Accidents, Injuries and Suing
Click on a topic below to learn more.
Am I required to have automobile insurance?
Yes. It is an offence under Nova Scotia's Motor Vehicle Act to drive without insurance. In addition, drivers must provide a Statement of Insurance to the Registry of Motor Vehicles when registering or renewing a vehicle registration.
Mandatory types of automobile insurance coverage
Nova Scotia drivers must have:
1) third party liability coverage;
2) accident benefits coverage, and;
3) uninsured and unidentified drivers coverage.
These three types of automobile insurance coverage are mandatory in Nova Scotia. They are found in sections A, B, and D, respectively, of your automobile insurance policy.
Third party liability coverage
Third party liability coverage, also called PLPD, insures you if you injure someone, cause someone's death, or damage someone else's property in a motor vehicle accident. You must have at least $500,000 of third party liability coverage, although it is common to have $1,000,000 of coverage. Third party liability coverage is found in section A of a standard automobile insurance policy.
Accident benefits, also called 'section B' or no-fault benefits, provide coverage if you and/or passengers are injured in a motor vehicle accident. They include medical and rehabilitation expenses, death and funeral benefits, and loss of income. Accident benefits are no-fault. This means you are generally entitled to accident benefits even if you caused the accident. There are some important limitations. For example, if you are convicted of impaired driving in connection with the accident, or if you were not licensed to drive, you would be denied accident benefits. However, any passenger injured would still be able to make a claim.
What accident benefits cover
Accident benefits cover:
1) reasonable medical and rehabilitation expenses up to a maximum of $50,000 per person;
2) funeral expenses up to $2,500, and some death benefits;
3) loss of income, generally at the rate of $250 per week if you were working at the date of the accident.
The above accident benefit amounts apply to any crash that happened on or after April 1, 2012. Benefit amounts for a crash before April 1, 2012 are lower: maximum $25,000 per person medical and rehabilitation expenses; $1,000 funeral expenses; $140 per week loss of income.
Uninsured and unidentified driver insurance coverage
If an unidentified driver, or a driver without insurance, injures you or damages your vehicle you may make a claim under the uninsured and unidentified driver section of your own automobile insurance policy. This is section D of a standard automobile insurance policy.
Types of optional automobile insurance coverage
Collision and comprehensive coverage, or section C in a standard insurance policy, is optional. Collision insurance covers damage to your vehicle from an accident, even if you are at fault for the accident. Comprehensive insurance covers loss or damage to your vehicle if you hit an animal, or if your vehicle is stolen, vandalized, damaged in a fire.
Further, you may choose to get additional section B benefits coverage.
For more insurance information you may wish to contact:
- the Insurance Bureau of Canada's Information Centre at 1.800.565.7189 ext. 227 or visit its website at www.ibc.ca. The Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national trade association of private insurance companies;
- Nova Scotia's Office of the Superintendant of Insurance at 902.424.6331 or online at novascotia.ca/finance (under 'Insurance'). The Office of the Superintendant of Insurance regulates Nova Scotia's insurance industry and enforces the Insurance Act
- General Insurance OmbudService at 1.877.225.0446 or visit its website at giocanada.org. The General Insurance OmbudService is an independent dispute resolution service that helps Canadian consumers resolve disputes or concerns with their home, auto or business insurers;
- the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada at 1-866-461-FCAC (3222) or visit its website at fcac-acfc.gc.ca. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is an independent body which provides consumer information on financial services and products, and also monitors and supervises federally incorporated or registered insurance companies.
Defamation: Libel and slander
A good reputation is part of your self-worth and dignity. Once harmed, a good reputation is hard to get back.
The law of defamation protects a person’s reputation from harm that is not justified.
Defamation is communication about a person that tends to hurt their reputation. It causes people who read or hear the communication to think less of the person.
The law doesn't protect you from a personal insult or a remark that injures only your pride. It protects your reputation in the minds of others, not your feelings.
For example, if someone in a public meeting calls you a nasty word, your feelings might be hurt, but you would have a difficult time showing the communication lowered your reputation in the minds of others.
If someone tells others you cheat in your business dealings, then you would have a much stronger claim that this harms your reputation and is defamatory.
The law tries to balance a person’s right to protect their reputation against competing rights such as the guarantee of freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Sometimes, even though someone makes a defamatory statement that harms a person's reputation, the law may say another right, like freedom of expression, is more important.
This legal information is about civil defamation. It does not talk about criminal defamation. Defamation can also be a crime under the Criminal Code, but criminal charges for defamation are rare. This information does not give legal advice.
pdf Download this Defamation page in pdf. (317 KB)
Different forms of defamation: Libel and Slander
If defamation is written or recorded in some other way, it is called libel. Libel is defamation that leaves a permanent record. Examples of libel are statements on social media or other online platforms, in newspapers, letters, or emails, or on radio or TV broadcasts. Libel can also be a picture.
If the defamation leaves no permanent record, it is called slander. Mostly this is spoken statements. It can also be a hand gesture or something similar.
Under Nova Scotia’s Defamation Act, libel and slander are treated the same: either can be 'defamation', and can be the basis of a civil lawsuit.
Defamation can be committed against a group or an individual.
Options if someone made defamatory comments about you
Collect all of the information you can about:
- what was said and to who,
- whether it was published somewhere (and if so, keep a copy),
- when it was said and how often (dates),
- whether it was repeated by anyone else, and
- any damaging effects that you have noticed. This might include money loss, loss of business or customers, emotional or psychological effects.
If you’ve been bullied online or had intimate pictures of you shared without your consent, you’re protected under Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act. See “Online bullying” below, and contact Nova Scotia CyberScan for more information and help.
You might try writing a ‘cease and desist’ letter. This is a letter telling the person to stop making the defamatory comments right now and in the future. The letter can threaten to sue if the defamatory statements do not stop. You could write the letter yourself or hire a lawyer to write it for you.
Ask the person to publicly retract (take back) the comments and apologize.
If someone defames you, you might be able to sue them for money (called damages) for harming your reputation.
It is a good idea to contact a lawyer and get advice about whether you have the basis to sue the person who made the comments, or to perhaps get them to retract them and apologize.
You should get advice as soon as possible as there are time limits, called limitation periods, on when you can sue and they can vary depending on who you plan to sue. The limitation period in certain defamation cases can be as short as 3 to 6 months, so it is a good idea to get advice as soon as possible after you learn that defamation occurred. If the limitation period is missed, a judge will not allow the claim to proceed, even if it has merit.
To show that someone defamed you, you must show that the communication:
- was defamatory — that it would tend to lower your reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person,
- referred to you,
- was false, and
- was communicated by the defendant to at least one other person.
