When the Court Registrar – the person sitting in front of the judge – or the judge calls the name of your case, you stand up from where you were sitting in the main body of the courtroom, start walking toward the front of the courtroom, pause and identify yourself, and then go up to the council table, in front of the judge and court officials.
If you’re the moving party, the person who is the reason why the case is in court, then you sit at the right side of the council table. Generally there’s a lectern in the middle and you’d sit in the chair closest to it on that side. If you’re the person responding to a matter, even if you are also bringing a motion yourself, or asking for relief, you sit at the left side of the table.
Strangely, there are lawyers who don’t understand this general rule. So if the other party has lawyer and that lawyer is sitting on the wrong end of the table, you just go to the other side. The lawyer really should be the person who knows this rule. If the judge will be upset at all, it will be at the lawyer, not at you.
If the other party is also a self-rep but they’ve already gone to the wrong side of the table, don’t make a fuss and just go to the vacant side.
Judges appreciate it when you call them by the right name.
In Ontario, all judges are referred to as “Your Honour”. Don’t call the judge “Sir” or “Madam”, “Justice” or “Your Honourable Sir or Madam”. Never be rude. It’s just “Your Honour”.
If you have a question, for example, you’d say, “Excuse me your Honour, but might I ask if…”. If you have an objection, you’d say, “Objection, Your Honour.” When you’re finished speaking, it’s “Thank you, Your Honour.”
When referring to another judge of the Superior Court or Court of Appeal you’d call them “His Honour Mr. Justice ….” or “Her Honour Madam Justice…” If they’re from the Ontario Court of Justice you’d call them “His Honour Judge …” or “Her Honour Judge ..”)
When you prepare court documents remember to keep the page looking neat and readable.
Break each thought or statement into separate paragraphs. Type using double space for the lines of each paragraph, and use 12 Point type size. Keep each paragraph to 2 – 3 sentences. Use descriptive titles for each group of paragraphs dealing with one topic. Set up what you’re saying in a logical manner.
Make it easy for a judge to read and understand. They appreciate that. It shows respect to them and the time they have available to deal with your case.
Keep in mind that if you don’t know the most important things for the judge to know, and can’t tell them to him or her at the beginning and within the time allotted, then the judge can’t figure it out either. So don’t argue with the judge that you need more time – it only takes up the little time you’ve got left. Just focus on your absolute top priority items.
Never ask the judge if he or she has read the material.
It’s insulting if they have, and embarrassing if they haven‘t. You should start off as though they haven’t. You can leave it up to the judge to tell you that they’ve read the material or that they only want you to deal with a particular part of it. If you assume the judge hasn’t read the material, and they have, you can’t go wrong.
Rule one: Speak loudly enough so the judge can hear you clearly without you shouting.
Most courts have a microphone and lectern. If you’re standing there and speaking into the microphone, a normal voice level will be sufficient. If you’re not sure, ask the judge if that’s loud or clear enough. Always remember that you need to be loud enough for the judge to hear you comfortably, without it looking like you’re raising your voice.
Rule two: Look at the judge when you’re speaking to him or her.
You may need to glance down to the lectern to look at your material from time To time, but then raise your head and speak to the judge directly. If you’re referring to a list of things or some document, put your finger at the place where you took your eye off the page to look at the judge. Then you’ll know where you were when you glance back down.
Remember to make eye contact with the judge if he or she is looking at, or talking to, you. Even if the judge may be writing, or typing, when you look up, and not looking you, you should still be looking at the judge when you speak.
So practice your argument with a friend or in front of a mirror. Figure out the 3 most important things you want the judge to order and the 3 most important things the judge needs to know to give you the order. Write them down. Look at the rest of what you were going to say and drop the weak points and the requests that you know you won’t get. Take out the insults and the facts that really don’t support your main points.
When you stand up to argue you can say “Your Honour I’m asking that you make an order for this, that, and the other, and these are the reasons why.
Tell the judge you key points first in clear and simple language. You can expand on them as you speak, but if the judge knows what you believe to be most important it will make the rest of your comment easier to understand. Having a jumble of requests and reasons tells a judge that you haven’t given the matter any serious thought, so why should they?
If the judge turns from you to ask a question to the other lawyer or party, or the other lawyer or party stands up to make an interruption, which should only very rarely happen, you should sit down. Only one person should be speaking and standing at the same time unless the judge is specifically speaking to both parties.
But if the other side is saying something that you feel really requires an interruption, don’t mumble or say anything out loud, don’t slam the table, simply standup. That will usually get the judge’s attention so he or she will look at you. That’s when you say ” I have an objection, Your Honor.” And then tell the judge what it is. Don’t say anything offensive or harsh about the other party or what was just said. Simply give your objection and sit down unless the judge is engaging you in further conversation.
But the best rule is not to interrupt at all and to wait your turn.
It’s very rare that a party would have a legitimate reason to communicate directly with a judge and many lawyers go out their entire career without ever contacting a judge regarding a matter.
