Informal Family Court Trials now available in Kamloops

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The BC Provincial Court and the provincial government are well into a multi-year effort to improve the way BC families can resolve disputes. New Provincial Court Family Rules have introduced changes as part of a continuing process of trying new ideas, evaluating them, and applying the lessons learned. The latest step in this process – offering people the option of an “informal trial” – was launched today in Kamloops.

What is an informal trial?

Lawyers spend years learning traditional trial procedures and trial advocacy skills. But litigants often find the traditional trial process confusing and difficult, especially if they don’t have a lawyer. When one or both parties do not have a lawyer, they may find it helpful if the judge sets aside strict court and evidence rules and lets them present their case more naturally.

An informal trial is one in which the judge adapts trial procedures to meet the needs of the parties and help resolve their issues.

Who can have an informal trial?

You can have an informal trial if:

• you have a dispute governed by the BC Family Law Act;
• your court file is in the Kamloops Provincial Court registry;
• all parties have filed a written consent form to participate in an informal trial; and
• the trial judge agrees an informal trial is appropriate.

How does it work?

Informal trials are still held in a courtroom, with the judge wearing robes. The parties may have a support person sit with them to provide quiet emotional support and take notes. Although people usually stand when speaking in court, the judge may invite the parties to speak from their seats.

An informal trial might work like this:

1. The parties introduce themselves. The judge confirms they have filed their consents and explains how the trial will work.

2. The judge might have both parties swear or affirm that their materials and what they tell the court are the truth.

3. Speaking from their place at the “counsel table”, the parties tell the judge about the case. The judge may ask them questions. The judge asks the other party or their lawyer to suggest other questions for the judge to ask. The judge is the only one who questions the parties.

4. The judge may allow any evidence that is relevant, material, and reliable, even if the evidence might not be allowed under the strict rules of evidence. The judge will allow parties to submit relevant documents or other evidence if it will help the judge decide the issues.

5. The parties are usually the only witnesses. Other witnesses are allowed only if the judge agrees they are needed. If the judge hears from other witnesses the judge may ask them questions, including questions suggested by the parties. There are special rules for expert witnesses.

6. The judge may try to help the parties settle some or all of the issues. If the parties agree, the judge can make a final order “by consent”.

7. If the parties don’t agree to resolve an issue, the judge will decide it. The judge may give their decision at the end of the trial, or on a later date – either verbally in the courtroom or in a written judgment.

To learn how a regular trial works, see What can I expect at a family court trial or hearing?

What role does a lawyer play in an informal trial?

A lawyer representing a party at an informal trial can:

• make an opening statement and identify the issues in the case
• suggest questions when the judge asks whether there are additional questions they should ask the other party
• question an expert witness
• make a closing argument about the law at the end of the case.

A lawyer will not be permitted to examine or cross-examine a party. Objections to evidence are generally not permitted.

Why choose an informal trial?

• An informal trial is more flexible and the process is more relaxed than at a regular trial.
• It may be easier to prepare for and take part in, especially for people without a lawyer.
• The strict rules of evidence do not apply. Statements or evidence that might not be allowed at a regular trial may be allowed by the judge at an informal trial.
• Fewer witnesses may be needed so the trial could be shorter.
• The judge is more involved in asking questions and guiding the process than at a regular trial.
• The judge will try to reduce conflict between the parties and help them focus on the children, when children are involved, and the issues in dispute.

What law applies?

Division 5 of Part 9 of the Provincial Court Family Rules covers the informal trials pilot project.

Can you appeal an order made at an informal trial?

A final order made after an informal trial has the same effect as if it were made at a regular trial. It can be appealed to the BC Supreme Court under section 233 of the Family Law Act.

Why is it only available as a pilot project in Kamloops?

Conducting a pilot project in a single location allows the Court and government to assess:

• how the informal trial process works in practice
• whether the informal trial process is accessible and meaningful to participants
• the impact of informal trials on the resources of the Provincial Court, Court Services Branch staff, and other stakeholders involved in supporting parties through the process
• whether it achieves the intended outcomes.

Generally, the choice of a pilot location is based on a variety of factors including the volume of cases and available resources in Provincial Court locations.

Get more information

Printed material at the Kamloops Court Registry:

• Informal Trials Brochure
• Consent to an Informal Trial (includes instructions)

Online and printable material:

Kamloops Informal Trial Pilot

Informal Trial Explainer (describes how it works)
Informal Trial Journey (shows the steps with pictures)
How to Prepare for an Informal Trial - Checklist
Frequently Asked Questions
Consent Form

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