous at all times.
- Never say that the other side is "lying" or is a "liar." There's usually a better way of getting your point across, without using harsh, judgmental language like that. Say, "my understanding of events is that..." or "perhaps Mr. Smith misremembers what happened, I recall that..."
- Stay calm at all times. No outbursts!
- By the same token, don't make faces or grunt when the other person is talking. You will have your chance to reply; rolling your eyes is not going to convince the judge that you're right.
- If you have an objection to make, do your best to save it until the other side is done. If you simply cannot wait, stand up, wait until the judge recognizes you and explain what your concern is.
- Try your best to speak slowly. The judge will be taking notes of what everyone is saying, and it can be very difficult to keep up with someone who's talking a mile a minute.
- If the judge chastizes you for something, take what the judge is saying to heart — especially if it concerns your conduct in court — and take it like an adult. No pouting.
- If there's something you don't understand, ask for an explanation. Stand and wait until the judge recognizes you, and ask for clarification.
When your case is done
After the judge delivers their judgment, stand up and thank the court, whether you won or lost, and leave the courtroom.
It is extremely poor form to gloat over a victory, or, otherwise, to sulk and rage about a loss. Take it like a grownup and leave the courtroom. Save your boasting or complaining for your friends.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Thomas Wallwork, May 9, 2017.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|