Support Person Guidelines

Many people going to court without a lawyer find that having a trusted friend with them to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents can be a big help. As part of its efforts to improve meaningful access to justice for self-represented litigants, the BC Provincial Court was the first court in Canada to develop and adopt Guidelines for Using a Support Person in Provincial Court.

When can I bring a friend or ‘support person’ to court to help me?
The Court generally welcomes ‘support persons’ to provide quiet help to self-represented litigants in civil and family court trials. However, individual judges may not permit a support person if their presence would be disruptive or unfair in a particular case.

Words used on this page

A litigant is a person who is suing or being sued in a lawsuit.

A self-represented litigant is one who does not have a lawyer and is presenting their own case in court.

A support person is someone who sits beside a self-represented litigant at the front of the courtroom to quietly help them during their trial. A support person is sometimes called a courtroom companion or a “McKenzie friend”, referring to the name of an English court case that dealt with support persons.

What can a support person do?
A support person may:

  • take notes
  • organize documents
  • make quiet suggestions to the litigant
  • provide emotional support
  • do any other task approved of by the judge

Who should act as a support person?
Choose someone who:

  • will remain calm
  • will help you stay focused on the judge, the court procedure, the evidence, and the issues in your trial
  • you can trust with the private information that may be disclosed in court
  • doesn’t have their own agenda or an emotional stake in the proceedings
  • perhaps has helped you prepare for court and is already familiar with your case.

but not:

  • a person whose services you are paying for. They cannot act as a support person.
  • a person who will be a witness in the trial. They cannot act as a support person
  • a person who has a personal agenda or is a member of an advocacy group with a political agenda. They might not put your interests first or be well-received by the judge.
  • a person with a grudge against the other party, or who’s in conflict with them. The risk that their conflict with the other party will become distracting or disruptive during the trial is too great.

The National Self-Represented Litigants Project offers a guide to Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion. See pages 4 to 14 for more information on choosing the right support person.

How should I introduce my support person?
The Court’s Guidelines permit support persons unless there’s a reason to disallow them. But since the judge must decide this, you must ask the judge’s permission to have your support person sit beside you at the start of the trial. When your case is called, walk to the front of the courtroom. Give your name and tell the judge you have a support person with you who understands the Court’s Guidelines. Give the support person’s name and say whether they are a friend or family member.

The judge may ask the other party if they have any objection. If they object, listen to their reasons. When you reply, tell the judge why you need your support person. You can also explain that your support person knows the Court’s Guidelines, knows they cannot speak aloud during the trial, and will remain calm. See pages 17 to 19 of Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion for tips on how best to explain why you need a support person.

Why might a judge refuse to permit a support person?
The judge will want to hear you and understand your case clearly. However, the judge must also hear the other side and ensure that both parties feel fairly treated. Judges need to concentrate on the real issues and the evidence presented in a trial. To do this, they need to maintain control over the courtroom and preserve a calm atmosphere.

A support person can help a self-represented person stay calm and focused. But in some cases their behaviour has been distracting or disruptive. The Guidelines explain that a judge may refuse to allow a support person to sit with a litigant where their presence could be, or becomes, disruptive to the proceedings or would otherwise be unfair to an opposing party. For example, if your new partner and your ex-spouse don’t get along, the judge might not permit your new partner to act as your support person in a family court hearing because it would be disruptive or unfair.

Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion suggests you let the other litigant know in advance that you intend to bring a support person to your trial. You could refer them to the Court’s Guidelines too. By giving them time to learn about support persons and decide whether to bring one themselves, you may avoid objections at the trial.

Can I have a support person at a Small Claims settlement or trial conference, or at a family case conference?

These conferences are usually not held in open courtrooms. They are designed for litigants to discuss possible settlement with a judge’s help. Therefore, the Guidelines don’t authorize support people to attend them.

However, the Guidelines explain that a judge may allow a support person to sit with you in a conference if you ask permission. Usually, a judge will only give permission in a conference if the other party agrees. Still, if the support person is not allowed to be with you in the conference room, you may ask the judge for a break during the conference to speak to them outside the room.

Note: Since May 2020, conferences in family and small claims matters are being conducted by telephone, audio- or video-conference. See Virtual conferences and hearings (by phone or video) for more information.

Where can I get more information about Support Persons?
The Court has distributed an illustrated poster to tell people about the Guidelines.

The National Self-Represented Litigants Project website offers the Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion guide and other helpful information.

The Court has issued NP11, a ‘Notice to the Profession and the Public’ setting out the Guidelines.

This website provides general information only and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. Updated October 2020