But if you do have to contact judge, never phone or write to the judge directly. You contact a Judge by communicating with the court’s Trial Coordinator or with the judge’s secretary. Send any letter you might be writing to those people and ask them to pass it on to the judge. If it’s a telephone recording, leave the message and ask them to pass it on to the judge. Always be calm and polite in your language, whether it’s in the letter or a telephone call or message.
For example, the judge is asking about what happened concerning a missed access visit, and the other lawyer says that you never passed on a message that you would be unable to attend the regularly scheduled access for the following weekend. If they’re wrong you wouldn’t turn into them to speak, but you’d look at the judge and stand up showing that you have something to say. Some judges will tell you to sit back down and hold it off until later. Do it. Others will let you speak. Then you’d say, ”Your Honour, I left a voice message for Mr. Jones on Tuesday of that week and when I didn’t hear back from his office, I sent him an email on Wednesday. A copy that email is Exhibit G in my affidavit dated [date], at Tab 6 of the Continuing Record.” Or you might say, ”Your Honor, I have a copy of the email I sent on Wednesday of that week following up my telephone message of the day before. May I hand a copy of it up to you?”
You’re in court and it’s good practice to remember to ask the judge for permission to do anything. The judge is the king of the courtroom. So long as you remember that, you’ll be fine.
If you’re the one bringing a motion and don’t file a factum or Summary of Argument then you might show up at court only to find that your motion isn’t on the list to be heard.
The cases are listed under topics and each has a link to the case itself. These cases are made available by the court to all family law judges. And there’s usually a binder with them in each courtroom.
It’s smart to take a look at the cases dealing with your matter. You might then want to check on the CanLII site (http://www.canlii.org/en/on/) to see what subsequent cases have referred to those listed and how they were dealt with.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but taking the time to get some basic understanding of the law will be helpful and will allow you to refer to useful legal precedents in your material and in your argument.
Stick to your strong points and drop the others. A shorter argument with quality points beats a longer argument with weaker points every time.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking that if you have a long list of things you’re asking the judge to order, that you’ll at least get some of them. Or that if you have a lot of reasons why the judge should do what you want, at least some will be persuasive. It doesn’t work that way.
Some lawyers think it’s impressive to show judge that they have a whole lot of points to make and reasons why the judge should agree with them. Many self-reps think the same. Most often, however, when the judge hears that you’re giving them six reasons to do something, they’ll assume you didn’t have three strong reasons. And if you really did have three strong reasons, they’ll get lost in the jumble.
Figure out your strongest reasons and most important points, and stick to them. Don’t weaken your argument by giving the judge a bunch of reasons that won’t stick. It undermines the force of your really good reasons and makes it look as though you aren’t able to see what is and isn’t important in your own case.
Plus, you waste time talking about the weak reasons and irrelevant facts and risk not being able to finish what you want to say in the time available to you.
Tell the judge the topics you’re going to be covering, Make sure that they’re in some sensible order. Most effective lawyers say, “I have four points to raise, Your Honor, and they are the following”. The judge will mark them down. Then start with your first point. When you’re finished say, “Your Honor, I’d now like to turn to my second point.” And continue through your list.
By telling the judge in advance the points you’re going to cover, and then covering them, and sitting down, you’ll have made a more powerful statement and much more effective impression then thanking the judge for the opportunity of speaking and then wandering around in your comments.
When you’re making your argument to the judge on a motion you need to stick to the facts that are in the material filed. You can’t tell the judge something that isn’t already in one of the sworn affidavits. At all times you need to be able to tell the judge where to find the fact you just mentioned, if you’re asked about it. And you want to be able to tell the judge if something the other side said isn’t in the material. Just as you need to stick to the facts, so do they.
If you keep your eye on the judge while you’re speaking, or at least glance up from your notes frequently, you’ll be able to see when the judge is ready for you to make your next point.
Judges appreciate counsel or parties who hold off for a moment or two to allow them to catch up in their notes.
The Ontario Attorney General’s “A Guide to Procedures in Family Court at:
CLEO’s Steps in a Family Case flowchart at:
Keep in mind that at some court houses you’ll be asked to go through a metal detector and possibly a police officer will ask you to open your purse or briefcase. Knowing this in advance can help avoid unnecessary embarrassment – or worse – when you go to court.
Check the lists to see where your case will be so you’ll know the name of the judge and will be in the right place.
Don’t try to do it secretly – you might be removed from the courtroom by security.
And chewing gum is against the rules.
It’s not a good idea to test this. It’s not just that you may be asked to leave the courtroom, but if the judge is there, she or he will make a mental note that you’re someone who doesn’t respect the rules or the system and will have a poor impression of how you’ll follow court orders. If the judge isn’t present you can be assured that the security people will let the court staff know that there’s a “troublemaker” to watch out for.
You’re already late if you show up at the time court’s scheduled to begin. That’s because before the judge shows up the Registrar will want everyone to sign in so they’ll know who is and isn’t present. (The Court Registrar is the person who’ll unlock the courtroom doors and sits at the front of the room, just ahead of where the judge will be sitting.)
