A Guide to Self-Representation
NOTE: EBL law does not advise self-representation in large or complex cases, in matters which proceed to trial or when defending against a party who has hired legal counsel. Self-representation is best suited for small claims or other simple civil matters where both parties are self-represented. Prior to self-representation, it is highly recommended you consult with legal counsel.
Before Entering the Courtroom
- When preparing for a trial or a morning chamber’s application, make sure to gather all evidence and witnesses that you intend on presenting to the Court during your appearance. At morning chambers, only written evidence (Affidavits) may be relied on and no witnesses may be called. Make sure you prepare for your appearance, as the Judge or Justice cannot give you legal advice. Arrive early, as duty counsel is often available: these lawyers are paid by the government and their job is assist self-represented litigants.
- Dress nice on the day of your appearance so that you look presentable. In Court, you are not allowed to wear any non-religious headwear or sunglasses so leave these items at home. Turn off your phone prior to entering. Finally, food (including gum) and beverages are prohibited so do not bring these items into Court.
During the Application or Trial
- Upon entering the Courtroom, it is customary to bow to the Judge or Justice. This should be done upon exiting as well. Additionally, whenever you are addressing the Court you must stand. Do not speak over others, especially the Judge or Justice.
- The hearing will begin with your opening statement (at a trial) or submissions (at a morning chamber’s application). It is best to keep this brief and to the point. In your opening statement or submission you want to tell the Judge or Justice exactly what you want, why you want it, and (if at trial) the name of any witnesses that you will be calling to testify.
“I am here to get parenting time with my child. I would like to see my child every second weekend. We do not have a set parenting schedule, which causes arguments.”
- The person who filed the claim (“the Applicant or Plaintiff”) will normally go first.
- When it is time to testify or make submissions, it is important to be clear and detailed when telling your story. The judge does not have any prior knowledge of your situation, so it is important that you explain every detail. Having said that, it is also important to leave out irrelevant information: you only have a limited amount of time, so carefully decide what facts are the most relevant and persuasive. Never lie or misrepresent matters in Court.
- If you are at trial and have testified, you will have the opportunity to call a witness. When speaking with the witness, you are not allowed to lead the witness. This means that you are not allowed to suggest the answer in order to get a specific response from them. Once you or your witness has testified, the other side will be allowed to cross-examine the person who just finished giving their testimony. When cross examining a witness, you can lead the witness. This means you can ask question which suggests an answer.
“Isn’t it true that the Mother was yelling loudly” as opposed to “What was the Mother doing?”
Keep in mind that when it is time to cross-examine a witness, you are asking questions not giving your own testimony. It is also inappropriate to argue with the witness. You may ask clarifying questions, or questions that may show that the witness is not telling the truth but do not argue. If you intend on presenting evidence in your testimony to prove your case, you MUST give the witness a chance to comment on this topic. You are prohibited from concealing evidence until it is your turn to present it. This rule is called the “Rule in Brown and Dunn.”
- Once you have finished your testimony and have called all of your witnesses, the other side will be allowed to follow the same procedure. They will testify and bring forward any relevant witnesses to the case.
- If there are any documents or photos that you would like to present as evidence, you must provide the original as well as thee copies for the other parties. Any of these pieces of evidence will be given to the Clerk of the Court. You are prohibited from approaching the witness or the Judge or Justice directly, and you should always request permission prior to approaching the Clerk.
- At trial, parties may object under certain circumstances if a party is engaged in a form of prohibited examination. If you wish to object, wait until the question is asked or stand up to catch the attention of the Judge or Justice: do speak over top of the other party. Once you have objected, you will be required to provide legal grounds for doing so: you cannot object merely because the question will reveal information prejudicial to your case.
- At the end of a trial or application, each side will give their closing arguments or submissions and will instruct the Judge or Justice on what they should do and why. Clearly summarize your position and the relief you are seeking. The Judge or Justice will then make their ruling based on all evidence presented and in accordance with the law.
After the Application or Trial
- Make sure you take thorough notes when the Judge or Justice is giving their decisions as very few matters will result in a written decision. Thorough record keeping should be a priority throughout the entire legal process.
- Keep all documents related to your legal matter so you can reference them later if necessary: particularly any Orders or Agreements which set out your legal rights or obligations.
For additional information regarding self-representation, it is recommended that parties refer to the original publication from which this information was taken. The publication, published by the Government of Alberta in 2019 can be found at:
EBL is not liable for any reliance upon the above and highly recommends reviewal of the full publication or alternatively, consultation with a lawyer. If you would like more advice on self-representation or would like legal assistance in any family law matter, please contact EBL Law at 587-390-3070.