You are not required to show the defendant intended to do harm, or even that the defendant was careless. If you prove the required elements, the defendant must then prove a defence in order to escape liability.
Defences to a defamation claim
The following are defences to a defamation claim:
If you give your consent for a defamatory statement to be published, you cannot sue the publisher for defamation.
Truth or justification
A statement may hurt your reputation, but if the statement is true, that is a complete defence to a defamation claim. The person who made the statement can defend their statement by proving it is more likely true than not.
Absolute privilege — Statements made in a court or tribunal process
A statement made in a court or tribunal process is protected by a defence of absolute privilege. This is a complete and unqualified defence to an action for defamation.
This defence protects defamatory statements made in a civil lawsuit. It covers statements made in court, as well as all steps to prepare for court, including court filings and examinations for discovery.
Absolute privilege also protects defamatory statements made in all stages of a criminal case. For example, a complaint to the police is protected by absolute privilege — as long as the complaint is not repeated to others.
Absolute privilege also protects a person who makes a defamatory statement in a proceeding that is like court (called quasi-judicial), like a hearing before a professional regulatory body such as the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society or a human rights tribunal hearing.
And absolute privilege protects statements in Parliament or a provincial legislature.
Some of the reasons for this protection include:
- allowing people to freely represent their position in court
- encouraging witnesses to give full and frank testimony, without worrying about people suing them afterward.
But absolute privilege does not protect a person who repeats their statement outside of the court or tribunal process.
From the Courts...
A 2001 Supreme Court of Nova Scotia case called Keung v. Sheehan talks about the defence of absolute privilege and the reasons for it.
A defamatory statement made in performing a public or private duty can be protected by qualified privilege. The protection only applies to statements made to people with a corresponding interest in receiving the statement.
An example of qualified privilege is when a previous employer provides a bad reference to a potential employer. If the previous employer honestly believes what they are saying in providing the bad reference, qualified privilege may protect them.
The duty can be legal, social, or moral. The test is whether a person of ordinary intelligence would think there was a duty to give the information to the audience it was made to.
There are no exact rules about when qualified privilege applies. It depends on the facts of a case. If the communication is made under qualified privilege, the defence applies even when very strong language is used, or the statement is false. However, the communication must be relevant to the reason for which it was made.
If a defendant acted with malice (with an intention to cause harm) in making a defamatory statement, they cannot rely on the defence of qualified privilege.
It is hard to rely on this defence for statements made on the internet because the defence protects a person only if they limit their defamatory statements to people who have an interest in hearing the communication. Defamatory statements on the internet are not limited this way. Instead, they go to the public in general. So they do not meet this test unless it is a matter the public would be interested in, or the communication is on a members-only site or service and not open to the public.
We all are free to comment — even harshly — about issues of public interest, as long as we are clear that our comments are:
- expressed in a way that shows they are opinion, not fact,
- based on facts that can be proven and those facts are either stated or otherwise known to readers or listeners, and
- not made maliciously (on purpose to hurt someone).
For example, a newspaper columnist may write about a politician who says they support equality and equal rights, but are opposed to same-sex marriages. The columnist may write that the politician is hypocritical. If the politician sues the columnist for defamation, the columnist may put forward the defence of fair comment.
Responsible communication on matters of public interest
A more recent defence to defamation claims deals with reporting on matters of public interest. Journalists should be able to report statements and allegations — even if not true — if there’s a public interest in distributing the information to a wide audience. This defence, which looks at the whole context of a situation, can apply if:
- the news was urgent, serious, and of public importance, and
- the journalist used reliable sources, and tried to get and report the other side of the story.
The courts have defined the term “journalist” widely to include bloggers and others publishing material of public interest in any medium.
The defence of innocent dissemination is important in the internet era. Generally, a person who takes part in publishing a defamatory statement is responsible for its publication. This includes a writer, editor, printer, and distributor. But a person who acts only as a distributor may be able to rely on the defence of innocent dissemination if they:
- did not know they were distributing a defamatory statement, and
- were not negligent in not knowing, and
- removed the statement from their website or from distribution right away when they learned of the defamatory statement.
The defamer can also be liable for damages caused by a third party repeating the defamatory comment(s).
From the Courts...
The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia gave an overview of the law of defamation, and some (but not all) of the possible defences, in a 2011 case called Nichol v. Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 138, Ashby, at paragraphs 53 to 70 in particular.
Someone reported me to the police and I was charged with a crime but found not guilty - can I sue?
Anyone may report a crime to the police if they honestly believe that a crime has been committed. In order to encourage citizens to report crime such reports to the police are considered in the public interest and are protected by a qualified privilege. However, if the person who reported you did not honestly believe that you had committed a crime, but instead acted maliciously or recklessly when reporting you to the police, this privilege will not protect them. In this situation, the person might be charged with a crime themselves, such as public mischief, but you may also be able to sue them for malicious prosecution.
I got a letter containing lies about me—can I sue for defamation?
To sue for defamation, the statements must in some way be communicated to a person other than you. If someone sends you a letter making defamatory statements about you, but does not show or send the letter to anyone else, there will be no harm to your reputation and you will not be able to sue for defamation. The communication to a third party must be made without your consent, so you still will not be able to sue for libel even if you show the letter to someone else.
What's involved in suing someone for defamation?
A defamation claim happens in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Small Claims Court cannot deal with defamation – it is outside its jurisdiction (power).
A defamation claim must be brought within a specific time limit called the limitation period. The clock starts running when the defamatory statement was made or published, or when the person harmed finds out about the defamatory statement, whichever is later. In some case the time limit for making a defamation claim may be as short as three (3) months, so it is a good idea to act as soon as possible and get legal advice about time limits.
To start the lawsuit, you must file documents in court and deliver them to (“serve” them on) the other party. You can get information about going to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia here.
A few things to think about before starting a lawsuit:
- Going to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia is time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. Even if you win, you may spend more on legal fees than you get in damages. A court can award costs to the winner of a lawsuit, but costs cover only a small portion of your full legal costs.
- You risk paying the defendant’s costs (some or all of their legal fees) if you lose.
- Does the person you want to sue have money to pay you if you win?
What kinds of damages might be awarded in a defamation lawsuit?
If the person bringing a defamation lawsuit (the “plaintiff”) can prove the defendant defamed them, and the defendant does not have a defence to the claim, then a court may award general damages for loss of reputation. General damages can range from small to large amounts. It depends on several factors, including:
- the plaintiff’s position and standing in the community,
- the nature and seriousness of the defamation,
- the mode and extent of publication,
- the absence or refusal of any retraction or apology, and
- the conduct of the defendant from the time of the defamatory statements to judgment.
