Going to Court

There are special rules of procedure for family law matters heard in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (General or Family Division). These procedural rules can be accessed online. View the Family Law Rules.

There are also some rules about behaviour in the courtroom which may not be found in the written rules, but are followed nonetheless. Such rules include: no gum chewing in court, no hats, no coffee or other drinks can be brought into the courtroom, and no cell phones. If you do have a cell phone, please make sure you turn it off before you enter the courtroom.

It is a good idea to dress smartly for any court proceedings. A tidy appearance is more likely to create a good and positive impression. Stand when the Judge enters the courtroom. When entering or leaving the courtroom while the court is in session bow or nod your head. Avoid talking while the court is in session. When your turn comes to speak to the Judge, stand up and speak clearly and loudly. Remain polite and courteous at all times. Abusive language is unlikely to persuade the Judge of the value of your case.

To start a hearing, the Court Officer will call the Court to order. The Applicant (person making the application) will normally speak first. If witnesses are required for a hearing, they must be subpoenaed to the hearing by the party who intends to use them as witnesses. A subpoena is a court document which orders a witness to attend court at a certain date and time. You can request a copy of a blank subpoena from the Court Registry. You will need to ensure it is properly filled out and properly served (ie. formally delivered according to the Rules of Court) on the required witness.

If the hearing involves witnesses, then the Applicant’s witnesses are normally called first. The Applicant or his/her lawyer will examine (ask questions) of a witness and then the Respondent (or his/her lawyer) will have the opportunity to ask questions of that same witness. If further questions arise for the Applicant as a result of the questioning by the Respondent, the Applicant is normally allowed to ask a few extra questions if necessary.

After the Applicant has called his/her witnesses to the stand, the Respondent will also be able to call their own witnesses. The Respondent or his/her lawyer will examine (ask questions) of a Respondent witness and then the Applicant (or his/her lawyer) will have the opportunity to ask questions of that same witness. If further questions arise for the Respondent as a result of the questioning by the Applicant, the Respondent is normally allowed to ask a few extra questions if necessary.

The Applicant and Respondent will usually also testify as well as part of a hearing where witnesses are called.

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 way you are feeling is entirely normal. You may want to practice relaxation exercises before you testify (such as concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly). You might want to consider bringing a support person to court who will sit with you before you go into court.

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. You could be held in contempt of court, which is very serious, and you may be put in jail.

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, 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.

What happens if a lawyer says objection while I am testifying?

If one of the lawyers says objection while you are testifying, stop talking. 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.