What to Expect When Going to Court

It goes without saying that if you have not had occasion to go to court in the past, you likely have the preconceived notion that court is the same as you would see on television, in particular on American television. However, people are generally surprised when they attend court in person for the first time. Courts in Canada are generally not like Courts portrayed in television.

The Canadian Court system resembles more closely the British Court system, with the exception of the lawyers having to wear wigs!

When you step into a Provincial or Court of Queen’s Bench courtroom in Alberta, you will generally see the following:

  • A Judge seated at a desk which is generally elevated above the main floor of the courtroom;
  • A Court Clerk who will be seated in front of the Judge;
  • Lawyers seated at various locations throughout the courtroom;
  • A Sheriff;
  • A location for witnesses to testify called a “witness box”; and
  • Rows of benches called “the gallery” for observers and persons such as accused persons or litigants to wait.

Depending upon what is taking place in the courtroom, you might see a trial taking place, with a witness being questioned by the prosecution, and then the defence lawyer. You may also see preliminary applications being made, typically called docket court appearances.

When going to court, you will be required to formally address the Judge if you are called upon to speak. Judges at the Provincial Court should be addressed as “Your Honour” whereas Judges at the Court of Queen’s Bench should be addressed as “My Lord” or “My Lady”. If you are appearing at court for a traffic ticket matter at the Provincial Court, then you would address the presiding Justice of the Peace as “Your Worship”.

You may see lawyers bowing when they enter the location where the lawyer’s desks are, and then turning and bowing with then exit the courtroom. That is required conduct as part of the decorum of the Court.

Much has changed in Alberta Courts with the COVID pandemic. Many court appearances are conducted “remotely” via telephone. It is important to check the Alberta Courts website in that regard so that you do not miss a court appearance even with the pandemic. Plexiglass dividers have been erected, along with signs indicating where to stand and sit to ensure social distancing.

When in doubt, it is always a good idea to contact an experienced defence lawyer who can help you through the court process, including oftentimes being able to appear at court on your behalf so you don’t have to.