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Courtroom Etiquette - Trial

Before the Trial

  • Make sure you have spoken to your witnesses, and they know when and where they are to go, and what you want them to bring with them.
  • Make sure you have all of the documents that you want the judge to see – even if they have been filed with the court before.  Make 2 copies of each document – so that you have the original for the judge, a copy for you and a copy for the other party.
  • Organize all of your court documents and other documents so that you know where they are and can easily put your hands on them in the trial.
  • Prepare lists of questions that you want to ask your witnesses, the other party and the other party’s witnesses.

What to bring

  • All of your witnesses.
  • One copy of each of the documents you have filed with the court.
  • One copy of each of the documents the other party has filed with the court.
  • Original and two copies of any documents you want to show the judge during the trial.
  • Your lists of questions.
  • A pen and paper to make notes

What to wear

  • You do not have to dress formally for court, but you should dress conservatively and respectfully.   A suggestion would be to dress as if you were going to a job interview.
  • Remember that all Alberta courts have airport style security and any object that may be used as a weapon will be taken away when you enter the building.

Location and Time of Court

  • Court begins promptly at the time you were given by the Trial Coordinator.  It is best to arrive early, so that you have time to arrange your materials before court starts.

Duty Counsel

  • Duty Counsel are not available for help with trials.  If you need help from a lawyer, you should arrange to hire one, either privately or through Legal Aid.  Make sure to do this several weeks or months before your trial date.

In the Courtroom

  • In some locations, there are electronic displays showing which matters are in which courtroom.  In other locations, there are paper lists.  Check your name on the either the display or the list to make sure you are in the right courtroom.  When the courtroom is opened by the clerk, you may go in and sit in one of the benches in the back of the room.
  • Turn off your cell phone and throw away your gum before court begins.
  • The clerk sits at a desk in front of the Judge and makes notes on a computer. 
  • Your witnesses must wait outside the courtroom until it is there turn to go on the witness stand.  After they have given their evidence, they can remain in the courtroom or leave.
  • The judge will be seated in the centre of the courtroom, and you must stand when he/she enters or leaves the room.

When your case is called

  • Go to the front of the court room when your name is called and sit at one of the tables. The other party or their lawyer will sit on the other side of the courtroom.  There is a podium in the middle where you may stand when you give your presentation to the judge or question witnesses.   
  • Stand whenever you speak to the judge or the judge speaks to you.
  • In the Court of Queen’s Bench, if the judge is a woman, you can call her “My Lady”, or “Madam Justice” or “Ma’am”.  If the judge is a man, you can call him “My Lord”, or “Mr Justice” or “Sir”.  Do not call the judge “Your Honour” or “Your Worship” or “Your Majesty”.
  • In Provincial Court, you call the judge “Your Honour”, or “Sir” or “Ma’am”.
  • The usual trial follows the following process, although you should listen for and follow any instructions from the Judge.
Which person What they do

Plaintiff (or Applicant)

Introduces themselves and the other party (or their lawyer)

Plaintiff

Gives an “Opening Statement”.  They explain to the judge what the issues are to be decided, and what they hope to prove during the course of the trial

Defendant (Respondent)

Gives an “Opening Statement” in the same manner as the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff

Goes to the witness stand and gives their evidence.

Defendant

Cross examines the Plaintiff

Judge

May ask questions of the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff

Calls each of their witnesses in turn.  Asks them questions to have them give their evidence to the court.

Defendant

Cross examines each witness after they are examined by the Plaintiff.

Judge

May ask questions of each witness.

Defendant

Goes to the witness stand and gives their evidence.

Plaintiff

Cross examines the Defendant

Defendant

Calls each of their witnesses in turn.  Asks them questions to have them give their evidence to the court.

Plaintiff

Cross examines each witness after they are examined by the Defendant.

Judge

May ask questions of each witness.

Plaintiff

Gives a “Closing Statement”.  They summarize the evidence and make arguments about why the judge should decide in their favour.

Defendant

Gives a “Closing Statement”.  They summarize the evidence and make arguments about why the judge should decide in their favour.

Plaintiff

Allowed to respond to any arguments from the Defendant that they have not already dealt with.

Judge

Makes a decision.

Both parties

Thank the judge

  • If you are the Plaintiff / Applicant and are self-represented, your court order may be typed up for you.  Follow any instructions the judge may give you about arranging to have the Order typed.

Security

  • A Sheriff is usually available in the hallways before court begins and sits on either the left or the right-hand side of the courtroom while court is in session.
  • If you are concerned for your safety, talk to the Sheriff.  They can assist you.
  • If you act in an aggressive or threatening manner to any person in the court house, the Sheriff may escort you out.

Helpful Hints

  • Please do not bring children. Misbehaving children will annoy the judge and will not help your case, and information shared in the courtroom may not be appropriate for children to hear.
  • Do not eat, drink or chew gum/tobacco in the courtroom.  You can bring in and drink bottled water.  Remove your hat in the courtroom.  Do not talk to others while court is in session.
  • Turn off cell phones, pagers and music devices.
  • The court proceeding is being recorded, even after the judge leaves the courtroom.  The recording equipment will pick up every conversation in the room.
  • It is OK to discuss your case (outside the courtroom) and try to reach an agreement.  The judge will always prefer that you settle your case, rather than having them decide.
  • If you have any documents for the judge, hand them to the clerk, and he/she will hand them to the judge.  Give a copy of the document to the other party or their lawyer.
  • Do not interrupt the other party.  You will have your chance to speak when they are done.  It is helpful to make notes of what you want to say, so you don’t forget when it is your turn.
  • Do not make noises or faces when the other party or witnesses are speaking.
  • Do not argue with the judge.
  • If you do not understand exactly what the judge has ordered, you can ask the judge to clarify what they have said.  If the judge has dealt with part of your issues, but not all, you can ask the judge for their decision on the remaining issues.