There are special rules of procedure for coming to court, which apply to everyone whether you are coming to the courthouse in Iqaluit or attending court in the communities.
- Before you read below you may wish to go here: Courtprep.ca also contains useful information about how the court system works in Canada.
Before you come to Court
It is a good idea to dress up for any court proceedings. A tidy appearance is more likely to create a good and positive impression. Attending court is no different than attending a job interview or a cultural event.
You should aim for at least business casual dress – for a man that means dress pants, a dress shirt and possibly a tie and jacket; for a woman, dress pants or a skirt, a blouse or shirt, and a cardigan or a jacket. Inuit traditional clothing including formal sealskin vests/amauti and kamiks are welcome and encouraged to be worn in place of business casual clothing and shoes.
The Nunavut Courts understand that it may beyond the means of some persons attending court to obtain business casual or Inuit traditional clothing. In that case, you should discuss what you will wear with your lawyer beforehand and it is requested in such cases that you keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Everything should be as clean and tidy as possible,
- It is preferable that jeans and sweatpants not be worn, and
- Clothing should be plain without holes, cartoons, logos, or rude messages.
What to expect when you are at Court
When you arrive at the courthouse/place where court is being held, you can expect that for most matters you will be facing a search by a Sheriff. This is no different than being screened through security at the airport. You will be required to remove any outerwear, empty your pockets, and walk through a screening device or be patted down by a sheriff (of the same gender). If you have a backpack, bags/purses, or a briefcase then it will be searched.
Certain items are not permitted through the security process and the Sheriff will inform you if any items are being withheld until you are leaving the courthouse/place of circuit court. You are welcome to ask the sheriff about any items you bring with you to see if they are acceptable.
You are expected to remove hats, hoodies, or other headware (except for those worn for religious reasons) and sunglasses (except if medically required) before entering the courtroom.
Arriving at Court
When you are in the courthouse or place where circuit court is being held, the following guidelines should be kept in mind.
You may have gum or food outside of the courtroom as long as you are tidy and place any garbage in the garbage cans. In the courtroom: you may not chew gum or consume food. Coffee and other drinks are not permitted in the courtrooms. Water may be brought in if the container is resealable and does not leak.
If you are waiting outside of the courtroom, either for a family member or your turn before the court, please keep all conversations to an indoor appropriate level. If you are supervising small children then you must ensure that they keep quiet and do not yell or shout and disturb the court or court staff.
If you are in the courtroom watching the matter, then you must keep quiet when court is in session. You may not speak to the Judge, or anyone before the court, or in the witness box. You are permitted to ask questions of counsel during breaks, but once court has been called into session you must remain quietly in your seat.
Babies, toddlers, and young children are strictly prohibited from any courtrooms. Any child who remains outside of the courtrooms must be in the care of a parent/guardian at all times. Children are not permitted to play or run in the courthouse/place of hearing or make noise and disturb the court or courthouse staff.
It is preferable that you make arrangements for child care and leave your children at home if you have a reason to come to court.
What you can and cannot bring with you into court
Cell phones are permitted in the courtrooms, but they must be turned off and remain off during the entire time of the court session. If you do have a cell phone, please make sure you turn it off before you enter the courtroom.
Other technology such as cameras, IPads/IPhones, video recording devices, audio recorders, laptops, pagers, webcams, etc. are permitted outside of the courtrooms, however, they must remain off and stowed at all times while in the courtrooms. If you have any further questions, please view the available documentation on this website.Public Use of Technology policy
Weapons of any kind, including knives and toys/lighters which may resemble a weapon, are strictly prohibited from the courthouse/place of circuit court.
Alcoholic beverages and drugs of any kind are strictly prohibited and may not be brought to the courthouse/place of circuit court.
If you use an inhaler or other medications (prescribed by a doctor or nurse) you may bring them with you to court. Be prepared that they will be inspected by a Sheriff, but you will be able to bring them with you into the courtroom.
If your lawyer has requested that you bring any documentation or items with you, you should bring them to court and be prepared to meet with your lawyer before the scheduled start time for court.
You can bring Kleenex or a handkerchief, a notepad and pen if you wish to make notes, hearing aids/required medical devices, crutches or canes (at the discretion of the Sheriffs and the Judge), purses/wallets, and keys.
Cigarettes (including e-cigarettes and vaporizers) and lighters may be brought into the courthouse in your pocket or bag, but they cannot be smoked indoors and lighters must be kept closed at all times.
Please remember that anything you bring to court will be subject to search. Some items may be held by the Sheriff’s while you are in court and returned to you when you leave. Items which are illegal will be confiscated and turned over to the RCMP.
During the Court Proceeding
You are required to stand when the Judge enters or leaves the courtroom. The Court Clerk will state “All Rise” when the Judge is entering the courtroom. You should remain standing until the Judge directs everyone to be seated. When the Judge is leaving the courtroom, the Court Clerk will direct everyone to stand. You should stand and remain standing until the lawyers start to pack up to leave the courtroom.
You are also expected to stand whenever you speak to the Judge or the Judge speaks to you. If you are addressing a judge in the Nunavut Courts, you should call the Judge “Your Honour” or “Madam Justice (last name)” or “Mister Justice (last name).”
When entering or leaving the courtroom while the court is in session, you should bow or nod your head towards the Judges’ bench. When entering or leaving do so as quietly as possible. You should take your seat as quickly as possible. If you arrive and the session has already started you should bow or nod to the Judge and then take the nearest available seat rather than asking people to move to let you into the row. It is preferable that you arrive early and be seated before the court start time.
