Appearing in Court by Phone (Script 433)
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In some situations, parties may be able to attend court by telephone. But they will need to get court approval — in advance. Telephone hearings are more available before tribunals.
Understand your legal rights
Normally, parties must attend court in person
In a court proceeding in BC, the people directly involved in the lawsuit (called the parties) must usually attend in person at any court hearing, or have a lawyer appear on their behalf.
If a party does not show up, a court may rule against them.
This rule applies generally to proceedings in Provincial Court and Supreme Court in BC. There are some exceptions, however, where parties can ask to attend court by phone. We explain these here.
In some situations, parties can ask to attend court by phone
In some situations, parties may be able to attend court by phone. But parties will need to get court approval — in advance.
For example, in BC Supreme Court, a party in a civil case can apply to court to have an application heard by phone or videoconference.
In Small Claims Court, certain types of hearings can be held by phone:
- if a party does not live or carry on business within a reasonable distance from the court location, or
- if exceptional circumstances exist.
(The option of a phone hearing in Small Claims Court does not apply for a trial or a hearing requiring sworn evidence.)
A party seeking to have a phone hearing in Small Claims Court must apply to court by completing an application to the registrar (in Form 16). See the court’s Filing Assistant at justice.gov.bc.ca for instructions.
Generally speaking, a court may decline the request for a party to attend by phone if the court 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 court. If you want to appear in court by phone, check rules and deadlines with the registry of the court for the case you’re involved in.
Rules for tribunals vary, but many offer phone hearings
A tribunal is a body that hears disputes and makes decisions in a specific area. It is like a court but less formal. The BC Human Rights Tribunal, which deals with human rights complaints, is an example of a tribunal.
Every tribunal follows its own set of rules and procedures.
Telephone hearings are a common way for tribunals to resolve matters. Some let parties choose the type of hearing they would like to have. The tribunal may post this information on its website or it may contact parties directly to give them this advice.
If a hearing is to take place by telephone, the tribunal will set the date, time and contact information for the hearing and notify the parties. If a party who has been notified does not participate, the tribunal may proceed with the hearing and make a decision without hearing from that party.
Check with the tribunal. Check the tribunal’s website or give them a phone call to ask about their support for telephone hearings. The AdminLawBC Online Help Guide at adminlawbc.ca has a list of tribunals in BC, and tips for participating in telephone hearings.
If you are a witness
If you have information relevant for a court case, you may be called as a witness to tell the court (testify) about what you know. Under BC law, a witness may be permitted to testify in a court proceeding by videoconference.
The party calling the witness must give notice to the court and the other party at least five days before the witness is scheduled to testify.
It’s open to the other party to object to the witness appearing by videoconference. If they do, the court has to consider whether testifying in this way would be “contrary to the principles of fundamental justice”. The court can consider factors such as the location and circumstances of the witness, the costs involved for the witness to be physically present, and the nature of the witness’ evidence. The onus is on the party seeking to exclude videoconferencing.
[updated January 2018]
The above was last reviewed for legal accuracy and edited by Adam Roberts, Adam J. Roberts.
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