Going to Court

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Most people attending court are nervous, but knowing what to expect can help. Here are answers to some of the questions you may have, depending on why you're going to court.

If you are involved in a family or small claims lawsuit or a criminal, traffic or by-law prosecution
If you want to explore alternatives to court
If you are a witness
If you want to watch court proceedings
Finding the right courtroom
Understanding legal terms
Electronic devices
Court etiquette and protocol
BC Provincial Court Locations and Hours

If you are involved in a family or small claims lawsuit or a criminal, traffic or by-law prosecution
The people or companies suing or being sued in a civil or family court lawsuit are often called the “litigants” or the “parties” to the lawsuit. These terms are also used for the prosecutor and defendant in criminal proceedings.

If you don’t have a lawyer
People who appear in court without a lawyer are sometimes called “self-represented litigants” (SRLs) or “unrepresented litigants” (URLs). You do not have to have a lawyer in Provincial Court but a lawyer’s skills and knowledge of the law and procedure can be very helpful, especially in complicated cases.

If you do not have a lawyer, you should try to prepare your case and do legal research yourself. Learn about the law that applies to your case, what you and the "other side" must prove, what defences you may have, and all the possible arguments for your case.

If you are involved in a family or small claims hearing or trial, you may want to bring a support person to sit beside you for emotional support and quiet help. See Guidelines for Using a Support Person in Provincial Court and Information on Support Person Guidelines for more information.

Even if you won’t have a lawyer with you in court you can talk to a lawyer about how to prepare and present your case. More and more lawyers are offering limited or “unbundled” services so you can hire them to do specific tasks for you while you remain responsible for conducting your case.

There are also sometimes Duty Counsel (lawyers provided free by the Legal Aid BC) in BC courthouses to provide limited help in some criminal and family matters. Use the links below to find legal information and advice, sometimes for little or no cost.

Finding a lawyer or legal advice
Find links to organizations that can help you get legal help and lawyers on the Clicklaw website. See also:

Preparing for a trial or hearing
Find resources and advice to hep you prepare for trial.
See our What to expect in court? articles.

If you are a witness ...
If you will be attending court as a witness, find questions and answers at FAQs.
See also:

Victims and Witnesses of Crime and Violence – BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General – information to help with legal questions and emotional effects of crime - includes pamphlets in Chinese, Punjabi, and French
Victims of Crime - Government of Canada - information and assistance including rights, roles, services, bail, trials, sentencing, parole
National Office for Victims information and support to victims of offenders sentenced to jail sentences of two years or more.

If you want to watch court proceedings ...

The Provincial Court welcomes people who want to watch what happens in its courtrooms. Public access to court proceedings is an important principle in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada has said:

The open court principle is of crucial importance in a democratic society. It ensures that citizens have access to the courts and can, as a result, comment on how the courts operate and on proceedings that take place in them. Public access to the courts also guarantees the integrity of judicial processes inasmuch as the transparency that flows from access ensures that justice is rendered in a manner that is not arbitrary, but is in accordance with the rule of law. (CBC v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 2.)

Most trials and other hearings in Provincial Court are open to the public, and you are welcome to attend court to listen and observe. However, while it rarely occurs, legislation does permit a judge to order that a hearing in Provincial Court be closed in a few special circumstances.

In addition, proceedings that focus on mediation and settlement, such as small claims settlement conferences and family conferences, are generally limited to the parties and their lawyers.

You can find out some of the matters scheduled to be heard when you plan to go to court by Looking at the Daily Court Lists online for Small Claims matters or Criminal matters will show you some of the matters scheduled for the day you plan to go to court. Family court lists are not posted online, but there may be family matters scheduled as well.

To find a courthouse near you and see its courtroom hours check BC Provincial Court Locations and Hours. For more information on public access see Public and Media Access Policies.

Another way to monitor what our courts do is to read the judges’ decisions posted online at Judgments & Decisions. Reviewing these decisions and the judges’ reasons will provide a broader perspective on what courts do on a daily basis than the media is able to provide.

Finding the right courtroom
There is a daily court list of the cases that will be heard in each court house. It can be found online and posted outside courtrooms or on digital screens in the courthouse. Use the list to find out the time and courtroom for your case.

See too Learning your way around a courtroom, an eNews explaining the words used for things you’ll find in a BC Provincial Court trial courtroom, who sits where, and some of the customs you’ll see in court.

Understanding legal words and phrases
Clicklaw offers plain language definitions of legal terms, especially those used in B.C. family law, at Terminology. See Court jargon … what the alphabet soup means for explanations of the short forms and acronyms (a short form made up of the first letters of the words being shortened) used in court lists and in BC courtrooms.

Electronic devices
Members of the public may not use electronic devices of any sort (including smartphones, cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets, notebooks, personal digital assistants, Google glasses and similar devices) to transmit or receive text, audio or video, or to record, photograph or digitally transcribe in a courtroom. Many courthouses have wifi that can be used outside the courtrooms, but please turn off any electronic device before you enter the courtroom. See Public and Media Access Policies and eNews for more details. (The policy does permit limited use of some devices by lawyers and accredited journalists.)

Court customs and etiquette
Provincial Court judges are addressed as ‘Your Honour’ inside the courtroom. (Outside court, they are addressed as “Judge”, for example, Judge Smith.) Judicial justices who deal with bail, traffic and bylaw matters are addressed as “Your Worship” when they are presiding. Judicial case managers who preside in some pre-trial court appearances are also addressed as “Your Worship”.

Judges of the B.C. Provincial Court wear black and red robes. People’s lives are affected in significant ways in court, so the formal attire reflects the seriousness of the court proceedings. Lawyers don’t wear robes (called “gowns”) in Provincial Court, although they do in the Supreme Court.

People going to court do not have to wear anything special, but if you own business-like clothing, it’s a good idea to wear it when you come to court. This is a way to show you respect the court process and understand that a court is a more formal setting.

For more detailed information see Court Etiquette and FAQs.