The mode and extent of publication is a particularly significant consideration in assessing damages in internet defamation cases.
The plaintiff may also be entitled to special damages, such as lost earnings, but only if they can prove that the lost earnings resulted from the defamatory statement, and not from other factors.
If someone makes defamatory statements with malice (an intent to injure), the plaintiff may also be entitled to aggravated or even punitive damages.
From the Courts...
In a 2012 Nova Scotia case called Trout Point Lodge the defendant published false information about the plaintiffs on his blog. The plaintiffs won general damages, but also aggravated and punitive damages. The Court found that the defendant had acted on purpose to cause harm, refused to apologize or take back what he had said, and had not stopped making false statements harming the plaintiffs’ reputations.
What is the effect of an apology?
A timely and public apology or retraction does not prevent someone from suing for defamation. But the person whose reputation was harmed may decide an apology is enough and decide not to sue.
If a case goes to trial though, the compensation awarded by the court may be lower, as a timely apology or retraction may limit the damages.
Can defamation happen online?
Yes. Online statements are typically treated in the same way as statements published in any other way, with the same potential defences. In some countries, even comments made in chat rooms have been considered defamatory. As the internet is international, you may be sued for defamationby people outside Canada. Generally, the laws of the country you are being sued from apply instead of Canadian laws, unless you are able to show good reasons why Canadian law should apply instead.
Even if you win a lawsuit in Canada against someone who lives outside Canada and who defamed you online, other countries may not be willing to enforce a Canadian judgment. It may be hard to collect damages if the person you are suing does not have assets in Canada.
Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act deals with cyber-bullying, intimate images and personal privacy online. The law aims to protect people from being bullied online, or from having intimate images of themselves shared without their consent. Cyber-bullying is when someone uses electronic communication, like email, text messaging or social media communication, to harm your health or well-being. They might be doing this on purpose to hurt you or they might not care about hurting you.
Examples of cyber-bullying:
- creating a website, blog or profile that takes your identity
- sharing sensitive personal information or breaking your confidence
- threatening, intimidating, harassing or scaring you online
- making false statements about you
- communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, or obscene
- encouraging you to commit suicide.
Cyber-bullying can include encouraging or forcing someone else to do these things.
The law also protects you if someone distributes a private intimate image of you, such as an intimate photograph, film, or video, without your consent. An intimate image is one that is private, and shows sexual activity or nudity or partial nudity. It is an image you have good reason to think will stay private.
For example, without asking you and to try to hurt you, your former partner posts a private, sexually explicit, intimate picture of you on Facebook that you had good reason to think was going to stay private.
A cyber-protection order can order the person to stop the bullying and/or sharing of images, and do things like:
- stop the person from contacting you
- order that they take down or disable access to an intimate image or communication about you; and/or
- award damages to the victim.
You can apply to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a cyber-protection order — the Small Claims Court cannot make those orders. You can apply with a lawyer’s help or on your own. A parent or guardian of a victim under the age of 19 can also apply to Supreme Court for a cyber-protection order. You can get information about applying to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a cyber-protection order at courts.ns.ca.
Nova Scotia’s CyberScan Unit oversees Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act and can give you help and information, including about applying to court for a cyber-protection order. Contact CyberScan at novascotia.ca/cyberscan/ or call 902-424-6990 or 1-855-702-8324.
For more information
- Find a lawyer in private practice
- Information about going to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia at courts.ns.ca
- Free Legal Clinic for people who are representing themselves at the Supreme Court
- Nova Scotia Defamation Act
- Online bullying and harassment support - CyberScan at novascotia.ca/cyberscan/ or call 902-424- 6990 or 1-855-702-8324.
Last reviewed: January 2021
Reviewed for legal accuracy by: Lawyer Robert Mroz, McInnes Cooper
Thank you to Schulich School of Law student Michael Evoy for support in developing this content.
Content adapted, with permission, from People’s Law School of BC.
Lost Income from Motor Accident
I was injured in a motor vehicle accident and now I can't work. How can I recover that lost income?
You can make a claim for lost income under the no-fault accident benefits section of your own automobile insurance policy. These are also called section B accident benefits. You can claim these benefits no matter who was at fault for the accident. To make a claim contact the insurance company as soon as possible. An insurance adjuster will be appointed to process your claim. You should talk with a lawyer before you meet with the adjuster. You may be asked to have a medical examination and to sign a release form before any benefits are paid to you. This form may limit your legal options down the road, so read it carefully and take it to a lawyer before you sign it. The insurance company will also require that you complete a proof of loss statement. If another driven caused the accident, you may be able to claim against his or her insurance. We'll talk more about this later.
How much money can I expect from the no-fault accident benefits for lost income?
You can get reimbursed for lost income if you were working at the time of the accident, and have been off work for at least 7 days. Also, if you are between the ages of 18-65 and have worked for six of the previous 12 months before the accident, you could also qualify for income replacement. The rate is generally 80% of your gross weekly income, to a maximum of $250 per week (as of April 1, 2012 and after). Lost income benefits from your automobile insurer will be reduced by the amount of money you get, or could get for your income loss, from other sources such as Employment Insurance or a workplace disability insurance plan. No-fault benefits for lost income will continue as long as you can show that your injuries prevent you from doing the essential duties of your usual work, generally up to a maximum period of 2 years. After two years you can only get benefits if you cannot do any type of work at all.
If the other driver was at fault, you can claim the full amount of lost wages from his or her insurance.
Are there any other restrictions on getting section B benefits?
Yes. For example, a driver who is convicted of an alcohol-related driving offence connected to the accident, or who was not properly licenced or qualified to drive the vehicle when the accident occurred, will not be eligible for these no-fault benefits. You should talk to a lawyer if you are denied section B accident benefits.
Do passengers and pedestrians also have access to no-fault accident benefits?
Yes, passengers can file a claim under the policy of the car they were in. Pedestrians can file a claim under the policy of the car that struck them.
Is there another way for me to recover lost income?
If someone else besides you is found to have been at least partly at fault in causing the accident, you can seek compensation from his or her insurance company. You may be able to negotiate a settlement, but if not, you may have to hire a lawyer and start a lawsuit. For collisions after November 1, 2003 such a lawsuit should be started within two years from the date of the accident. There are some limited exceptions though, so talk with a lawyer who does personal injury work about your situation. In some cases, such as those involving government employees, the time limit may be shorter. If you are awarded damages, the court may deduct any no-fault accident benefits that you received. You may also have disability benefits available in your own personal insurance coverage.
