Your Day in Court – Preparing for your Court Hearing
- Scheduling Order
- Preparing for the hearing of your case
- Courtroom Etiquette
- General Courtroom Procedure
- Presenting Your Case
The following information is for guidance only, to give you an idea on what you can expect as you prepare for your court hearing. This document does not contain legal advice. The information provided below is purely procedural and may not apply in every situation. This document is not intended to guide you through all the intricacies of a full Trial. There may be other important steps, depending on the circumstances, which you may need to take that are not set out in this document.
The directions and instructions of the presiding judge and the court registrar will prevail over the information contained herein.
We invite you to attend, for observation purposes, another hearing prior to your court appearance. This will help you become familiar with the Court’s procedure and better understand how a hearing is conducted. Simply call the office of the Registry for information on scheduled hearings at a location nearest to you or visit our Web site at www.fct-cf.gc.ca (see Hearings Lists on the Court Files page).
The Federal Court’s courtrooms and Registry offices are wheelchair accessible. If you have special needs or require an interpreter, contact the Registry of the Court immediately so that arrangements may be made in advance to accommodate your needs.
Please see the Policy on Public and Media Access – Reference Card, prepared for the convenience of the public and media, to be read in conjunction with the Court’s complete Policy on Public and Media Access.
The “Glossary of Terms” provides definitions for terms commonly used in the Federal Court, which you may come upon during the course of your proceeding.
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2. Scheduling Order
When the Court has scheduled a date for the hearing of your case, you will be sent an Order which will confirm the place, date, time and duration of the hearing. Parties are expected to proceed on that date.
If you are not available for the date assigned for your hearing due to exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, a request to adjourn the hearing must be made by way of a motion to the Court, as soon as possible (see Adjournments).
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3. Preparing for the hearing of your case
You are responsible for preparing your case to the best of your ability. To help you in presenting your case, you may want to prepare a detailed outline of what you think the Judge needs to know to make a decision. This is for your own use, when presenting your case to the Court. Set up your information in an organized way (for example, by file folders with labels), so that you can find things easily.
The main thing to keep in mind as you prepare your case for the courtroom is that the Judge uses the parties’ submissions made to the Court to make its decision. You will need to decide what the main points and issues are in your case and stick to those while presenting your case to the Court.
It is your responsibility to learn the rules that apply to you and your court proceeding. All documents that you intend to rely upon at the hearing of your case need to be filed with the Registry in advance and in accordance with the Federal Courts Rules. You must be familiar with the facts of the case and should learn about the law and legal principles that apply to your court proceeding.
Every argument you wish to make will be more persuasive if you can point to a legal authority that agrees with your position (for example, legislation or reports of litigated cases, which is called case law). It is possible to find reports of recent and previous Federal Court cases on the Decisions page of the Court website, which is updated weekly.
You will have to arrange for the correct number of copies of any documents you intend to submit to the Court at the hearing, for example, any case law. You should provide one copy to the Court, one to the opposing party (or their lawyer) and one for yourself. This will enable both the Judge and counsel for the other party to better follow the presentation of your case.
It is recommended that you bring all relevant documentation which pertains to your case, with you to the hearing. Before you go to court, review all of your material.
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Your hearing will involve several participants, including:
- the Judge, who controls the proceedings during the hearing and whose role it is to listen to your case and your evidence in a neutral, impartial manner;
- the Court Registrar, whose role it is to keep a record of material events that transpire during the hearing, which may include using a digital audio recording system (DARS) to record the hearing;
- a Court Usher, who is responsible for maintaining order in the courtroom;
- a Court Reporter, who might be present to record the proceedings;
- a lawyer representing the other party in your proceeding; and
- your lawyer (if you have one).
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It is very important that you show up on time for your hearing. You should arrive and be ready for your hearing at least 15 minutes prior to the time scheduled for commencement. For the hearing of a motion at a General Sittings of the Federal Court, your case may not be called first but your presence at the scheduled time is mandatory.
All courthouses have Commissionaires or security guards, who can tell you in what courtroom your hearing will take place, if you do not already know.
Upon entering a courthouse or prior to going into a courtroom, you will be asked to pass through a walk through screening device or be screened using a handheld screening wand. You will also be asked to place personal items (i.e. change, keys, laptop, coat, etc.) in a plastic bin, which will be passed through an x-ray machine.
Before the beginning of proceedings, notify the Court Registrar of your presence. The Court Registrar sits at the front of the courtroom, just below the Judge’s podium. The Court Registrar will provide instructions, including where to sit and other information. The Applicant always sits on the left-hand side of the courtroom and the Respondent always sits on the right-hand side of the courtroom (when facing the judge’s podium). You should use the front table, if there is more than one.
Guests are welcome. However, only those who have a direct role in the hearing are permitted to sit at the table for counsel. Other guests are seated in the audience.
We encourage you to address any questions you may have to the Court Registrar before the sitting is commenced. The Court Registrar cannot, however, answer any questions of a legal nature.
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6. Courtroom etiquette
- Dress neatly and in clean clothes.
- Cell phones and similar devices must be turned off and cannot be used at any time during the hearing but only during breaks.
- Do not bring food or beverages in the courtroom.
- Do not chew gum or wear a hat in the courtroom.
- Be respectful to everyone in the courtroom, which includes the Judge, court staff and the opposing party or lawyer.
