GOING TO COURT
You should always try to settle your dispute before taking legal action. However, if you cannot resolve your dispute by reaching an agreement with the other party or by some other method (such as alternative dispute resolution), you may have to start a legal action and go to trial to have a judge make a decision about your case.
What to expect in your court case
If you want to start a legal action, it is a good idea to meet with a lawyer so that you understand the law and the legal process. You can find a lawyer by contacting a lawyer referral service in your area. For example, the Canadian Bar Association branch in your province or territory may be able to direct you to a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the law that applies to your case. You may be eligible for government funded Legal Aid or to pro bono (free) legal services .
Legal proceedings are started by filing documents (pleadings) in court. You may not be able to get a trial date for a long time – it might be a year or more before a judge hears your case in court.
There are many things that happen before the trial date. There are often pre-trial hearings where your lawyer will go to court to discuss settlement or to resolve issues about the conduct of your case (like whether certain documents must be submitted). And, there are usually examinations for discovery where you and the other parties to the lawsuit exchange information and documents that relate to your case.
Your case may settle before the day scheduled for your trial. If your dispute is not resolved by that date, you will have to go to court with your lawyer to present your case to a judge. Both you and the other party will swear or affirm to tell the truth, explain your dispute to the judge, and submit documents and other evidence that relate to your case. Your lawyer will cross-examine the other party (ask questions about the dispute) and the other party’s lawyer will ask you questions.
If you are successful at trial, you will have to “enforce your judgment,” which means, for example, that you may have to collect money from the other party. You or the other party may decide to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court.
Representing yourself in court
You do not need a lawyer to represent you in court. If you do not have a lawyer, you will have to do everything that a lawyer would do to prepare your case and appear in court. For example, you will need to learn about:
- the court system and court procedures;
- the law that applies to your case (this will involve legal research); and
- the evidence you need to prove your case; and
- what will happen if you win or lose your case.
Trials are time-consuming, intense, and complex. It is a good idea to talk with a lawyer before deciding whether to represent yourself in court.
Where to learn more about getting legal assistance:
You can get legal assistance and advice by talking to a lawyer. You may be able to obtain free legal information or legal advice through your provincial or territorial Legal Aid office or pro bono (free) legal clinics.
- The Canadian Bar Association is the advocate and voice of all members of the legal profession. Its purpose is to serve its members by promoting fair justice systems. The CBA has branches in each of the provinces and territories. The Canadian Bar Association branch in your province or territory may be able to help you find a lawyer.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for government funded Legal Aid. The legal services range from legal information and advice to legal representation (a lawyer to handle your case). Use this Legal Aid link to locate the office in your province or territory to find out if you are eligible for legal services.
- If you do not qualify for government funded legal aid, you may be able to obtain free legal information or advice from lawyers who have volunteered to provide assistance. Find out about free (pro bono) legal clinics in your community.
Where to learn more about representing yourself in court:
You may have self-help legal offices in your area where you can locate legal information and resources.
- In British Columbia, the BC Supreme Court Self-Help and Information Centre will provide you with valuable information and resources if you are representing yourself in court. You can also get information about how to find a lawyer.
- In Ontario, visit this website for information about family law.
- In Nova Scotia, the courts’ website has good information about representing yourself in court.
- You can find legislation and judgments (court decisions) on the Canadian Legal Information Institute CanLII, a non-profit organization managed by the Federation of Law Societies. CanLII’s makes Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet.
- You can also get information about laws and do legal research at a courthouse library in your area.