If you are present to observe a court matter, do not make any noise. Do not carry on conversations with people seated around you. Whispering can be as disruptive as talking when court is in session, particularly when the proceedings are being recorded.
Please do not lean on the chair/bench in front of you or put your feet on the chairs/benches. Also, if you have a jacket or parka you are expected to place it on your lap or the seat next to you, not draped over the back of the chairs/benches beside or around you.
Testifying in Court
If you are called to testify before the court, remember these important tips:
- When your turn comes to speak to the Judge, stand up and speak clearly and loudly (but do not shout);
- Remain polite and courteous at all times;
- Abusive language is unlikely to persuade the Judge of the value of your case;
- You have the right to testify in the language of your choice. Be sure that you let your lawyer know which language you wish to testify in and they will notify the court who will arrange for a translator.
Who are the people in the courtroom?
In all court matters there will be several people present in the courtroom. The first and most important is the Judge. This person will hear the arguments put forth, listen to all of the evidence, and make a decision about the matter before the court. This person is a learned and experienced person in the law and charged with making a balanced and fair decision in the matter for everyone concerned. In JP Court, there will be a Justice of the Peace (JP). This person is often a non-lawyer who has been trained in JP hearings and the law.
There will be a Court Clerk. This person is in charge of calling court into session, administering oaths to witnesses,keeping the court schedule, and recording the orders of the Judge.
Depending on the matter and the needs of the parties, there may be a court reporter who is responsible for recording everything said during the trial and preparing a transcript (a record of oral testimony in a legal proceeding). If there is not a court reporter then the matter will be digitally recorded. There may also be a translator present who will translate everything that is said in English into your language and everything you say into English if you choose to testify in your own language.
There will be at least two lawyers present. In criminal matters there will be one lawyer from the Public Prosecutions Office (PPSC), also known as the "Crown" who will present the charges and who is responsible for proving that the person charged has committed the crime they are accused of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The other lawyer is the Defence lawyer, either an independent lawyer or from Legal Aid. The job of the Defence is to represent the accused by giving them the best defence possible. In all matters there are two lawyers to represent each party in a case.
There will be at least one Sheriff in the courtroom and possibly members of the RCMP. Their job is to escort prisoners and ensure that the courtroom remains safe for everyone present.
This is not a comprehensive list and you will find that each type of matter (criminal, civil, youth, JP, family, etc.) will have different variations.
How to Prepare for Court
While your lawyer will help prepare yourself for court, you can do a few things to help.
All court sessions, with a few exceptions, are open to the public. This means that you can come to court and watch a court proceeding. A few weeks before you are due in court, we recommend that you go to the courthouse/circuit court and watch a few court cases in session. Court typically runs Monday to Friday from 9:30a.m.-11:30a.m. and 1:30p.m.-4:00p.m.. You are welcome to come and watch a matter in session. If a matter is closed to the public then it will be posted at the door.
Watching court before it is your turn will help you get a sense of how court operates, what to expect when the Judge is asking questions or giving directions, how lawyers question people who are testifying, etc.
In Iqaluit, you can find out what matters are being heard that day by viewing the court docket which is posted in the main lobby of the courthouse. These dockets will tell you which courtrooms are being used, what type of matter is being heard and what time.
Another thing you can do is consider bringing a friend or member of your family with you to court. This person will not be able to speak during court, but they will be able to be with you before and after your testimony. Having someone who can provide you with emotional support can often reduce anxiety during what is a very stressful time.
Commonly Asked Questions
Below are some common questions which arise when people are testifying in Court.
I am afraid I will panic, or become emotional, when I testify. How do I calm down?
The first thing to do is to remember that this is entirely normal. Testifying in front of a courtroom is very stressful for everyone. You can ask for a moment to compose yourself. During this time, a good way to accomplish this is by taking several deep and slow breaths.
Another recommendation is that you might want to consider bringing a support person to court who will sit with you before you go into court. It can lessen the tension just knowing that they are there while you are in this stressful situation.
What if I just don’t say anything when I am asked questions by the lawyers?
You cannot refuse to answer questions while you are testifying. It is the responsibility of your lawyer to object to inappropriate questions. Refusing to answer a question could result in being found in contempt of court, which is very serious.
Although some non-verbal answers are traditional in the Inuit culture such as raising the eyebrow to say yes, all questions require a verbal response. Court is often recorded by use of a digital recorder which cannot see people’s faces or body language. It can only record verbal answers. Therefore, when you are in court you need to make a spoken response to all questions put to you by the lawyers or the Judge.
What if I start crying?
Don’t worry if you cry in court. People cry all the time. In fact, most witness stands have a box of tissues close by. If you need to take a moment to gather yourself together, you may ask the Judge for a break.
I am afraid that I won’t understand the lawyers and their questions. What should I do?
If you don’t understand a question, make sure you tell the judge. The lawyer may be asked to re-phrase the question, or the judge may explain it further. Don’t be embarrassed to say you don’t understand. Legal language can sometimes be confusing to people who don’t work in the legal system. If you only speak one language or have limited comprehension of English, then you can request a translator. Be certain to raise this with your lawyer before court.
What happens if a lawyer says "objection" while I am testifying?
If one of the lawyers says “objection” while you are testifying, stop talking and wait until you are directed to start talking again. The Judge may want to hear from each of the lawyers before the Judge decides whether you can continue talking about what you were talking about.
Lastly, the Nunavut Courts would like to take this opportunity to let you know that the Court is very much aware of how difficult coming before the court can be and it will do everything in its power to assist you.
(Adapted from Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, “Going to Court” online: < http://www.court.nl.ca/supreme/goingtocourt.html > 11/24/2014)