- When speaking to the Judge or when he or she speaks to you, please stand and address the Judge as “Justice”, "Mr. Justice" or “Madam Justice”.
- Prothonotaries of the Federal Court may be addressed as “Your Honour” or as “Mr. Prothonotary” or “Madam Prothonotary” along with the family name of the Prothonotary.
- The Court Registrar is addressed as "Mr. / Ms. Registrar".
- Address the opposing party or lawyer by their last name and title, for example, Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith.
- Always face the Judge and speak loud and clear when presenting your case.
- Do not interrupt when the Judge or the other party is speaking. Only one person is allowed to speak at a time.
- If you disagree with something that the other party tells the Judge, write it down. Do not speak to the other party and tell them that you don’t agree. The Judge will give you time to disagree but only when it is your turn to speak.
- If you can’t hear a witness, the other party, a lawyer or the Judge, you should politely let the Judge know.
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7. General Courtroom Procedure
At the opening of the Court or the resumption of the Court after a recess or adjournment, the Usher enters the courtroom in front of the Judge. The Usher will call “Order” when the Judge arrives, at which point everyone in the courtroom must stand and remain standing until the Judge sits. The Court Registrar then proclaims the Court open or resumed, as the case may be, and is seated. The presiding Judge controls the proceedings during the hearing.
Generally, there is a morning break, a lunch break and an afternoon break.
At the close of the Court, or at a recess or adjournment, the usher will call “Order”, at which point everyone in the courtroom must stand. The Court Registrar will make the closing, recess or adjournment proclamation, as the case may be. The Judge will then rise and leave the courtroom, preceded by the usher.
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8. Presenting Your Case
Generally, the Judge will explain the way the hearing will proceed. If you are the Applicant, in most instances, you will be asked to present your case first, which is the opportunity to make your argument or submissions to the Court. This simply involves telling the Judge the facts and the reasons for your case and providing any relevant statute or case law in support of your explanations. When making your argument or submissions to the Court, stand up at the lectern. Introduce yourself. When you speak, look to and address the Judge. However, it’s okay to look down and read from your notes.
Many people prefer to begin their oral argument with a summary of the facts of the case, to refresh the Judges’ mind. Some Judges will tell you that this is not necessary. If they do, you can skip over the facts.
Your oral argument is essentially to highlight the key aspects of your case. You do not need to read your memorandum to the court, but you may want to explain things that you think were not clear, or explain why you think that your position should prevail over the other party’s position.
The Judge is neutral and independent. The Judge has no knowledge of your particular case beyond what has been set out in your documents and the other party’s documents, so he or she may ask you additional questions during your argument. It is fine to stop briefly to think before replying. If you cannot think of an answer right away, it is sometimes helpful to ask the Judge if you can come back to that point later on in your submissions, so that you have time to prepare a good response. Usually they will permit this.
Once you are done with your submissions, you may say something like, “unless the Court has any further questions, those are my submissions.” If the Court does not ask questions, you may sit down.
At this point, the Respondent will make their argument in response to the Applicant’s case. If you are the Applicant, remain seated unless the Judge asks a question. Do not interrupt when the Judge or other party is speaking. You will have an opportunity to reply, so it is a good idea to take notes to help you remember what the Respondent said.
The Applicant’s Reply is the opportunity to respond to what the Respondent has said in their argument or submissions to the Court. The Reply is important to the Applicant’s argument as it lets the Applicant contradict any facts they believe the Respondent got wrong or to argue against a new argument raised by the Respondent. The Applicant cannot raise any new points in their Reply. This time may be used only to address points raised by the Respondent in their oral submissions.
Once both parties have concluded, the Judge may take a recess, pronounce a decision from the Bench or reserve the decision. In the latter case, this means the Judge will postpone the delivery of their decision to a later date to allow time to consider the submissions of the parties and prepare a written decision. Once a decision of the Judge is available, you will be contacted by the Registry to advise you of the decision. You will then receive an official copy of the order or judgment by registered mail or if you prefer, by electronic means, including facsimile or electronic mail.
Please note that if a decision is rendered with respect to a final disposition of the matter, it will be published on the Federal Court website and/or in other publications, as the public has a right to this information.
Points to remember
- Make a good impression – dress neatly and in clean clothes
- Be respectful
- Arrive early
- Come prepared
- Never interrupt the Judge
- Stand when you are speaking
- Remain calm and make clear statements
- Do not wear a hat or chew gum in the courtroom
- Do not bring food or beverages into the courtroom.
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During the hearing of a motion, application or action the parties should be prepared to inform the Court as to whether they have agreed on the disposition and/or amount of costs.
If the parties have not settled the disposition and/or amount of costs, they should be prepared to make submissions on those issues to the presiding Judge or Prothonotary before the end of the hearing.
If you have incurred costs for which the Federal Courts Rules provide, you may ask the Judge for costs when you ask him or her to allow your case.
Note that no costs shall be awarded to or payable by any party in respect of an application for leave or an application for judicial review under the Federal Courts Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection Rules unless the Court, for special reasons, so orders.
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Questions may be forwarded to the office of the Registry of the Federal Court which is most convenient to you. A list of the Federal Court office locations, addresses and phone numbers is accessible at www.fct-cf.gc.ca under “Registry”.
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on the Federal Court website provides answers to questions that are frequently asked by litigants.