Going to Family Court in Saskatchewan
Updated: May 29, 2022
Many people, lawyers included, get nervous about going to court and appearing before a Judge. Lawyers get the benefit of asking their colleagues about what to expect. People outside of the profession don't get that benefit, so let’s clear up as much as we can in this blog post! This post, without becoming the greatest resource of all time for Court bound parties, cannot capture every nuance and exception about going to court. This post will be about the most common and likely way things will go in court.
To start, there are two Courts where Family Law, typically, takes place in Saskatchewan; the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal. The Court of Queen’s Bench is where Chambers, Pre-Trials and Trials take place. The Court of Appeal is only for appeals of what happens in lower courts, in this case, the Court of Queen's Bench. I will only deal with the Court of Queen's Bench in this post, as going to the Court of Appeal is not as common as going to the Court of Queen's Bench.
Going to Chambers - Basic Rules
If you have made an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench or you are responding to one, you are likely going to Chambers. Chambers for Family Law is held every Wednesday and Friday in Regina. There are Queen's Bench Courts across Saskatchewan. Make sure to check the documents you have received to determine where you will be going for Court. If you are the one bringing the application, then your application will typically be brought at the nearest Queen's Bench Court. Check the Court website to ensure that the Court is sitting the day you think you are going and to read more about the process. The Court's website was updated recently in 2021, and has a great amount of information for your review.
Courts were affected/are affected by COVID as were every other place/business/thing in Canada. The Court created a set of rules for COVID that at their core made Court only handled at a distance. Where we would typically need to attend in person, everything is now held by telephone and that we should only be going to the Court to drop off documents. As things progress and evolve, these rules may change. I would suggest calling the Registrar, the administrative backbone of the Court, to check on the current state of Chambers. To be as helpful as possible, I’ll describe the process of both on the phone and in-person Chambers.
In either case, the Registrar creates a list of matters that the Court will be dealing with that day. This list is pragmatically called the Chambers List. Your matter, and every other matter, is placed on the list and given a number. Most Courts either go through the list numerically, or the Judge will decide the order of the matters to be spoken to. Chambers typically starts at 10:00am and goes until the Chambers list is complete. You can call the Clerks of the specific Queen's Bench you are attending to ask for a copy of the list.
Preparation is key!
Going to court can be stressful. Having to make up what you are going to say on the spot is recipe for disaster. I always suggest that you prepare your remarks in advance. Maybe it's just jot notes of the points you want to make, or maybe its a full form speech you want to read. Either can work, just make sure that you have prepared! It is always sad to watch a person who clearly has something to say get tongue-tied in the moment and be unable to clearly present it. Don't let that be you!
The other side of preparation is to make sure that your documents before the Court are correct and in proper order. It is a rule that judges typically cannot accept testimony from participants and will very likely not accept any papers/documents/other items that are not attached to Affidavits and properly before a court. What makes something properly before the court? The form and function must align with the 'rules' of the Court. The Queen's Bench Rules, a free digital copy available here, provides the rules that everything must comply with. Preparation is where a lawyer in your corner can be very useful. I provide full service to clients by fully representing them and also provide limited services in the form of legal coaching. To learn more about legal coaching click here.
What to Wear / What Not to Bring
Going to court is about being convincing in your speaking, attitude and dress. You should wear a clean shirt, pants or other clothing that you would wear to an interview. You don't want your clothes to distract from the message you are telling the court. I ask my clients to wear business casual or better for attending in Chambers. I want the Court to see you and not have any concerns.
When you enter the court you will be required to go through security. Your bags will be x-rayed and you will have to empty your pockets. Do not bring anything with you that you would not bring to an airport.
As a mother to a young child, I know how hard it can be to leave your children with others or to find someone to watch your children. I would still strongly encourage you to not bring any children to court. The court is not a child friendly space. Your children can, at no fault of their own, be very detracting to everyone else in the Court room and building. As we all know, trying to have a conversation while your child is trying to get your undivided attention can be very difficult. Speaking in court can make you nervous enough that having that extra distraction may prevent you from saying what you need to. Finally, judges have the ultimate power to control their court room. They can order that you remove the children from the room, and if you have no one else to care for them, you may now not be able to speak to your matter.
