Tips for conducting your Supreme Court trial
This fact sheet has information for representing yourself at trial, including:
- how to behave in court,
- when and how to speak up,
- how to swear an oath or affirm the truth, and
- how to exclude witnesses.
How to behave in court
To make a good impression during your trial, it's important to follow the rules and standards of courtroom behaviour. Here are some tips on courtroom etiquette:
- Arrive at the courtroom at least 15 minutes before your scheduled trial time. Any witnesses and/or support persons coming with you should also arrive 15 minutes early.
- Always be respectful and polite to everyone in the courtroom, including the other party and any legal representatives.
- If the judge is a woman, call her My Lady or Your Ladyship. If the judge is a man, call him My Lord or Your Lordship.
- Stand up when a judge enters or leaves the courtroom. Also stand when you're speaking to the judge.
- When you're speaking to a witness, use either Mr., Ms., or Dr., and not their first names. For example, say, Mr. Smith, not Joe.
- Return to court on time after any breaks.
- Take notes during court. That way, you can respond to any issues raised by the other party when it's your turn to speak to the judge.
- You may not personally record your trial unless you first get permission from the judge.
- If you have any questions about court procedure during your trial (e.g., how a rule of procedure works, what happens next, or what's expected of you), ask the judge.
Important: Although you may ask the judge questions about court procedure, they can't give you legal advice on your case. They must be impartial when hearing the trial. This means the judge can't appear to help one side or the other.
When and how to speak up
It's important to know when it's appropriate for you to speak up at trial, and to avoid speaking up at the wrong times. Follow these rules to present yourself as credible to the court and, especially, the judge:
- When you want to speak during the trial, talk to the judge. Don't speak directly to the other party.
- Don't interrupt when the judge or the other party is speaking. Only one person is allowed to speak at a time.
- If you disagree with something the other party tells the judge, write it down. Don't speak to the other party and tell them that you disagree. The judge will give you time to disagree, but only when it's your turn to speak.
- If you object to a question the other party asks of your witnesses, don't interrupt. Instead:
- Write down your objection right away.
- Stand up. This tells the judge that you have something to say. You can then explain why you're objecting to the question the other party asked your witness.
- Do not stand up if you disagree with the other party's (or their witness's) answer to a question, or if you think that the other party or their witnesses are lying. Just write it down so that you can refer to it later.
- If you can't hear a witness, the other party, a lawyer, or the judge, let the judge know. Stand up and politely tell the judge you didn't hear what was said.
When you or your witnesses take the stand, you'll be asked to either swear an oath or affirm that you'll be telling the truth.
An oath is a verbal promise to tell the truth. Oaths are frequently made while holding the Bible, the New Testament or the Old Testament. Witnesses may choose to swear an oath on another religious text, or not use a religious text. For a witness appearing in court, the form of oath taken is generally as follows:
I swear [or promise] by Almighty God [or a god recognized by the witness's religion] that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
An affirmation is a solemn and formal verbal declaration made in place of an oath. A person may choose to make an affirmation rather than an oath, often as a non-religious alternative. An affirmation has the same effect as an oath. For a witness appearing in court, the form of affirmation is as follows:
I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
How to exclude witnesses
At the beginning of trial, the judge can order all witnesses to stay outside the courtroom (exclude them) until they're called to come into the courtroom and give their evidence. You may make the request to exclude witnesses, and so may the other party. You'd do this to make sure that a witness doesn't change their testimony after hearing the testimony of another witness.
Warn your witnesses that they may have to sit outside until they're called to give evidence. If a judge orders that the witnesses be excluded from the courtroom, don't speak to the witnesses about any of the evidence that's been presented before they testify. You don't have to leave the courtroom when other witnesses testify, even if you'll be testifying yourself.
This material was adapted, with permission, from the National Self-represented Litigants Project's publication, Coping with the courtroom: Essential tips and information for self-represented litigants.
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