You may find yourself presenting at court such as at a trial or hearing. No matter the reason for being at court the most important thing is to prepare. This will allow you to present a better argument and will make the judge more likely to rule in your favour.
A good way to prepare is to create a trial binder (a binder you can take to court that contains all the important documents and notes).
Here is what your trial book order might look like:
- Case Building Worksheet
- Court Documents - This includes all the filed notices, replies, applications, or orders
- Opening Statements – Your prepared draft
- Your Evidence – If you will be giving evidence, list the points and documents you will discuss
- Witness Worksheet – Summarizing all you witnesses
- Questions you will be asking; and
- Documents you are presenting to them
- Closing Statements – Your prepared draft
Make three copies as well as the original of each document that you will be presenting and be sure to include lots of blank paper for you to take notes.
Presenting Documents in Court
To present a document in court and enter it as evidence you usually need someone, a witness or a party (this could be you), to introduce it to the court. They will need to swear that it is the authentic document and may be needed to explain the content of the document.
If you are presenting a document:
- Take each original document 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 other party one of the copies of the document.
- You may need to stand in the witness box and swear or affirm the truth of your statements.
- Alternatively you may present the document to the court if it is an exhibit to your sworn affidavit.
- After identifying the document it will be marked as an exhibit.
If you are presenting a document to a witness:
- Make sure the other side has a copy of the document.
- Give the document to the clerk.
- Ask the clerk to mark it for identification and give it to the judge at the beginning of the testimony of the witness who will identify it.
- Once it has been identified, ask the clerk to mark it as an exhibit.
Trials and Hearings
At a trial or a hearing, you will be asked to give an opening statement, allowed to question witnesses (both your own and those of the other side) and to make a closing statement. Here are some tips to keep in mind through each of these steps.
- Inform the Judge what happened – Summarize any interim orders including when they were made, and any issues that have been settled. For example: “There has been an order granted for child support on April 4, 2015 that sets out Mr. X is to pay $200/month to me. We have settled in an agreement on the issue of spousal support.” If your case is very complicated it might be helpful to prepare a chronology of events.
- Inform the Judge why you are here – Clearly state what orders you are seeking.
- Inform the Judge what you will be doing – State your most important issues, how you intend to support your claims, the witnesses who you will be calling, and the documents that you will be presenting to the court. Remember to keep it short.
Fill out the Opening Statement Worksheet to help you prepare for your day in court. Clearly state what you want the judge to order and why, a short summary of your case, and who you will be calling as witnesses.
You will need to question the witnesses you call. This type of questioning is called “direct examination”. For a direct examination you will need to ask open questions which are questions that allow for explanations. Open questions usually begin with words like who, what, why, where, how, tell me about, or describe.
Leading questions as the name indicates leads the answerer to a particular answer. They are usually answered with a yes or no. Leading questions allow you to control what the witness talks about and often helps you get the witness to give a specific answer. You cannot ask leading questions of the witnesses you call.
Here is an example to show you the difference:
- Open Question: Describe the current parenting arrangements?
- Leading Question: Nancy lives with you Monday to Friday, right?
The other party will also be calling witnesses, once they have questioned them it is your turn. Asking questions of another party’s witness is called “cross-examination”. You are allowed to ask leading questions during cross-examination.
When you cross–examine, you will want to:
- Get evidence that supports your case. Try to get the witness to agree to facts you present.
- Discredit the witness. This approach is used so the judge or jury will minimize or disregard evidence or comments that do not support your case. You can do this by bringing into question their memory or their truthfulness. Show that they may be biased or that they are inconsistent with their story.
The closing argument is not another chance to give evidence. You may only refer to points on which evidence has already been given.
Here are the steps you want to take for your closing:
- Summarize the law –Very briefly state the law you are relying on and any case law you are using to support your claim. Highlight the points you are trying to prove off your Case Building Worksheet.
- Summarize your evidence and how it relates to the law – Make reference to the evidence you presented to the court such as witness statements or documents that show the points you are trying to prove.
- Address any arguments by the other party – If you can show how their points do not apply to your case, do so.
- Conclude – Restate the order that you seek.
Fill in the Closing Statement Worksheet to help you prepare but be sure to fill it in with more detail during your trial. Be sure to clearly write down what order you want the judge to make or not make, a brief outline of the reasons why and your legal position (the evidence and laws supporting your case).
Managing the Stress
Going through a trial can be very stressful. At times it is frustrating and can get emotional. It is vital that you take care of yourself leading up to your trial date as well as during.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- It’s not about revenge – Remind yourself what is important to you. Revisit your goals. Try not to get caught up in the battle mentality of court.
- Stay calm – Take deep breathes or write notes on your page to remind yourself to relax. Don’t let your emotions control you.
- Have support – Bring someone you trust to court with you. They can’t talk to you while court is in session but during breaks and lunch they can encourage you.
- Believe in yourself – Tell yourself you can do it. You’ve worked hard to get here be confident.
- Fuel your body – Make sure to eat something nutritious for breakfast.
- Rest – Get a good night sleep before trial. It’ll benefit you more to be well rested then to stay up preparing the night before.
- Stretch – There will be an opportunity to walk around during the court’s morning break, lunch break and afternoon break. Make sure you stretch out your legs at this time.
- Breathe –Take deep quiet breathes to help you stay calm and focused.
- Be Professional – Stay collected and objective. Don’t get too emotional.