Most judges will go through the court list at the beginning of each session to see which cases are ready to go and how long they’ll be. Where there’s only one party present the case will be called before the contested matters so that the party who’s there won’t have to stick around. Courts usually give someone about 20 minutes to show up before dealing with the matter, but they don’t like people being late. If you haven’t checked in with the Court Registrar before the opening of court, it will look as though you’re not there and you risk having your case dismissed or the party who is there getting what they want without you even being heard.
If you’ve been to court already, you know it takes forever for your case to be called. But
It will be called early if it looks like there’s only one party there. So plan on being in court at least 20 minutes before the scheduled beginning of that day’s court session.
It’s not enough to be in court early and sitting in the waiting room out front. You need to enter the courtroom, identify yourself to the Registrar who’s sitting at the table or desk just in front of where the judge sits, and let them know you’re there. You’ll be given a “counsel slip” to fill out and then hand back. That all needs to be done before the judge comes in to court. That way, the judge will know you’re there and ready to proceed.
It’s wisest to enter the courtroom early, before the judge enters to get one of the available seats. It’s considered impolite to stand and watch unless there aren’t any seats left, and it’s possible the Registrar will ask you to leave. So when you come in, look for an available seat and go to it.
Try not to take up extra space by putting your coat or bags on the seat or bench beside you. They should go under your seat or on your lap to leave room for other people.
If you’re coming in or leaving while the judge is hearing a matter be very polite and careful not to be disruptive.
It’s polite to face the judge and bend your head in a small bow before you open the door to leave or just as soon as you enter the door to the courtroom.
Going to court is an important activity. The judge takes your matter seriously. It shows respect to the judge for you to dress accordingly. While it’s a good idea to wear a shirt and tie, with a sport jacket of suit, if you’re a make – or a dress with sleeves, a skirt and blouse, or good looking pants, if you’re a female, that’s not essential.
The key thing is to dress neatly and cleanly – not the way you’d take the kids to an early morning hockey practice.
Lawyers pay close attention to the applicable Practice Directions. You can find them for your court at http://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/practice/practice-directions/ It’s wise to be familiar with the practices of the court where your matter will be heard.
If you’re caught in a situation where you have no choice but to bring a child to court, make sure you have someone else there to help. You need to be able to focus on your matter when your case is called and not have to worry about where your three-year-old child is running.
As well, where the child is old enough to have some understanding of what’s going on, it’s very inappropriate for that child to see their parents in court. It reflects poorly on your judgment if you bring such a child with you.
Sometimes, the judge says that the decision is being reserved until after the lunch break or until a certain specified time later in the day. Then you have to come back then to hear the reasons and the decision.
But sometimes a judge may say that he or she we will take the matter “under advisement” and reserve the decision. In that case, it means that you’re finished with court for that day and that the court office will notify you once the decision has been made. (Be sure that the contact information the court has for you, as showing on the court documents, is accurate.)
If you’re present when the judge is making an order, keep in mind that there are two parts to what the judge says. The first part consists of the judge’s reasons for the order. It discusses the evidence and perhaps the law, and goes over the various findings that have been made. The reasons are the basis for the order to be made. The second part is the order itself. The first part, the reasons aren’t “binding”. The second part, the “order”, is.
The judge is required to set out something in writing to show the ruling and this is called the “endorsement”. It’s made on the court record itself. Sometimes it’s just the order and other times it also includes certain findings of fact and law. But you should never leave court without having a copy of the endorsement, so you’ll know just what the judge actually ordered.
To get that copy, you should ask the Court Registrar quietly if you can have a copy of the endorsement. Sometime you’ll hear the lawyer for the other party ask the Registrar for a copy, or the Registrar will let you know that they’ll make one for you. The Registrar will always cooperate, but they may ask you to wait for a few minutes outside the courtroom to give them time to have the photocopy made. They may not be able to go and get that right away so you should hang around until they give it to you. That’s what gets typed up into the formal Order.
Too often, those who seek revenge discover that the other party will decide to seek revenge back. There’s an old saying that “If you seek revenge, first dig two graves.”
Going to court is a serious business. If the other side convinces the judge that the only reason you’re there is to seek revenge, the odds are high that you’ll lose the case and that the judge will award costs against you. You may end up not only getting no revenge, but you’ll be humiliated by having lost and having to pay money to the other side
Sometimes a judge isn’t certain about something and wants it cleared up. Sometimes the judge has seen a conflict in the evidence and is asking you what to say about it. And sometimes the judge is asking to see if you’ll be honest enough to acknowledge something that isn’t good for you. Whatever the reason, being honest and straight with the judge is way better than beating around the bush.
If your answer is bad for you, or it turns out that you’re wrong on a point, admit it, give the honest response, and move on. Admit the obvious and don’t beat around the bush.
Judges like it when a person is candid and direct. However many “points” you lose on that topic, it’s a lot less than frustrating the judge by trying to convince her that up is down.