Gary Bhattal, Calgary Family Lawyer
Many individuals cannot afford to pay a lawyer, leaving them with the challenge of self-representation in court. At first glance, self-representation would appear to be daunting and stressful. However, along with the right mentorship or legal coaching at your side, good preparation will alleviate anxiety, allowing you to self-represent efficiently and effectively.
Many cases are won or lost on the level of organization done before the first step into the courtroom. As a self-represented litigant, you will know the facts of your case well – the essential leap forward is to understand the law and apply it to those facts. One good way of researching the law is to make the most of Canlii (Canadian Legal Information Institute) – a free legal search engine that allows you to read previous reported decisions from many different areas of law. All you need to do is search terms for matters like yours. For example, you can search “child support” or “spousal support”. Reading these decisions will give you a better understanding of your case.
Also vital to your readiness for court: obtaining all the evidence to be used at trial in a process known as ‘Discovery’. Discovery allows for the gathering of all relevant facts, the witnesses that will testify, and the exhibits you may wish to enter at trial. You can exchange documents through Affidavits of Records, a Notice to Disclosure or through Questioning the other side under oath and asking them to “undertake” to produce documents.
One particular point of emphasis: a Judge may make an adverse inference against you if you have not provided complete financial disclosure before a trial. An adverse inference occurs when a judge finds that you deliberately failed to produce a document and as a result concludes that you are intentionally hiding some facts and then makes a negative decision against your case as a result. Judges take disclosure seriously; the lack of financial disclosure was viewed as the ‘cancer of family law’ in the Supreme Court case of Michael v Graydon.
Oftentimes, there are deadlines to disclose your list of witnesses and exhibits before trial. These can usually be found in the court order setting trial. If no deadlines are stipulated, it is advisable to submit your witness list at least 45 days before trial and disclose your documents 21 days before trial.
If your trial is scheduled in Provincial Court, the list of witnesses and exhibits will be outlined in trial readiness forms and confirmed in a pre-trial conference. Here are some other ways to help make your case successful:
- Watch a live or recorded court hearing that addresses similar issues to yours. This will allow you to see how judges manage the courtroom and how lawyers and parties act in court.
- Arrive early to the courthouse, ensuring you have enough time to comfortably park, get through security, and get to the courtroom before your case is called.
- Dress for success. Wear a suit or other business attire. Do not show up in a hat, sunglasses or runners.
- Have a binder with all the exhibits and affidavits organized and sectioned.
- Have your opening statement ready to go. This is a brief summary of the case and the position you intend to present and advocate for.
- Come with binders of all your affidavits and other documents you want to rely on at trial and make sure it is organized with tabs. Make 4 copies of this binder as you need one, the judge needs one, the other side needs one and any witnesses may need to refer to it as well. Make sure to send this binder to the other side at least 5 days before trial.
For further tips on self-representation, or to hire a legal coach or navigator to help you with your case in the background, call Coach My Case today for your free consultation.