If my injury happened at work, is this process any different?
Yes, most work-related injuries are covered by the Workers' Compensation Board under the Workers' Compensation Act. You may not have to deal with anyone's insurance company unless you elect to do so instead of accepting workers' compensation benefits.
Medical Malpractice & Complaints
I don't think my doctor is doing a very good job, and I don't trust the doctor's diagnosis, what can I do?
When dealing with an important health issue, it may be a good idea to get a second opinion from another doctor. If the conduct of your doctor seems improper, you may file a written complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. The usual process is for the College to send a copy of your complaint to your doctor, who then has 30 days to respond. In most circumstances you will be provided with a copy of the doctor's response. The College of Physicians and Surgeons will then investigate your complaint and, depending on their findings, may dismiss the complaint, counsel and/or caution the doctor, offer mediation, require the doctor to undergo an assessment, or attempt to resolve the matter with a formal hearing. You can contact the College's Professional Conduct Department at 902-422-5823 or 1-877-282-7767. Please note that the College of Physicians and Surgeons does not deal with medical malpractice or negligence claims - those are dealt with by the civil courts.
Can I sue my doctor for making a mistake?
Medical professionals are highly trained, but they may still make mistakes. Not all mistakes will result in liability. As a general rule, the courts will expect your doctor to meet the same standards as other similarly trained professionals in the same area. For example, the standards expected of a specialist in a hospital may be higher than those expected of a general practitioner in a rural clinic. Therefore, to be successful in court, you and your lawyer will need to show that your doctor's actions were below the standards for comparable doctors. Suing can be a long and complicated process. You should get legal advice before you decide what to do.
After surgery I was told that there were unexpected complications, shouldn't the doctor have warned me and can I sue for this?
It may not necessarily be malpractice if a treatment or surgery does not go as well as expected. Sometimes the body reacts to treatment in an unexpected way, or there are complications that a fully competent doctor would not have foreseen. Your lawyer's research will investigate whether your doctor should have been aware of the risks and whether you should have been warned. Based on this research, your lawyer can advise you on the chances for a successful lawsuit.
Will I be able to get copies of my medical records to support my complaint or lawsuit?
Yes, while your medical records are the property of the doctor or facility which provided the health care, you and your lawyer are legally entitled to copies. Click here for information about access to personal health records under Nova Scotia's Personal Health Information Act.
Is there a time limit for suing a health care professional?
According to a Nova Scotia law called the Limitation of Actions Act, you have two years to start a civil lawsuit, from the date you "discover" that you have a claim. If you are under 19 years of age or of unsound mind, then the two-year period starts from the time that you reach 19 or when you become mentally competent. In the meantime, however, your parent or guardian may sue on your behalf. The two-year limit also applies if you want to sue a healthcare professional other than a doctor, such as nurses. You should always talk with a lawyer about time limits for suing, as it can sometimes be complicated to figure out when the time clock starts running. You'll find more information about time limits for suing in Nova Scotia Department of Justice publication on the Limitation of Actions law.
If I received medical treatment outside of Nova Scotia, can I sue in a Nova Scotia court?
Most likely you will have to sue the doctor where the medical services were provided. However, under some circumstances, the courts have allowed patients to file their lawsuit within their home province. This is an issue you will need to discuss with your lawyer.
Can I sue a doctor who tried to help me at the scene of an accident?
Under Nova Scotia's Medical Act a doctor who voluntarily provides emergency first aid cannot be sued. The only exception to this is where the doctor's act or failure to act would constitute negligence when compared to another doctor of 'ordinary experience, learning and skill.'
Personal Injury Claims
What is a personal injury?
A personal injury can include physical injury, sickness or disease, psychological and emotional injury.
How much will my claim be worth?
Compensation is based on the difference between your life before and after the accident. Therefore, how much compensation you may receive will vary according to the seriousness of your injury. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to include some or all of the following in your claim: pain and suffering including loss of enjoyment of life, loss of income for missed work, loss of future income if your injury will interfere with working, no longer being able to perform daily household tasks and any out of pocket expenses, such as medical and travel bills and prescriptions. It is important that you get legal advice about your particular circumstances.
Does it matter where the accident occurred?
It might. For example, if the accident was related to your employment, the Workers' Compensation Act provides for a compensation program that will address your financial, medical and rehabilitative needs. Under Workers' Compensation, you don't have to prove that anyone else was at fault in order to receive benefits.
You don't need a lawyer to file a Workers' Compensation claim. For more information about Workers' Compensation, contact the Workers Compensation Board listed under 'Labour' in the government section of the telephone book, or call 1.800.870.3331 in the Halifax Regional Municipality or 1.800.880.0003 in the Sydney area, or visit their website at http://www.wcb.ns.ca
Does it matter who was at fault?
In some cases, this is very important. If someone else's negligence caused your injury, in most cases you can sue them for damages. However, if your own behaviour contributed to the accident, the amount of compensation you receive might be less than it would have been had you been a completely innocent by-stander. If your injury was simply an "act of nature", that is, it cannot be attributed to any person, then you may have to rely on your own accident insurance.
If I'm injured in a motor vehicle accident, what effect would the cap on general damages have on me?
The general damages cap limits pain and suffering awards for minor injuries.
There are two cap time periods. Neither affects claims for other types of compensation, such as lost income and medical expenses, which are in addition to the general damages cap compensation.
The first applies to motor vehicle accidents that happened on or after November 1, 2003 and up to April 27, 2010. Pain and suffering awards for minor injuries during this period are limited to $2,500.
Nova Scotia's Insurance Act defines a 'minor injury' in this cap period as a personal injury that:
a) does not result in a permanent serious disfigurement;
b) does not result in a permanent serious impairment of an important bodily function caused by continuing injury which is physical in nature; OR
c) resolves within 12 months following the accident.
For motor vehicle accidents that happened on or after April 28, 2010 the general damages cap has risen to $9,300 (2022- indexed to inflation; click here for previous years) and now only applies to sprains, strains and certain types of whiplash and not broken bones, etc.
The legal definition of a minor injury is complicated. It is therefore very important that you speak with a lawyer about your particular situation.
Are there other sources of compensation for an injury?
Other potential sources include Employment Insurance sick benefits, Canada Pension Plan disability benefits, short term disability and long term disability benefits under a group plan that you may have through your employer, provincial income assistance, and benefits which are included in motor vehicle insurance policies.
Representing Yourself in Court
For information about the Courts of Nova Scotia, including guides, forms, procedures and court contact information, go to courts.ns.ca.
Court system basics - which court does what
Nova Scotia has different levels of court that deal with different legal issues.
