July 13, 2009

Top Ten Tips for Appearing in Civil Chambers

Much of the work of a court happens everyday in civil chambers, where applications are heard on a variety of matters including bankruptcies, foreclosures, family law issues and injunctions to name just a few. Chambers applications used to happen in the judge's office or chambers, but nowadays chambers applications are heard in an ordinary courtroom, full of lawyers waiting their turn to speak to the judge or master.

For people representing themselves in court, very often their first time in a courtroom will be in front of a judge or master in chambers. The experience can be a bit intimidating, especially because the lawyers all seem to know a mysterious protocol and language, and lay people can feel a bit lost. Remember that as a self-represented litigant, you have as much right to be in chambers and be heard as anyone else.

That said, there are some ways to help the judge or master hear you more effectively in British Columbia civil chambers:

1. Arrive early. When you locate your courtroom, go to the front of the courtroom and look at the list of all the different applications which will be heard by the judge or master that day. Find your matter on the list and let the court clerk know that you are present. Give your name and confirm how long you expect your application to take.

2. Depending on the kind of application you are making, your matter may be decided by a master or a judge. The name of the master or the judge should be on the top of the list, or you can ask the clerk. Judges should be addressed as "My Lord" or "My Lady" and masters are called "Your Honour".

3. Take your seat and wait for the court clerk to call your matter. When it is called, go to the front of the room. You and the other lawyer or party (if there is one) will introduce yourselves. The person making the application introduces him or herself first. Each party uses the following format, "My name is John Smith," and then spells their last name. Then say; "I am the applicant (or respondent) in this application".

4. It is very helpful for the judge or master to have a written outline of what it is you are trying to do in your application. Do not make it more than five double-spaced pages. Do include a bit of background, what order you would like the court to make, the reasons you think the order should be made, and any cases or legislation that support making the order. Bring at least four copies; you need to give one to the judge or master, one to the court clerk, one to the other lawyer or party, and one for you to use.

5. If you are the one making the application, prepare a draft order in advance using the court form provided by the registry or available online. Bring your draft order to the registry to have them approve the format of the order. This is called having the order "vetted" by the registry. You might want to do this a day in advance so that if there are major changes to make, you can go home and retype the draft order and get it approved on the morning before the chambers hearing. During your application you can hand up the vetted order to the judge or master. This process saves you from having to type up the order later and have it entered by the registry - a process that can take some time.

6. The court will usually have little or no background information about your application. Start with a 30 second summary of the kind of application you are making and what kind of order you would like the court to make. For example, "This is an application in a family law case. I am seeking an interim child support order for my son and daughter." You can then explain any other relevant details.

7. Never interrupt the other party. This makes you look defensive and the judge or master will just tell you to sit down and wait your turn, so it really doesn't do any good. Each side gets their turn to speak. A useful thing to do while you are waiting for your turn is to take good notes of what the other party is saying so that you can be sure to address all the necessary points when it is your turn.

8. Make sure that you have good authority for your position on the application, besides your opinion that you are right. You don't need many cases (in fact, the judge or master will rarely have time to look at more than a couple), but it is worth finding at least two cases that support your position. There are a number of free online databases where you can search for cases listed on the right-hand side of this blog. Don't forget to bring at least four copies of every case you bring to court (see number 4 above). If you are relying on legislation, make sure you have copies to give to the judge or master as well, since they likely won't have the legislation in the courtroom.

9. Never argue with the judge or master about the terms of the order that they make. This will almost never work, and just aggravates the court. If you disagree with the result of the chambers application, investigate your right of appeal.

10. Lastly, but very importantly, read Rules 51A and 52 of the Supreme Court Rules, which deal with chambers applications. This will help you understand chambers procedures and the kinds of applications which can be heard.

Good luck, and remember that help with civil chambers applications is available through the Pro Bono Civil Duty Counsel project, which provides advice and representation by Vancouver lawyers.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your site .
    I am in Western Australia a state of the country Australia.
    It is a great pity that the State of Western Australia does not support your type of informative information.
    However when I sort Articles 51 A and 52 of the supreme court rules an error appeared.(seekandyouwillfind)Very good as far as I was able to research.Thomas A McHenry


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