By Matt Paul
December 4, 2018
In part one of this series I wrote about Legal Aid, Duty Council and Three choices that people have when faced with a criminal charge in Ontario.
In part two I wrote about different types of lawyers and expectations.
In part three I wrote about important details, procedures, rights, charges and the criminal code.
In part four I wrote about the court process at trial and touched on CanLII.org.
This segment I will talk more about CanLii.org and court room etiquette that will help you in moving things forward properly and without bias against you as a self represented person.
In my early dealings from receiving my disclosure at the outset of my matter to the trial date I was very careful to show respect and treat people very professionally in the courtroom including all court staff. You have to understand that everyone for the Court work together to administer this big machine and they all share a common bond, they may be friends outside or even have family in common so when you are dealing with them it is important to keep things on the task at hand. None of this is personal and you are just another accused person among many and increasingly another self represented person too.
If you haven’t figured out this yet, depending on the seriousness of the issue you are facing you are going to back to court several more times and you will see these people every time so it is important they see you as a decent, respectable and somewhat competent person. Dressing well and speaking well with proper manners in verbal, fax and email communications will play well in your dealings in court. It will not influence the outcome of the proceedings however it will improve your chances of being treated more fairly in each part of the process.
When in court at your hearings the Judge will speak and issue instructions acting as an officiator of the process. Whenever the judge speaks you should make notes and be careful to convey that you are paying close attention. When you are addressing the Judge it is “Your Honour”, “Yes sir”, “Please” and “Thank you”. You must stand and face the judge when you address him. Also be ready to apologize for the slightest miss-step in protocol such as interrupting the judge. Try not to ever do that, however if you do be sure to apologize profusely.
When in court if you disagree with what the crown is saying or want to add to the discussion between the Crown and the Judge feel free to do so. They may have a special relationship because the Crown is in court many times and constantly deals with the Judge however it is important to maintain your voice and standing. If you disagree with the Crown or the direction that the conversation between the Judge and the Crown is going simply stand up once the Crown has completed his statement and ask the judge to consider your information or statement or question. This will allow you to have the last word of consideration. Also if given the option of speaking last in closing summaries always take that option as you will be able to state and show how and why the judge should disagree with the Crown’s final statement.
This takes me back to CanLII. I had some issues where outside of Court I felt that the Crown was not treating me fairly in terms of giving me information that they would give a lawyer or other person. As an example I had a French bit of disclosure that was hand written statements of witnesses. Not being French I had to struggle with the translation and I decided that Canada is a bilingual country so there must be a law that prevents the crown from not providing English translations of evidence or at least a case where someone spoke up for the right to understand what is being said against them. As it turns out a quick search of CanLii was able to yield two precedents that supported my thought process. So while the Crown stated in an email that they did not have to give me translations and refused to do so, I knew that if I got in front of the judge that he would if asked in a polite, professional and formal way would order them to. I also knew that this lack of co-operation being brought to the judge’s attention would slant the judge towards being co-operative with other requests. After all I was a self represented person, to the court and crown a layman with no real stature and essentially the person that they process through the system everyday without any trouble. With evidence of a lack of co-operation from the Crown with such a purportedly disadvantaged person facing the daunting legal process the scales of justice would no doubt slightly tilt in my favour?
The answer was in another CanLii search. In addition to the translation issue, the Crown was being sticky with releasing to me video interviews, recordings and photographs relating to the incident. The Crown’s office was insisting on a chain of custody that kept the documents securely in the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police at all times. If I wanted to view the documents to prepare for my case I would have to make an appointment and attend a Police Station to have access. I felt that this was an impediment and something that was wrong. I felt that somewhere someone may have been able to take that info home and play it on their own home theatre system or laptop like a lawyer would do. It turns out that I was right again. Again, politely, professionally and humbly I did ask the Judge to order the Crown to release the information to me under certain conditions which they could come up with. Another job well done.
My advice is to look closely at everything that is done regarding your file and your court matter. If something does not seem right ask about it at the first available opportunity and if the answer does seem fair bring it up with the documentation in a court date before the judge. This will provide you opportunities to gain confidence, experience and face time with the people that will ultimately decide on a major decision in your life.
The author is not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. It is a literal representation of the facts as they appeared to the writer from personal experience.