- Small Claim Court deals with many civil matters where a person is suing, or being sued, for $25,000 or less.
- The Provincial Court hears most criminal cases in Nova Scotia but it cannot deal with very serious criminal charges, like murder trials.
- The Probate Court deals with wills and estate issues.
- Nova Scotia Supreme Court hears serious criminal cases including jury trials and most civil law suits that involve sums of more than $25,000.
- The Supreme Court (Family Division) deals with all family law matters in Nova Scotia.
- The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal is the highest court in Nova Scotia, and plays a significant role in interpreting Nova Scotia law. Appeals of decisions of lower courts in the province are heard by the Court of Appeal. A decision of this court can, with permission ('leave' of the court), be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in Canada.
Once the Supreme Court of Canada has said what the law is, only the federal Parliament (if the law in question is federal) or the provincial legislature (if it is a provincial law), can change it by passing new legislation, or by changing existing legislation. However, if the law is part of the Constitution, then the ruling of the courts is final and cannot be changed by the federal parliament or the provincial legislature.
There are special federal courts that deal with specific matters such as tax and immigration.
For more information on courts, visit:
Before You Go To Court
Some things to think about:
- Can you get legal help? Have you explored all options for getting legal advice? Even a single meeting with a lawyer may help. A lawyer can talk with you about your likelihood of success and can help clarify your questions about the law or the process. Check this list of free and low-cost ways to get legal help in Nova Scotia. Also, some lawyers in private practice offer help with just part of a case or there may be some wiggle room in terms of fees. Here is general information about how lawyers may charge for their work.
- Is there another way to solve the dispute? Have you looked at other possible ways to resolve the issue - click here for information about working things out without court?
- Are there time limits for starting a civil lawsuit for this particular issue? Have you missed them? Click here for more information about time limits. It is a good idea to speak with a lawyer if you aren't sure.
- Do you understand the risks of going to court? Going to court is the hardest way to solve disputes. Some things to think about:
- Court $$ costs money. For example, it costs $218.05 (plus law stamp $25+HST) to start a claim in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, or $99.70 to claim less then $5000 in Small Claims Court. In some cases and if you have a low income you may be able to get the court fees waived. Find other court fee information, including information about fees that may be waived, here. Other expenses may include the cost of witnesses, experts, discoveries, photocopying, your time, etc.
- Costs if you lose. Could you be on the hook for some of the other side's costs if you lose (for example: some of their legal fees and out-of-pocket expenses)?
- Your health and wellbeing. Your credibility may be challenged. Court is like a battle. If you are starting a lawsuit you must prove your version of the facts. There will be an emotional toll on you, your family, and friends. Going through a court process is stressful and may negatively affect both your mental and physical health
- Court can take a long time. Are you prepared to spend evenings and weekends working on the case? Can you take time off work to go to court? The court process may take months to years.
- Is there a legal basis (merit) for your claim and can you get legal help to figure that out?
- At Court - the hearing or trial. There are many steps along the way. Doing a trial on your own is challenging, and people going to court without a lawyer do not succeed as often as people who go to court with a lawyer representing them.
Court Forms: Quick Links
Each court has its own set of rules and forms that are used in that court. Go to courts.ns.ca or contact the court you are dealing with for current information about court rules and forms.
The Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules are procedural rules and forms made by judges, outlining the practical processes and paperwork for going to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, including the Supreme Court-Family Division, and the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. The Civil Procedure Rules on the Courts of Nova Scotia website are searchable, and in some cases include online interactive versions of court forms, so they can be filled out on a computer.
|Supreme Court Family Division (family law)||www.nsfamilylaw.ca/court-forms|
|Provincial Court (criminal law)||courts.ns.ca/Provincial_Court/NSPC_criminal_rules_forms.htm|
|Supreme Court General Division (civil)||courts.ns.ca/Supreme_Court/NSSC_forms.htm|
|Small Claims Court (civil)
|Probate Court (wills & estates)||courts.ns.ca/probate_court/NSPBC_forms.htm|
|Court of Appeal NS||courts.ns.ca/Appeal_Court/NSCA_forms.htm|
Criminal Appeal of a conviction or sentence
Go to courts.ns.ca to read or download The Criminal Appeal: A How-to Manual (pdf) for those interested in appealing a conviction or a sentence. The manual aims to help you make an informed decision about appealing a criminal conviction or sentence. Starting an appeal means you are prepared to dedicate the time, energy, focus and possibly the money to see the appeal through to its conclusion. You should not start an appeal unless you are committed to this process.
Applying for a Peace Bond
Applying for a Peace Bond: To start the process you or your lawyer file a paper called an "Information" with the Provincial Court. Go to courts.ns.ca and click on HOW TO APPLY FOR A PEACE BOND at the bottom of the the Provincial Court page for details on how to apply.
- You may be able to get help from Nova Scotia Legal Aid to apply for a peace bond
- The Provincial Court adopted a virtual peace bond process during the pandemic. Go here to learn about how the virtual peace bond process works.
This page gives general legal information about Peace Bonds. It does not give legal advice.
What is a peace bond?
A peace bond is a court order in which a person who has threatened or harmed you or your property, or who has attempted to threaten or harm you, agrees to stop the threatening or harmful behaviour and to stay away from you. This person is called the defendant. By signing the peace bond the defendant agrees to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The peace bond may include other conditions such as the defendant agreeing to have no direct or indirect contact with you.
Does a peace bond stop a person from contacting me?
A peace bond may contain a condition that the defendant have no direct or indirect contact with you. It is the defendant's responsibility not to contact you directly or indirectly.
Direct contact occurs if the defendant speaks to you in person or on the phone, writes to you, leaves a telephone, voice mail or email message, or comes into your presence.
Indirect contact occurs when the defendant communicates, or tries to communicate, a message to you through another person or by leaving something for you where the defendant knows you will find it.
A peace bond does not prevent you from voluntarily contacting the defendant, but if you do, you may find it more difficult to enforce the peace bond later.
What does a peace bond do?
A peace bond attempts to protect you by directing the defendant not to make further threats or cause further harm to you. It warns the defendant that, if the threatening behaviour continues, they risk getting a fine, a jail term or other sentence and a criminal record.
What can I do in an emergency?
You can call 911. In some cases you can apply for an emergency protection order over the phone. For more information go the page on Emergency Protection Orders.
Does a peace bond give the defendant a criminal record?
No. A peace bond is not a criminal conviction. The defendant will not get a criminal record by signing the peace bond. However, if the defendant breaks any of the conditions on the bond, they may be charged with a criminal offence. If convicted of the offence, the defendant may get a criminal record.
