Going to court can be stressful. See Coping with the court process for tips on how to deal with this stress.
Representing yourself in court can be even more stressful.
But if you're representing yourself in Provincial Court, you can bring a support person to help you. Support people are sometimes also called courtroom companions.
A support person could be a friend or a relative, but should not be someone who will be a witness. The court guidelines say that during the trial or hearing they can:
- take notes,
- organize your documents and hand them to you when you need them,
- write down or whisper suggestions to you,
- give you emotional and moral support, and
- do any other task that the judge lets them do.
If you just want someone to sit beside you, that's okay too. They don't have to do the things in this list if you don't want them to.
During breaks or after the trial or hearing, a support person can give you feedback.
A support person can't speak to the court, except in special situations (for example, if you have a language problem or disability). If you need someone to do this for you, tell the court before the hearing. The judge needs time to decide if the support person can speak for you.
If your support person isn't allowed to be with you, you can ask the judge for a break during the court appearance to speak with them, in private, outside the room. The judge might let you take several breaks to talk to your support person.
How do you introduce your support person to the judge?
When your case is called, walk to the front of the courtroom. When you give your name, tell the judge, "I have a support person with me, and they understand how a support person must act." Give their name and say if they're a friend or family member.
The judge might ask the other person if they have any objection (that is, if they're not happy that you've brought a support person).
If the other person objects:
- Listen to why they're not happy that you've brought a support person.
- Explain to them that your support person:
- knows the guidelines,
- knows they can't speak out loud during the trial, and
- will stay calm.
If you're thinking about bringing a support person, you could tell the other person before the trial. That way, they might not object at the trial.
Family settlement conferences
A judge might let a support person to sit with you in a family settlement conference but you have to ask first. Usually, the other person has to agree to it.
If the support person isn't allowed to be with you, you can ask the judge for one or more breaks during the conference to speak to them outside the room.
Do you need to bring a support person?
Some people don't want to bring a support person.
Here are some questions to help you decide if having a trusted friend or family member in court would help you:
- Do you think you'll be nervous in court?
- Could you use help to stay focused on what you want to say?
- Would it be easier to pay attention to what's happening if someone could organize your documents and pass you the papers you need?
These are all good reasons to have a support person with you.
How do you choose a support person?
A support person should be someone who:
- you trust,
- will respect your privacy,
- is organized and capable,
- isn't in conflict with the other person, and
- will stay calm.
Someone who helped you prepare for court might be a good support person, because they already know about your case.
A support person can't:
- be a witness in the hearing or trial, or
- be paid for their services.
A judge might not let your support person sit with you if:
- they're disruptive, or
- it would be unfair to the other person.
Going to court can be hard on your mental and physical health. Be kind to yourself.