Tips for Self Represented Litigants

Preparing Your Civil Case for the Hearing

You may want to watch the video "Your Day in Court" and read the checklist (PDF) before you prepare your case for a hearing. The video tells you how to prepare and present a case in the Family Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. It demonstrates what you can expect to happen in the courtroom.

Although the subject matter of that case may be different from your civil case, "Your Day in Court" and the checklist that goes with it might be useful as a general guide on presenting civil cases to a judge (as opposed to criminal cases).

Besides being available at the Department of Justice website, copies of "Your Day in Court" are also available at courthouses and at some regional public libraries.

The main thing to keep in mind as you prepare your case for the courtroom is that the judge can only use the evidence and submissions made to the court to make its decision. You give evidence by written documents and through asking and answering questions. 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.

You may want to prepare a detailed outline of what you think the judge needs to know (to focus your case preparation - your own notes) and then organize how you will be able to present those facts to the court - whether through your own evidence (as a witness or by being asked questions by the other party or their lawyer), through another witness or through documents or other important things to show to the judge.

If you will have a witness, you should prepare the witness for giving their facts to the court and ensure they will come to court. They must give first-hand knowledge of the facts you want to present to the judge. Hearsay (secondhand evidence) is not allowed.

If you are bringing a letter from someone to use as evidence, you may have to bring the person who wrote the letter to court as a witness. You will have to arrange for subpoenas to be issued by the court in advance of a hearing if you do not think a witness will willingly come to the court for your hearing.

Prepare questions to ask the other party in the case and their witnesses. Remember to focus on the facts that you want to present to the judge to prove your case and to not ask questions just because you want to hear answers. They must be relevant to your case.

In planning what to say, try to anticipate and be prepared to answer issues you think the other party will bring up in court.

If you or one of your witnesses cannot express yourself in English, you should bring an interpreter with you.

You will have to arrange for the correct number of copies of documents that you want the judge to see, including one for the judge, yourself, each of the other parties (or their lawyers).

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