How Do I Find an Order or Another Court Document?

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This information is for people who have already been to court and need to find a copy of a document prepared in that court proceeding, such as a court order or an affidavit.

Locating court documents[edit]

There is no central registry for court records and documents. To get a copy of a court document you must go to the particular court that dealt with your proceeding, since that's the court registry that will have your file. The BC Government has an online directory of courthouse locations with contact information.

Restrictions on accessing family law files[edit]

Overall, the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court have the primary responsibility for establishing policies on access to court records for their respective courts. The Court Services Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General, which runs the registries, is responsible for maintaining court records and following these policies. In general, these court records access policies aim to strike a balance between sometimes conflicting objectives:

  • promoting transparency and the established rule that courts be open to the public,
  • ensuring compliance with legislation that restricts disclosure in certain cases, and
  • curtailing access as necessary:
    • to protect social values of critical importance (for example the privacy of children),
    • where the ends of justice would be subverted by disclosure, or
    • where documents in the court file might be used for an improper purpose.

Due to their nature, family law proceedings are among the more restricted types of court files. Generally speaking, a family law proceeding is any case that involves:

  • the Divorce Act
  • the Family Law Act
  • the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act
  • adoption proceedings,
  • child protection proceedings, or anything under the Child, Family & Community Service Act (CFCSA), and
  • Adult Guardianship Act proceedings.

For most family law proceedings, with the exception of adoption, child protection, or adult guardianship proceedings which are more tightly restricted, the public can learn basic docket information about a proceeding. Basic docket information includes the names of the parties, the file number, and where and when it was filed, but nothing more.

To read actual court files in a family law proceeding, you must be a party or a lawyer. And even then, there are limits and exceptions:

  • In adoption proceedings, only the Director of Adoptions can search the file without an order of the court.
  • For CFCSA proceedings, only the parties and their lawyers (not just any lawyer) can search the file without a court order.
  • For any family law proceeding, only the parties and their lawyers (not just any lawyer) may search for court exhibits (things entered as evidence at trial or a hearing, but not things attached to an affidavit) without a court order.
  • For transcripts of informal hearings (e.g. judicial case conferences, case planning conferences, and settlement conferences, as opposed to trials or chambers hearings), no one can get access without a court order.

Be sure to read the relevant records access policy for the court you're in. And make sure you bring some photo ID if you are a party and want to go to the registry to see your court file.

Requesting copies and costs[edit]

When visiting a court registry to request court documents, please be aware that you can look at the file without charge, but there is a fee for the registry staff to produce copies of documents in the court file. They usually accept payment in cash or debit card only. Credit cards are not typically accepted.

Authorization for third-party document retrieval[edit]

If you no longer live near the court that dealt with your proceeding, or if it is difficult for you to appear in person at the registry, it may be possible to have someone else pick it up for you. That person will need, at a minimum, a letter from you to show they are a "person authorized in writing by a party" so that they can search the court file and get copies of documents on your behalf. Check with the court registry to find out exactly what the registry staff need to see before they release your file to someone other than you.

Understanding document availability[edit]

There are a few other things that are good to know:

  • the court will not let you take your file out of the courthouse,
  • the court will not let you take a document from your file, but you can get photocopies made (be warned, copying is $1 per page in the Supreme Court),
  • the court will only have files that are less than three or so years old available at hand,
  • files that are three to seven years old may be in on-site storage, and there will be a delay of a few hours before the court can get the file for you, and
  • files older than seven or so years are usually stored off-site, and there will be a delay of a few days while the file is retrieved.

Also note that court files older than 15 years are generally destroyed, with the exception of certain materials like court orders which are sent to BC Archives. For information about archived court documents read the handy online information page from Courthouse Libraries BC's Our Legal Knowledge Base: Court Documents at the Provincial Archives

More information[edit]

For more information refer to:

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Negin Saberi, September 15, 2023.

Creativecommonssmall.png 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.