Attending Chambers - The Telephone Process
One of the first things to do when you have been served, and are not being represented by a lawyer, is to contact the Registrar to give them a telephone number that you can be contacted at any time during the day of Chambers. You should only give the Court a phone number that goes directly to you, or that you will be near all day. The Court does not like going to voicemail, and can very easily give up trying to contact you if you are not answering after the first attempt. If you don’t answer, the Court may go ahead with the application without your input, resulting in an order you may not be happy with.
Chambers typically starts at 10:00am, but you might be called anytime during the day to speak to your matter. On receiving the call on the day of Chambers, the first person on the phone typically is the clerk of the Courtroom who will introduce the judge and let you know if you are on speaker or on hold. Once you are before the Judge, you may wonder what you can call them. Sir or Ma’am is acceptable for most judges. As a lawyer, I am required to call judges “my lord” or “my lady” [pronounced 'm'lord and m'lady], most judges wont expect you to call them that, only that you be respectful and polite.
Follow the instruction of the judge regarding who will get to speak first. If you are requesting an adjournment, you would want to let the judge know that early on. Otherwise, be ready on your turn to explain your matter.
Aside from the above points, everything between the In-Person and Telephone process is the same.
Attending Chambers - In-Person Process
Being in person was the norm prior to the changes required by COVID. In person can be somewhat easier, but also more time consuming. Chambers in Regina is located at 2425 Victoria Avenue. There is no free parking, only street parking and the paid lots around downtown. Parking enforcement is pretty strict downtown, and Chambers can be a long process (many hours long), so be ready to plug the meter, park in a lot, or get a ride to the Court.
Chambers is typically held in the Chambers Room, located at the end of the hallway after you have cleared security. As you are walking to the end of the hallway, you will pass the Sheriff’s Office and the Registrar on your right. In front of the Registrar you will find a board that has a copy of the Chambers List to review. Sometimes due to the volume of Chambers matters on a particular day, Chambers will take place in more than one room. If this is the case, there will be two Chambers Lists. Find your matter on the list and then look at the first page to see who your Judge is and what room you will be in. Chambers starts at 10:00 am, but the doors for the room are typically unlocked 20 or so minutes prior to the start. When you enter the Courtroom you should take off any hat, sunglasses or headphones you may have on. You should also put your cell phone on silent. Going through the doors and looking forward, you will see two tables and then an elevated bench. The Judge will sit at the bench, with the Clerk of the Court to their right (our left). When a matter is called, the Applicant and the Respondent will sit at either table (it doesn't matter which one you take).
While you wait, you can sit in any of the chairs or benches at the back of the room. Chambers can take hours, so be prepared to spend the morning and possibly, in the worst case, the day. When the Judge comes in, you are required to stand, and once the Judge sits down, you may sit. You are required to sit quietly and await your turn. If you need to step out, quietly walk to the door and exit. Try to close the door quietly. Remember the door is not soundproof, so don’t stand outside the Chambers Room door and have a conversation. There are public washrooms on the main floor.
When it is your turn, you will go up to one of the two tables and have a seat in the chair provided. Court in Saskatchewan is not like what you have seen on television. Lawyers don’t yell, we don’t talk over each other, no one is allowed to rush up to the Judge or to make dramatic/angry remarks to the Court or the other party. Court in Regina is much like the stereotype of Canadians, polite. We are asked to remain sitting until we want to talk, and then we may stand. Everyone takes their turn. The easiest way to find yourself on the wrong side of the Court, and possibly asked to leave, is if you interrupt anyone else. Court is not about being the loudest or the first, but it is about being clear and exact.
When speaking to the Court, take your time. I tell my clients that I liken it to a conversation rather than a speech. We are in Court to speak with the Judge and for them to hear what we have to say. You are not required to talk like a lawyer nor to use words you wouldn't typically use. Try not to sprint through your argument (which you prepared prior to coming to Court), and explain yourself fully. The Judge may have questions for you; answer them to the best of your ability. It goes without saying, but I write it nonetheless, DO NOT LIE. One of the worst, and easiest, ways to damage your credibility and file is to lie to the Court. It's also a crime. Remember, the Judge is exactly the person you need to convince of your position! Once you are done, the Judge will let you know that they have no further questions and let you know that you can leave. Unless instructed otherwise, you typically can leave the building immediately and will not need to return.
If you are thinking about going to Court, or you have been served with an application, meeting with a lawyer can be a great resource. I am available to meet with you and discuss what is going on. If full representation is not something you want or can afford, I offer an alternative service called “Legal Coaching”. Check out the Legal Coaching section on my website to learn more about it, and give me a call if you have any questions!