Posts tagged court
Provincial Court of BC welcomes “McKenzie friends” in court

With their recent adoption of support person guidelines, the Provincial Court of BC has acknowledged how important it is for a self-represented litigant to have a helpmate in court. Also known as courtroom companions or Mckenzie friends, support persons can take notes, keep documents organized, and even make quiet suggestions. Perhaps most importantly, simply having a friend or family member at your side can provide much-needed emotional and moral support. Unless a judge has a good reason to order otherwise, the presence of a support person is now accepted without special permission being necessary. BC’s Provincial Court is the first court in Canada to formally recognize support persons by outlining rules about their role.

We’ve created a new fact sheet Bring a support person to Provincial Court for the Family Law in BC website about who can be a support person and what they can do.

Supreme Court Provides Picklist to Help Draft Family Law Orders

The BC Supreme Court has provided new resources to help you draft family law orders and Notice of Applications. To get the correct order, you have to tell the court what you want, which you do by filing a draft order at the court registry. This can be confusing, as there are many different types of orders. The Supreme Court has created a downloadable Family Order Picklist of approved standard terms which you can copy into your draft order, and then edit with your own details where needed. You can download the picklist in PDF or Word format.

When you copy these standard terms from the picklist, you’ll be using the correct legal language. For example, if you’re drafting a Divorce Order, you’d copy the following text from the picklist and type in your details inside the square brackets.

Subject to s. 12 of the Divorce Act (Canada), the Claimant, [name], and the Respondent, [name], who were married at [location] on [date], are divorced from each other. The divorce to take effect on the 31st day after the date of this order.

Using the correct legal language is important when drafting an order. The order must speak for itself, which means it must be clear and understandable. A confusing draft order might be rejected by the district deputy registrars. In fact, problems with family law orders are common, and some are never formalized.

Other resources for drafting Supreme Court orders

Use the picklist with other resources developed to help you draft family law orders, such as the Tips for drafting a Supreme Court order fact sheet on the Family Law in BC.

The BC Provincial Court also has a picklist of approved standard terms to help you draft family law orders. See also Tips about Provincial Court orders.

I’m negotiating an agreement with my ex. Can our discussions be used against me in court later on?

One question we’ve been hearing more since the launch of MyLawBC is whether what you say or write to your spouse when you’re writing your separation agreement could be used against you in court later on. MyLawBC’s Dialogue Tool is a platform for collaboration where you discuss and negotiate with your ex. Understandably, some people are concerned that what they say in good faith while negotiating could come back to bite them later. There’s a general legal rule that says that if you're in a legal dispute and trying to reach a settlement, then your communications can't be used against you in court. This is called settlement privilege. The idea is that you’ll speak more freely and openly during a negotiation if you aren’t worried that what you say will be used against you.

In this case, communication can become privileged (unusable in court) if:

  1. there’s a dispute that could be subject to a court case between two people. It doesn’t have to go to court, it just has to have the option to; and
  2. the purpose of the communication has to be to try to reach a settlement.

It’s more complicated than this summary though. For example, there are exceptions for threats or fraud. You can read more about settlement privilege in our new fact sheet on the Family Law in BC website.

Can a lie detector be used in court?

Two men sit across from each other in a cramped grey room. The table between them is old and worn. A bare bulb beats down from above. One of the men is confident. He leans across the table. The other man shies away; nervous sweat begins to trickle down his forehead. On the table, a machine scratches away, its needle jumping across the page as accusations fill the air. The polygraph is iconic. It’s a staple of almost every crime show or movie. If TV is to be believed, then lie detectors are as common as phones at police stations. But just because we see it on TV, and just because police use them in real life, doesn’t mean that the results of a lie detector test can be used in court.

Polygraphs record small changes in your body as you answer questions; for example, a change in how fast your heart beats. An operator then reads and interprets those changes to tell if you’re lying.

Lie detectors are based on the assumption that people who lie will be nervous and that people who tell the truth won’t be. This isn’t always the case. A sociopath may be able to lie without breaking a sweat. An innocent person may be nervous about being questioned by the police. What you think you saw may not be what actually happened. If you consider these situations, you begin to see how polygraphs could cause problems in the courtroom.

In fact, that’s exactly what the Supreme Court Canada ruled in a 1987 court case, R. v. Béland. The criminal court system has defined rules about what can be used as evidence, and lie detectors break these rules. Since lie detectors don’t meet the court’s standards, they can’t be used as evidence. You can read the full reasons in the court case above.