Do I have to lay criminal charges before I can get a peace bond?
No. You are not charging the defendant with an offence when you ask the court for a peace bond. You are asking the court to set out conditions intended to protect you from the defendant.
You have to show the judge that you have a reasonable fear because the defendant:
- threatened or assaulted you or your family, or
- threatened or damaged your property, and
- you continue to fear for your safety. If you have no continuing fear of the defendant, it is unlikely that a court will give you a peace bond.
The Criminal Code allows you, or someone on your behalf, to apply for a peace bond or 'lay an Information'. However, the police will not apply for a peace bond for you. The police can investigate criminal charges and may lay charges if you have been physically assaulted or threatened or had your property damaged.
If criminal charges are laid do I still need a peace bond?
Probably not. In most cases, the defendant is released until trial only if they promise to have no contact with you directly or indirectly. You should contact the Crown Attorney's office that is dealing with the charge or the Victims' Services Office as soon as possible, to ensure that the defendant is ordered to have no contact with you.
If the defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of the charge, they may be placed on probation and ordered to have no contact with you as part of the probation order. This would have the same effect as a peace bond. If you want other conditions to apply, you can ask the Crown Attorney to ask for them to be included in the probation order.
If the defendant has been charged with assault and acquitted, can I still get a peace bond?
Yes. If the defendant has been acquitted or had the charges dismissed, you can still apply for a peace bond. You will have to show the judge that you have a reasonable fear of the defendant.
Do I need a lawyer to get a peace bond?
You are not required by law to have a lawyer represent you at a peace bond hearing. However, it is a good idea to talk over the situation with a lawyer before you decide what to do. The lawyer can advise you of your rights and explain the court process. Together you can decide if you should hire the lawyer to go to court with you.
Also, you may not feel comfortable speaking in court and questioning witnesses. A lawyer is trained to do this.
Usually Legal Aid will not provide lawyers for peace bond applications. However, if you qualify for Legal Aid and have other issues they are dealing with, you may be able to get some advice from them. In some areas, there are programs that may help you apply for a peace bond. Court staff will usually know if these exist in your community.
Where do I get a peace bond?
Only a judge can give you a peace bond. You must go to the Provincial Court or Summary Offence Court. If you have an existing legal proceeding in Family Court or the Supreme Court (Family Division), you may apply for a peace bond in that court.
Before you can get a peace bond, there is a court hearing. You must be prepared to face the defendant in court and say why you are afraid of the defendant. If you are concerned about your safety in court or while waiting for court, contact the court administration office.
How do I apply for a peace bond?
To start the process you or your lawyer file an paper called an "Information" with the Provincial Court. This will start the process. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice has online information on how to apply for a peace bond - go to www.courts.ns.ca, and click on 'HOW TO APPLY FOR A PEACE BOND" at the bottom of the Provincial Court page.
What conditions go into a peace bond?
By signing a peace bond, the defendant promises to leave you alone, keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the time set out in the peace bond. A peace bond may last up to one year. The judge decides how long it will last.
Before issuing the peace bond, the judge must decide whether to include conditions that will offer you further protection. These could include ordering the defendant:
- to stay away from specific places where you, your spouse or your child regularly go, such as your work, home or school;
- not to communicate with you, your spouse or your child. This includes by phone, by mail, in person, or through another person;
- to post an amount of money and obtain a surety. A surety is a person who vouches for the defendant and agrees to supervise them to make sure the conditions are obeyed; and
Other conditions you think are required to ensure your safety. For example, the judge may order that the defendant have no contact with you other than to arrange access to, or exercise access to, the children, or that the defendant not possess firearms, ammunition or explosives, or other weapons.
You or your lawyer may ask for additional conditions to the peace bond. If you do not have a lawyer, do not be afraid to ask the judge for additional conditions.
Will I get a copy of the peace bond?
Yes. You should get a certified copy of the bond from the court staff. A certified copy says that it is a true copy of the original peace bond. You can get a copy from the court office as soon as the defendant signs the bond. If you do not feel safe waiting after court, you can pick up a copy at another time.
You should keep the peace bond in a safe place. It gives the police the proof they need to lay charges if the conditions are broken. You should show the police your copy if the defendant breaks the conditions of the peace bond. You may want to carry a copy of the peace bond with you. If you lose your copy, you can get another one at the court where it was issued.
What happens if the defendant breaks the peace bond
If the defendant breaks any of the conditions of the peace bond, you can call the police and report it. The police can charge the defendant with a criminal offence for violating the conditions of the peace bond. If the defendant is found guilty, they may be fined or given a jail term or both. The defendant may also be charged with any other offence (for example, assault) they committed when the peace bond was broken. The defendant can be charged with breaking the conditions of the peace bond even if they were not violent or threatening on that occasion.
It is up to you to report to the police if the peace bond is broken. Even if you decide not to call the police, you should record the day and time that the defendant broke the peace bond and what the defendant did because if you later decide to call the police or have to go to court you will need this information.
The peace bond is for your protection. If you ask for a 'no contact' provision in the peace bond and you later willingly contact the defendant, you may have difficulty getting the police to charge the defendant if the defendant later breaks the peace bond by contacting you.
Will the police always lay charges if a peace bond is broken?
The police can lay charges if there is evidence of a breach of the conditions of the bond. In family violence cases, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice has guidelines that encourage police, Crown Attorneys working within the justice system to arrest, charge and prosecute the defendant when there is evidence to do so. This includes directions to the police to:
- arrest defendants where there is evidence that they have broken a peace bond;
- lay a charge when there are reasonable grounds or arrest someone for breaking a peace bond;
- take into consideration the importance of the victim's safety and that of the children and provide transport to a safe place if necessary; and
- keep the victim informed of the progress of the case.
Charges laid by the police will usually be heard in Provincial Court. If the police do lay a charge, you will be asked to give information on the details of the breach. It is then up to the Crown Attorney to deal with the case against the defendant in court
If the police do not lay charges and you think they should, you should contact police officials in your area to discuss why they are not taking action, or you can take the matter to court yourself.
What happens at a hearing for breaking a peace bond
It may take two to three weeks from the time you report a breach of a bond until the police serve a summons on the defendant. The summons tells the defendant what the charges are and the court date for the hearing.
Court staff are required to give priority to spousal/partner violence matters.
If the police do not lay charges, you may lay private charges. If you do, you or your lawyer will have to present the evidence of the breach of the peace bond in court. You will have to give evidence. If possible, have witnesses come to court to back up your evidence. The defendant can also have witnesses come to court.
If the defendant has witnesses, you or your lawyer may ask them questions.
