Are You Representing Yourself in Court?
These tips are directed specifically to situations where you are bringing or responding to an application in chambers (a trial is more complicated but these basic tips will also apply generally). You will appear before either a master or a judge.
Tip #1 – Preparing Your Case
Well before you actually get to court, you should research the legal issues that apply to your case, put together a chronology of the important facts, collect and organize the documents and other evidence that you intend to rely on, and write out an outline of the argument that you would like to make to the court to persuade the judge to rule in your favour.
There will usually be a Notice of Application and Application Response that have been filed by the parties in advance (along with their affidavits in support), but sometimes these documents have been hastily prepared and do not contain everything they should.
Your material should be organized in a way that will make it easy for you to find the items that you wish to draw the judge’s attention to during your presentation. Make copies of everything that you intend to refer to both for the judge and for the opposing party/lawyer (if they haven’t already been filed and delivered) and hand them out when you stand up to begin your presentation to the court.
Tip #2 – How to Act in Court
Be at the courtroom at 9:45 a.m. and check in with the court clerk so he/she knows you are there. Tell the clerk the number of your case on the chambers list, your name and that you are representing yourself. If you know that the opposing party or their lawyer is there as well, you can tell the clerk.
Be appropriately dressed for court. It shows that you respect the judge and the judicial process. Do not chew gum and do not bring coffee or other drinks into the courtroom with you (and NO food). There is water on the ‘counsel table’ that you can pour for yourself before you begin if you are going to be dealing with an application that is longer than 10 -15 minutes in length (or if you have a dry mouth).
Introduce yourself by name and as the plaintiff or defendant, claimant or respondent. Speak clearly and loudly (but don’t yell at the judge). Don’t rush. Speak at a normal rate. Relax and take a deep breath before you start.
Don’t talk when the judge or the opposing party/lawyer is speaking. You will get your turn. Stand up when you speak to the judge.
A judge should be addressed as “My Lord” or “My Lady”. A Master is always “Your Honour”.
Take the process seriously and behave accordingly.
Tip #3 – How to Present Your Case
If you have properly prepared as in #1, you will be ready to present your case to the judge. Provide the judge and the opposing party/lawyer with a copy of your chronology and follow your outline of your argument which will lead you through your points and remind you when to direct the judge to an exhibit in one of your affidavits or the opposing party’s affidavit (if it is helpful to your case), or to a paragraph in a decision that you are using to support your case (this is generally referred to as “caselaw”).
If you have a good, clearly written outline that is an improvement on what is in your Notice of Application or Application Response, you can also provide a copy of it to the judge and the opposing party/lawyer so they can follow along. This often makes it easier for the judge to ask you questions and often cuts short the time needed for your presentation/argument.
Be prepared to answer the judge’s questions when asked.
Although it is not expected of a self-represented litigant, when you are finished you can say to the judge “unless you have any further questions “My Lord/My Lady”, those are my submissions”. If the judge indicates that he/she has no more questions for you, thank him/her and sit down.
If you are the applicant, it will then be the respondent’s turn (when the respondent is finished you may have the right to reply if there is something new in the respondent’s argument that you did not deal with in your presentation). Do not interrupt the respondent’s presentation unless the judge asks for your comments directly. When the respondent is finished (or if you have a reply, when you are finished), the judge will give a decision, reserve the decision until a later time, or perhaps take a short adjournment and then come back and give an oral decision from the bench. Win or lose, when the matter is finished, say “thank you My Lord/My Lady”. Do not make any derogatory or ‘sore loser’ comments. Be mature about it even if it is really hard for you and you think the judge was wrong. You may have an appeal or be able to apply for leave to appeal depending on what your matter consists of.
This is just a brief overview of what you can expect if you want to represent yourself in B.C. Supreme Court for a chambers application.
If you feel that you will need some assistance with part or parts of what needs to be done to give you the best chance of success, we are here to help.
That is what unbundling of legal services is all about. If you need the benefit of legal experience to put together, for example, a Notice of Application, an Application Response or an outline of your argument, or you just want to discuss the process with lawyers who have been there, give us a call. You have options.