Etiquette for Criminal Matters (1:III)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 4, 2021.|
A. Courtroom Procedure for Self-Represented Litigants
When an accused attends court for a matter, they should check the court lists to confirm which courtroom the matter is to be heard in. If the court is not sitting at the time, the accused should attempt to seek out the Crown Counsel who has conduct of the matter and identify themselves.
In order to get their matter called, the self-represented accused person should indicate to Crown Counsel or the Crown assistant that they are present, self-represented, and ready to proceed. Crown Counsel will proceed with the shortest matters first; priority will also be given to matters for which the accused and their counsel are present. Do not interrupt Crown Counsel when they are addressing a matter.
When the Judge enters or exits the court, the accused should stand. If the court is sitting, the accused should enter the courtroom, and be seated at the chairs located behind the bar.
When the matter is called, the accused should rise and approach the counsel’s table. They should stand on the other side of the podium from the Crown. The rule of thumb is that Crown is seated next to the witness box while the defence and the accused are seated furthest away. In order to get the matter called, the accused should indicate to the sheriff or the Crown that they are ready to proceed.
- NOTE: Provincial Court Judges wear robes and are addressed as “Your Honour” in court while Justices of the Peace wear suits or other clothing, and are addressed as “Your Worship.”
1. Interacting with Crown
When interacting with the Crown (or anyone else for that matter), the accused should always be pleasant and polite. There are times when the accused needs to be more assertive but this should be done in a tactful way. The accused should always respect the Crown, even when pointing out errors.
2. Courtroom Demeanour & Etiquette
- Be well-groomed and well-dressed;
- Always be polite to everyone in the courtroom;
- Never mislead the court;
- Be punctual. Do not waste the court’s time;
- Address the court in a loud clear voice. Most microphones in the courtrooms are only for recording and not for amplification purposes;
- Stand when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom;
- Stand when addressing the Court, being addressed by the Court, objecting and responding to objections. Stand when (or if) you are being sentenced or convicted;
- Sit when Crown Counsel is speaking to the court, or interjects to make an objection;
- Stand on the other side of the podium from Crown Counsel and furthest away from the witness box;
- Be well prepared. Know the factual basis of your file, the applicable law and the relevant procedural rules. Part of being well prepared means being able to answer questions from the court;
- Be respectful in your comments. In your dealings with the Court adopt a formal approach which reflects courtesy and respect for the authority of the court. Let the court know what you are doing with phrases such as “with your Honour’s leave I would like to approach the witness to show him his statement";
- Do not interrupt the judge. Listen to what the judge says;
- Pause briefly to consider your words and then respond;
- Address all remarks to Crown Counsel through the judge;
- Do not quarrel with Crown Counsel, witnesses or the Court; and
- Slow down. The judge will likely be taking notes, if you see that the judge is not looking at you and writing things down pause and wait.
3. Appearing Remotely
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic an increasing number of court appearances are done remotely, both by legal representatives and accused persons. In British Columbia, the Provincial Courts have chosen to use Microsoft Teams (“MS Teams”) for remote court appearances. You can either dial in to the MS Teams meeting using a phone or join via a computer with a working internet connection and appear via video call.
If you wish to attend your appearance remotely, you should find out which courthouse and courtroom your appearance is taking place at, using Court Services Online. Then call the court registry for that courthouse, tell them the courtroom, date and time of your appearance and ask for either the dial in number or the e-mail link for MS Teams for that courtroom on that day. You may also wish to ask for the conference number to ensure you attend the correct courtroom.
If you intend to appear remotely, and you know which Crown is assigned to your court file, it is a good idea to email or call that Crown and let them know you will be appearing remotely and whether you expect to attend by telephone or MS Teams. All technology is prone to breakdowns and interruptions. If Crown knows that you intend to appear by MS Teams they will be slow to seek a bench warrant if you/the accused is not present on the phone or on MS Teams at the correct time.
If you appear on MS Teams, you should keep your camera and microphone off until your matter is called. To let Crown Counsel and the court know you are there, use the chat function of MS Teams to announce what matter you are present in court to deal with (last name and number of matter). Once your matter is called you should turn on your camera but only unmute when it is your turn to speak.
Please note, that if you appear remotely, it is likely that your matter will be called later than if you attended in person. Please also note, that if you are a law student, it is encouraged that you attend your appearances in person (unless you are ill) so you can observe the workflow of the active court.
For further information about appearing remotely and official court rules please refer to the memorandum produced by the Provincial Court of British Columbia: NP 21 Virtual Proceedings & Remote Attendance in the Provincial Court.
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