Your Day in Court

Self-represented litigant

You are entitled to represent yourself in any matter before the Federal Court, however, in making this choice, you should consider that this comes with important responsibilities such as learning and understanding the law and the procedural rules that apply to your case and doing the necessary legal research to support and argue your case before the court. Representing yourself before the court may prove to be more complicated than you anticipated. If you would like to be represented by a lawyer but do not know where to go, see our webpage on how to find legal help.

Except in very rare circumstances, court hearings are open to the public.  You are welcome to observe another hearing prior to your court appearance to have a better understanding of how hearings are conducted. To find a hearing scheduled in your area see Hearing Lists

Here is an indication of what you can typically expect as you prepare for your court hearing. There may be other important steps depending on the nature of your case.

Before the hearing

When your matter is ready to be heard, you will receive an Order from the Court confirming the place, date, time and duration of the hearing.

You should contact the Registry immediately if you:

  • are unable to attend the hearing. The registry will explain the steps and conditions under which an adjournment may be obtained. Otherwise, you are expected to be present and ready to proceed on that date.
  • require an interpreter from one official language into the other as the Registry will need to make arrangements in advance of the hearing.
     
    Prepare for your hearing to the best of your ability
  • Familiarize yourself with the law, the rules of procedure and the legal principles that apply to your case.
  • Prepare a detailed outline of the main points and issues you think the Court needs to know to make a decision.
  • Bring all relevant documentation that has been previously disclosed to the other party with you to the hearing.
  • Set up your information in an organized way to refer to it easily during your presentation.
  • Your arguments will be more persuasive if you can point to a legal authority that agrees with your position (for example, sections of applicable law, or court decisions made on similar issues, referred to as case law). Federal Court decisions in other cases may be found at https://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca
  • If you intend to refer to any case law, bring additional copies for the court and the other party.
     
    On the day of the hearing
  • Arrive for your hearing at least 15 minutes prior to the time scheduled for commencement.
  • All courthouses have Commissionaires or security guards who will tell you where to go.
  • At the courthouse 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.
  • Notify the Court Registrar of your presence upon your arrival in the courtroom.
      
    During the hearing
    Persons with you in the Courtroom
  • The Judicial Officer of the Court, who may be a Judge or a Prothonotary, presides over the hearing. Their role is to review your evidence and listen to your arguments in a neutral, impartial manner and make a decision regarding your case. While they may give you some guidance during the hearing, they cannot act as your lawyer.
  • The Court Registrar keeps a record of material events that occur during the hearing and will record the hearing with a digital audio recording system. Should you have any questions before the hearing, the court registrar will be able to assist you but they are not authorized to give legal advice.
  • The Court Usher is responsible for maintaining order in the courtroom.
  • A Court Reporter may at times be present to record the proceedings.
  • The other party to your proceedings and their lawyer, if any.
  • There is no jury in Federal Court.
     
    Courtroom decorum
  • The courtroom is a formal setting. You must be respectful to the Judicial Officers, the other parties and court staff.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. You must remove your coat and hat before entering the courtroom.
  • Do not bring food or beverages in the courtroom.
  • Cell phones and similar devices must be turned off and cannot be used at any time during the hearing
  • No photographs or videos are to be taken inside the courtroom.
  • The Judge is addressed as “Justice”, "Mr. Justice" or “Madam Justice”.
  • The Prothonotary is addressed as “Your Honour”, “Mr. Prothonotary” or “Madam Prothonotary”.
  • The Court Registrar is addressed as "Mr. or Ms. Registrar".
  • The opposing party or lawyer is addressed by their last name and title, for example, Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith.
  • You must stand when you speak to the Judicial Officer or when they speak to you.
  • Do not interrupt when the Judicial Officer 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 Judicial Officer, write it down. You will be provided with the opportunity to respond, but only when it’s your turn to speak.
     
    General Courtroom Procedure
     
    At the opening of the Court or after a recess or adjournment, the Usher enters the courtroom in front of the Judicial Officer and will call “Order” at which point everyone in the courtroom must stand and remain standing until the Judicial Officer sits down or the Court Registrar advises otherwise. There is usually a morning break, a lunch break and an afternoon break. Generally, the Judicial Officer will explain how the hearing will proceed.
     
    If you are the Applicant you will be asked to present your case first 
  • Stand up at the lectern and introduce yourself.
  • Always face the Court and speak loud and clear when presenting your case.
  • You may begin with a summary of the facts of the case, to refresh the Judicial Officer’s mind. Some Judicial Officers will tell you that this is not necessary. If they do, you can skip over the facts.
  • You should not read your memorandum to the court, but you may want to highlight matters or explain why you think that your position should prevail over the other party’s position.
  • When your presentation is finished and unless the Court has any further questions, you may sit down.
     
    The Judicial Officer 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 presentation.
     
    The Respondent’s turn to present their case
  • The other party will make their argument in response to the Applicant’s case.
  • Take notes during the presentation to help you remember what the other party said.
     
    The Applicant’s reply
  • This is the Applicant’s opportunity to respond to what the Respondent has said in their argument to the Court.  The Reply is important as it lets the Applicant dispute any facts they believe the Respondent got wrong or argue against an argument that was raised. An applicant is not entitled to repeat and reargue its position, on the very issue it raised, by way of reply.
     

After the hearing
 
After hearing the parties, the Judicial Officer may:

  • Take a recess and return to the courtroom to pronounce a decision from the Bench or deliver their decision at a later date.
  • The Registry will inform you when the decision is available and provide you with an official copy of the decision by registered mail, email or fax.
  • You may obtain a copy of the recording of the hearing through the Registry.
     
    For more information please contact the Registry of the Federal Court. A list of the Federal Court office locations, addresses and phone numbers is accessible at www.fct-cf.gc.ca under “Registry Offices”. You may also consult the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on the Federal Court website.
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