How to prepare for a trial in Provincial Court

If you're going to Provincial Court for a trial, you need to know what happens in court, and you'll have to prepare a trial book. Here is a description to help you prepare for court.


Tip: See also our fact sheet Checklist of information to include in an affidavit or present in court.

Know what happens in court

If you're going to Provincial Court, it may help you to:


Know who will be in the courtroom

Here is a diagram of the interior of most Family Courts in British Columbia.

The people who work in the courtroom include:

  • the judge, who hears the case and makes orders;
  • the court clerk, who:
    • keeps the Family Court files,
    • receives exhibits from witnesses (like letters and documents), and
    • operates the tape recorder that records all evidence given at trial; and
  • the sheriff, who pages witnesses who aren't in the courtroom and makes sure the courtroom stays safe.

Observe another Family Court case before the day of your trial

The best way to deal with worries about going to court is to watch a Family Court case in action before the day of your trial. Family Court is open to the public. Phone your Family Court registry to find out when court will take place.

In some locations, a sheriff may ask you why you want to watch. Tell the sheriff that you have a case coming up and want to watch the procedure. You can sit and watch trials for as long as you like.

Know what happens at the trial

If both parties are present in court, the trial proceeds like this:

  1. Witnesses are asked to leave the courtroom and wait outside until called to give evidence.
  2. The applicant and their witnesses give evidence and are cross-examined.
  3. The respondent and their witnesses give evidence and are cross-examined.
  4. The judge may ask questions or give instructions about the trial process.
  5. Each party sums up their case.
  6. The judge makes a decision.

Prepare a trial book

Lawyers have trial books in which they:

  • organize their evidence,
  • record information about what their witnesses will say, and
  • write out key questions that need to be asked to prove things that are important to the case.

Making a trial book can help you present your case too. To prepare a trial book, you'll need:

  • an inexpensive one-inch three-ring binder,
  • a package of five dividers, and
  • a large (9" x 12") envelope.

Divide your trial book into the following four sections:

  1. Trial Preparation Worksheet
  2. Your evidence
  3. Cross-examination
  4. Your summation

1. Trial Preparation Worksheet

When you begin to make a trial book, start by preparing a Trial Preparation Worksheet:

  • List the points you must prove at trial on one side of the sheet.
  • On the other side of the sheet, list the evidence that you're going to use at trial to prove those points.

Once you've prepared the Trial Preparation Worksheet, you can use it as a checklist to be sure that you gather and prepare everything you need for trial.

2. Your evidence

Your spoken evidence

This is what you want to say when you give evidence at the trial. Look at the Trial Preparation Worksheet:

  • Find the points you're going to prove to the judge.
  • Write a detailed list in your trial book of what you want to say. Your first point will be a short statement of why you're in court (such as, "I'm applying for a final family order").
  • Before the trial, review this list of the points you want to make.

Your documents

Documents (other than court forms) that you want to use in court, such as letters, receipts, or bank statements, must support the information in your Application to Obtain an Order (Form 1) or Application Respecting Existing Orders or Agreements (Form 2). To prepare your documents:

  • Make a list of these documents. That way you can easily check to see that you have everything you need in the document section of your trial book.
  • Make two copies of each document.
  • Punch holes in the copied documents and put them in your trial book.
  • Don't punch holes in the original documents. Instead, put these in the large envelope you bought.

How to give your documents to the court during the trial

  • Take each original document out of the envelope and hand it to the court clerk as you tell the judge about it. The clerk will give the document to the judge.
  • Give the respondent one of the copies of the document that you put in your trial book.
  • Use the other copy to refer to during your trial.

Your witnesses' evidence

If you're going to call witnesses to give evidence at trial:

  • Prepare questions for them before the trial.
  • Review these questions with your witnesses before the trial. It's important that you know the answers your witnesses will give. If you know the answers ahead of time, this will help to avoid confusion and make sure you don't get unexpected answers that throw you off course.
  • Include the list of questions for your witnesses in your trial book.

3. Cross-examination

A cross-examination is when one party asks questions of the other party and their witnesses. Make a list of questions you want to ask (if any) the other party when it's your turn to cross-examine.

Most people find this the most difficult part of their case to prepare. This is because they think that they must somehow "break down" the witnesses and force them to admit that they're wrong. This is usually unrealistic. Cross-examination is used to try and weaken the other party's case by making the witnesses' evidence seem less believable or important. But it's usually not as dramatic as it is on TV.

Cross-examination is best used to bring out evidence the witness has that can help you get the orders you want. You might ask the witness about things they haven't told the court that would be helpful to you.

4. Your summation — A brief summary of your case

After all the evidence on both sides has been heard, it's time for the summation:

  • This is your final opportunity to convince the judge to make the order that you want. The other party gets a chance to do this as well.
  • The summation isn't another chance to give evidence. You may only refer to points on which evidence has already been given.
  • Put your Trial Preparation Worksheet in the summation section of your trial book. Use this as a guide when you speak to the judge to help you sum up what you had to prove and what evidence you gave to prove it.

To find out more about what will happen when you go to court, see What will happen at my Provincial Court trial?

For more information about preparing for or attending a trial, you can also read the Justice Education Society's Guidebooks for Representing Yourself. These online booklets are about how to represent yourself in a civil trial, but civil trials follow the same rules as family trials, so you may still find them helpful.

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