In family law, it’s not as clear. Polygraph results have been allowed as evidence in at least one case but rejected in others.

Polygraph fact: William Marston invented a blood pressure test that became one of the key components of the first polygraph. He’s also the creator of Wonder Woman, who had a lie detector of her own: a magic lasso that makes people tell the truth.

Help for people with family law issues who have to represent themselves in Supreme Court

If you’re going to Supreme Court for a family law matter without a lawyer, step-by-step help is now available to get you through the court process. Funded by the Law Foundation and based on the recommendations set out in Madam Justice Victoria Gray’s report Filling in the Blanks, the Legal Services Society has produced a new set of useful online resources for Supreme Court trials and hearings.

The new resources include a new self-help guide on how to schedule and prepare for a Supreme Court trial, plus two new step-by-step guides to walk users through completing the forms required for Supreme Court trials and Chambers hearings. The latter guides follow the same model as last year’s fill-in-the-blanks separation agreement guide. And in partnership with People’s Law School, we’ve created five new videos about preparing for and conducting a Supreme Court trial.

Here are descriptions and links to the new resources as well as some important older materials.

What happens at a Supreme Court trial (home page for all trial materials)

Stage 1: Before you schedule a trial

Fact sheet (multi-page): Discovery — Sharing information with the other party: Includes sections on why you have to share information, how you can shorten your trial by agreeing on some facts beforehand, what’s involved in discovery of documents and examination for discovery, and other ways to get information, like interrogatories or pre-trial examination of witnesses.

Stage 2: Prepare for your trial

NEW! Self-help guide: How to schedule and prepare for your Supreme Court trial: Explains the steps required to prepare for and schedule a Supreme Court trial, with a timeline of significant deadlines and links to videos that set out the court process.

Fact sheets:

  • Making an offer to settle: Explains how to make a formal offer to settle to try to resolve your issues before a trial.
  • Present your evidence in Supreme Court (multi-page): Describes the types of evidence you can prepare and present in a Supreme Court trial when you represent yourself (you don't have a lawyer). It includes sections on preparing your evidence, witnesses, documents, and expert opinions.

NEW! Videos (produced in partnership with People’s Law School):

  • Scheduling and preparing for a Supreme Court trial: A 4½-minute video that presents an overview of the steps leading up to a Supreme Court family law trial, including scheduling a trial, attending a Trial Management Conference, and filing and serving the necessary documents.
  • Giving testimony in Supreme Court: A 5½-minute video that describes how to prepare your spoken testimony, present it in Supreme Court, and respond to questions from the judge and the other party.
  • Questioning witnesses in a Supreme Court trial: A 5½-minute video that gives tips for using witnesses as evidence in a Supreme Court family law trial, and includes choosing your witnesses, planning your questions, and the procedure at trial. Also discusses the cross-examination process.
  • Using documents in a Supreme Court trial: A 7½-minute video that explains how to use documents as evidence in a Supreme Court family law trial and how to introduce exhibits both with and without a witness.

Stage 3: At your trial and after

NEW! Self-help guide: How to draft a Supreme Court order: Walks you through how to draft a Supreme Court order if you’re a party in a family law case.

NEW! Sample forms: Sample filled out versions of some of the most common court orders:

Fact sheets:

NEW! Video: An Introduction to Supreme Court: A 4½-minute video that provides information for the day you go to court, including what to bring and how to navigate the courthouse. Also shows what the inside of a Supreme Court family courtroom looks like, and describes the roles of those present.

Other Supreme Court resources

NEW! Self-help guide: How to draft an affidavit: Walks you through how to draft a Supreme Court affidavit if you’re a party in a family law case.

New! Sample filled-out affidavit

Fact sheets:

  • Tips for drafting an affidavit: Provides information about how to write an affidavit: what information to include and in what order, what it should look like, how to use and attach exhibits, and how to swear or affirm the affidavit once it's drafted.
  • Checklist of information to include in an affidavit or present in court: A checklist of the information/facts needed to support an application for child or spousal support/maintenance, guardianship/custody, or contact/parenting time/access. Also contains a link to a downloadable PDF version of the checklist.

These materials will supplement existing LSS self-help guides and fact sheets about making applications for court orders in Chambers hearings or by consent (out of court).

We’d like your feedback. Please let us know what you think of our new materials.