What happens if the defendant is found guilty of breaking the peace bond?
Being found guilty of breaking a peace bond is a serious matter. The defendant may get a criminal record and, depending on the seriousness of the breach, could get up to four years in jail. It is rare for a defendant to get the maximum sentence. A common sentence for a first offence is release on probation with conditions such as staying away from you and your family.
If the defendant breaks the peace bond by following you around (called stalking) so that you fear for your safety or that of your family, the judge will consider the stalking as an aggravating factor (a factor that makes things worse) when sentencing the defendant.
What if I have a peace bond against my spouse and we get back together?
If you have a peace bond against your spouse and you decide to try living together again, it is a breach of the 'no contact' condition in the peace bond.
You or the defendant may go back to the court that issued the peace bond and ask to have the 'no contact' condition amended or deleted. The other conditions of the peace bond, such as the requirement that the defendant keep the peace and be of good behaviour, may remain in place. However, you should be aware that, depending on the circumstances, a judge may be reluctant to enforce the terms of the peace bond if you get back together with your partner.
If the defendant becomes violent and the peace bond is still in effect, you can go back to court and ask for the 'no contact' clause to be reinstated.
Can my spouse still see the children if I have a peace bond against my spouse
If you have a peace bond against your spouse, it should not affect their parenting time with the children, unless the peace bond forbids contact with them. If you have legal custody of the children and the defendant has legal parenting time to them (such as in a court order or written separation agreement), you should point this out to the judge at the peace bond hearing. The judge can take the parenting arrangements into account when setting the conditions for the bond.
The judge may still order the defendant to have no contact with you even if the defendant has a parenting arrangement in place to spend time with the children. The peace bond might provide that parenting arrangements be made through a third person, such as a neighbour, friend or family member you trust. You should ask this person's permission and be sure that they will agree to help you.) The judge could order that the defendant contact you only by phone or email and only to arrange time with the children. The judge could also order that the defendant remain in their car when picking up or dropping off the children and that you send them out to the car either on their own or with someone. The judge could also order that the children be picked up or dropped off only in a certain public place. If the defendant has parenting time with your children but you do not feel safe having any contact with the defendant, you should explain this to the judge and tell why you feel this way.
If you already have a peace bond and you and your spouse are going to family court to decide on decision-making responsibilities and parenting time, you should tell your lawyer (if you have one) and the court about the peace bond. Tell the family court about any no-contact orders or other court matters between you and your spouse that may affect your safety and the safety of your children.
Will a peace bond keep me safe?
A peace bond can be a good deterrent in many cases. It can help prevent threats and assaults. Going to court and signing the bond before a judge may be enough to persuade the defendant to keep away from you. However, not all defendants respect the terms of a peace bond and you still need to be careful for your safety.
A peace bond may not always be the best solution to your problem. For example:
1. The threat of getting a criminal record may not be enough to stop the defendant from assaulting you. The bond is most effective against a person who has a basic respect for the law.
2. It can take weeks or even months to get a peace bond and even longer to get the defendant convicted if the defendant breaks the bond. This is not much help if you are threatened with immediate physical violence. Then it may be best to contact the police to lay an assault charge against the defendant.
3. A defendant will not be charged for breach of a peace bond unless the police feel that there are reasonable grounds to believe the bond was broken. You can take the matter to court yourself if the police do not lay charges, but you would have to present the case yourself or hire a lawyer to do it for you.
4. Even if the defendant serves a sentence for a breach of the peace bond, the defendant might continue the threatening or violent behaviour until you are forced to go through the whole process again.
5. Peace bonds are not permanent. They last for a maximum period of one year. If you want to get another peace bond after the first one ends, you must make a new application.
6. If you have been assaulted, a peace bond is not always the best way to deal with the situation. You can instead contact the police to lay an assault charge against the person who hurt you, your child or property.
7. There are 'anti-stalking' laws that may help protect you if you fear for your safety because someone is repeatedly:
- following you around,
- calling you, your family, friends or workplace,
- watching your home or workplace, and
- doing anything which threatens you or your family.
If this is happening to you, you should talk with the police. Anti-stalking laws are also called 'criminal harassment' laws.
There may be services in your community to help you develop a safety plan if you are threatened. A safety plan helps you to consider ways to protect yourself and your children. The police or Victim Services Division of the provincial Department of Justice can advise if such services are available in your community.
For more information
If you are applying for a peace bond, or someone has applied to get a peace bond against you, you may want to hire a criminal defence lawyer to get legal advice and help with the process.
Depending on your situation and on where you live in the province, there may be agencies that can help you such as:
- help lines - call 211 or go to ns.211.ca/
- nsdomesticviolence.ca - information, support, resources
- transition houses - go to thans.ns.ca for shelter contact information, and
- women's centres (go to womenconnect.ca for locations)
Victim Services Division
Nova Scotia Department of Justice
Halifax Region - 902-424.3307
Kentville 902-679.6201 or 1.800.565.1805 toll free
New Glasgow 902-755.7110 or 1.800.565.7912 toll free
Sydney 902-563.3655 or 1.800.565.0071 toll free
Go to novascotia.ca/just/victim_Services/ for more information about the Department of Justice Victim Services.
The Regional Victim Services Program provides information, support and advocacy for victims of crime within the criminal justice system. Services include the provision of information to victims on their particular case and on the criminal justice process; liaison with police, Crown Attorney, and other justice agencies as the case proceeds through the system; court preparation; and assistance with criminal injuries compensation and victim impact statements.
The program also provides a comprehensive service to address the special needs of child victims or witnesses as they prepare to testify in court.
If you wish to apply for a peace bond through the Provincial Court in Halifax and Dartmouth you can get support from Halifax Regional Police (HRP) Victim Services. Victim Services volunteers will provide potential and current applicants with information on the application process, assistance to complete the application forms and ongoing emotional support. Contact HRP Victim Services at 902-490-5300 for more information about their Peace Bond Navigator program.
Last reviewed: May 2021
Civil Action (lawsuits) in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
Go to courts.ns.ca to find court forms for dealing with a civil action in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, from the Civil Procedure Rules of Nova Scotia (court rules & forms) including:
- Starting a Civil Action (Notice of Action)
- Starting an Action for Debt
- How to Defend an Action
Note: The Nova Scotia Courts offer free weekly legal clinics for self-represented litigants with certain types of cases going to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal. Private one-hour sessions with a volunteer practicing lawyer and a law student are available by appointment during the clinic's scheduled hours of operation. Here is information about the Free Legal Clinics.
