Appearing in Court by Phone
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Normally, people must appear in court in person
People suing or being sued (parties) who are not represented by a lawyer, must usually appear (attend) in person, not by phone, at hearings in:
- BC Provincial Court (family, traffic, criminal and small claims cases)
- BC Supreme Court (for various types of cases), and other courts and decision-making bodies in BC
If a person required to attend a hearing does not show up, a court may rule against them.
People can ask to appear in court by phone
If a person wants to appear in court by phone, they usually need to get court approval. And they need to get the court approval well before the hearing.
A court may not approve the request if it thinks someone needs to appear in person to:
- confirm their identity
- reduce the risk of unseen and improper influences
- make procedures, like viewing of documents, easier
- allow the judge or other decision-maker to see and consider the person’s facial expressions and body language
Check with the registry of the court or decision-maker
If you want to appear in court by phone, check rules and deadlines with the registry of the court or other decision-maker.
Small claims court
Under Rule 17(16) of the small claims rules, a hearing, other than a trial or hearing requiring sworn evidence, may be held by phone if a person does not live or carry on business within a reasonable distance from the hearing location, or if exceptional circumstances exist. Rule 16.1(7) says that in addition to this, a judge may hear an application (except if sworn evidence may be required) by phone if all parties consent or the registrar is satisfied that no party will suffer prejudice from a phone hearing.
Rule 17(16.1) says an application for a phone hearing must be made under Rule 16(3) to a registrar. The latter rule requires applicants to use Form 16, follow instructions on the form, and then file it at the registry.
Other provincial court divisions and other decision-makers
Procedures in family, traffic, and criminal cases, and in cases before other BC decision-makers differ. Most of these courts and decision-makers require a request—before the hearing—based on exceptional circumstances before they will make an order allowing a phone appearance.
Rules for witnesses (people who testify) at hearings differ. Witnesses must sometimes testify in person. Other times, they are required, or allowed, to testify by a formal written statement, sworn or affirmed before a lawyer, notary public, or court official.
Other rules apply to other participants, including interpreters, support people, observers, and others.
[updated January 2018]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy and edited by John Blois.
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