Tips for Self Represented Litigants

Courtroom Procedures

Court opens when the court clerk or sheriff calls the court to session and announces the name of the judge. Everyone must stand as the judge enters and remain standing until the judge sits.

Before testifying, all parties and witnesses are required to take an oath before God that they will tell the truth, or, if they choose, they may ask to be affirmed that they will tell the truth, or they may ask to be able to promise to tell the truth in compliance with their religious or cultural belief.

When in court, try to briefly present the facts, usually in chronological order.

Click here for an explanation of civil and criminal trial procedures.

If you are the plaintiff in a civil case, usually you will present your case first, followed by the defendant. This means that you and your witnesses will give evidence and be cross-examined by the other party's lawyer first. Once you have finished presenting your case and been cross-examined, the other party will have the opportunity to present their case in the same way, by giving evidence themselves and through witnesses. You will have the opportunity to cross-examine them and their witnesses after they give their testimony. Once they have finished giving their evidence, they will be entitled to summarize their case by making a closing statement to the judge, followed by you doing the same thing.

Criminal court proceedings follow a different route. The Crown starts a criminal prosecution against an ‘accused', who will appear in front of a Provincial Court judge. The offence they have been charged with might be a ‘summary conviction offence' or an ‘indictable offence' or one that may be prosecuted either way.

If a criminal case proceeds ‘summarily', it will stay in the Provincial Court for the trial. Click here for a pamphlet called ‘Going to Provincial Court', prepared by Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia.

If a criminal case proceeds by way of ‘indictment', the accused may choose to be tried by a Provincial Court judge, by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, or by a judge of the Supreme Court with a jury. There may be a ‘preliminary hearing'. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the judge to decide if there is enough evidence to go ahead with the trial. If the judge decides there is not enough evidence, the case will be dismissed. Otherwise, a full trial will be ordered.

In a criminal trial, the Crown attorney's case is presented first. All witnesses for the Crown will be called to give evidence, and the Crown attorney will be the first to ask each witness questions. Then the defence lawyer, or the accused if they are representing themselves, can ask the witness questions.

The accused person may present their case after the Crown evidence has all been presented, but an accused can't be required to go to the witness chair and give evidence. The burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is on the Crown, and the accused is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

If the defence lawyer, or the accused person if they are representing themselves, chooses to present evidence for the accused, the accused and/or witnesses for the accused may be called to give testimony. Any witness called by the defence, including the accused person themselves, may be cross-examined by the Crown attorney.

After the case for the defence is presented, both the Crown and the defence have the opportunity to make closing statements to the judge.

A trial by judge and jury follows a similar process. The main difference is that the judge's task is to decide issues of law and to leave issues of fact to the jury. Before the Crown presents their evidence, there may be a lengthy period of jury selection. The Crown and the defence may make an opening speech to the jury, explaining what the Crown intends to prove and the evidence witnesses will give. During the trial, the jury is present in court, except during voir dire hearings.

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