Civil Appeals in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
Go to courts.ns.ca for information about representing yourself at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, including:
- A How-to Manual for Civil Appeals to help you make an informed decision about whether to appeal, and how to appeal a judgment in a civil law case
- NS Court of Appeal video tutorial: An introduction to the appeal process and a step-by-step guide for civil appeals.
- All about preparing your Appeal Book, including an Appeal Book Primer, Appeal Book checklist & practical tips, and a How-to Appeal Book video
Note: The Nova Scotia Courts offer free weekly legal clinics for self-represented litigants with certain types of cases going to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal. Private one-hour sessions with a volunteer practicing lawyer and a law student are available by appointment during the clinic's scheduled hours of operation. Here is information about the Free Legal Clinics.
Going to Probate Court: Wills and estates
The Probate Court in each of Nova Scotia's probate districts has free legal information publications about going to Probate Court. You can get copies by visiting or by calling your local Probate Court office or by going to the Courts of Nova Scotia website, courts.ns.ca/Self_Reps/self-rep_home.htm#Probate.
Probate court contact information is available on the Courts of Nova Scotia website.
The information available from the Probate Court includes:
- The Probate Act - Questions and answers
- Dealing with an estate
- Grant of probate - checklist
- Grant of administration with will annexed - checklist
- Grant of administration - checklist
- Passing the accounts of an estate in Probate Court - checklist
- How to prepare the final account of the personal representative
Going to Provincial Court: criminal law and tickets
You have been charged with a criminal offence. You have never been to court before.
You will find information here about:
- when you have to be in court
- who will be in court
- how to prepare for trial; and
- what happens in court.
This page gives general information about going to Provincial Court. It does not give legal advice. If you are charged with a crime, you should speak with a lawyer to get legal advice. If you are charged with a very serious criminal offence, your trial may be in Supreme Court. If you have to go to Supreme Court, it is even more important that you have a lawyer.
Try to speak with a lawyer before you go to court. Go here for ways to find a lawyer.
Being accused of a crime is a serious matter. It is wise to have a lawyer represent you. Lawyers know the law and legal procedures. They are used to presenting cases and speaking in court. They know what types of questions to ask and how to prepare evidence.
You should talk with a lawyer to get advice about your situation. There is no need to be embarrassed or nervous to talk to alawyer about what brings you to court. Anything you say to a lawyer is private and privileged and cannot be passed on to anyone else without your clear permission. Even if you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you in court, there are services and help available to you.
You may be able to get free legal help through Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid to see if you qualify. Visit nslegalaid.ca for more information or to apply online, or look in the telephone book under ‘Legal Aid’ or ‘Nova Scotia Legal Aid’ for contact information. You can also get a Legal Aid Application Form from Legal Aid Duty Counsel or other Legal Aid staff at Court.
If you do not qualify for full representation from Nova Scotia Legal Aid you may still be able to get summary (brief) legal advice or Duty Counsel help from NS Legal Aid. You may also appeal a Denial of Legal Aid Services. You need to do that in writing, but it can just be a short letter. Here is more information about appealing a denial of Legal Aid.
You should also contact a private lawyer who does criminal law. If you have an Employee Assistance Program through your employer, you may be entitled to a free consultation with a lawyer, or legal representation at a discounted rate. Some private lawyers will offer either free initial 30 minute consultations, or quick consultations at reduced rates. Here are some more ways to find a lawyer. Make sure you understand how, and how much, the lawyer will charge for their work.
Nova Scotia Legal Aid offers Duty Counsel lawyers at the Provincial Courts. Duty Counsel provides free help with issues currently before the court, but they do not provide full, start-to-finish representation. Services are provided to adults and youth in custody, as well as to those not in custody. Duty Counsel is available to anyone who does not have a lawyer, regardless of income. Ask at the courthouse about Legal Aid Duty Counsel services.
Court-Appointed Counsel Applications ("Rowbotham Applications":
If you have been denied Legal Aid and cannot afford a private lawyer, there may be another option. You can apply to the Nova Scotia Provincial Court, or to the court that is to hear your case, to ask for a lawyer who will be funded for you. This is called a Rowbotham Application. Go to courts.ns.ca for more information about Rowbotham Applications.
If you are unable or do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself in court. You should still get some legal advice on your situation before you go to court, even if you are going to represent yourself in court.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the rights of Canadians, including those suspected or accused of a crime.
You have a right to have court hearings in English or French. Also, if you do not understand or speak the language in which hearings are conducted, or you are deaf, you have the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
You should tell the judge as soon as possible if you need the help of an interpreter or you want the hearings in French, or have a friend explain this to the judge.
If you are arrested you
- you have a right to know the reason for the arrest;
- you have a right to speak with a lawyer and the police must tell you of this right. If you cannot reach the lawyer of your choice, you have the right to contact Duty Counsel and police must hold off on questioning you until you've had a reasonable opportunity to speak to a lawyer; and
- you have a right to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest.
Other rights include
- the right to remain silent;
- the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court;
- the right to be tried within a reasonable time; and
- the right to a trial by judge and jury if the maximum sentence for the offence is five or more years in prison.
You will find more information below about some of these rights but it is not possible to go into them in detail. If you have questions about how these rights affect your situation you should talk with a lawyer.
What am I charged with?
What you are charged with is called an offence. There are offences under federal laws such as the Criminal Code. These are called criminal offences. There are offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act. You cannot be fingerprinted for a regulatory offence, like speeding. These are NOT criminal offences.
No matter what type of offence you are charged with, you will get a written notice describing the offence, the date of the offence and the law you allegedly broke. For example, if you are charged with shoplifting, the notice may say "theft under $5000 contrary to section 334(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada".
The notice may be called a Summons, an Appearance Notice, a Promise to Appear. It will also give the date and time that you have to go to court to answer the charge. You must go to court on the date and time listed on your notice.
If you fail to appear on the date and time on your notice, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
You may also be required to follow certain conditions while your case goes through the court system. These conditions will be put in writing on an Undertaking or a Recognizance, and you will get a copy.
You may also seek to change any of the conditions of your release after notifying the Court and the Prosecutor. Duty Counsel can help you with this if you do not have a lawyer.
You should try to speak with a lawyer to get legal advice about your situation as soon as possible.
Are all offences treated the same?
No. There are two procedures for dealing with a criminal offence depending on how serious it is.
a) Indictable offences (pronounced in-DITE-able) are the most serious. Murder, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, break and enter and theft over $5000 are examples of some indictable offences.
b) Summary offences are less serious. Unless otherwise provided, they have a maximum penalty of a fine of $5000 or six months in prison (sometimes up to 2 years less a day) or both. An example of a summary offence is causing a disturbance in public. You cannot be fingerprinted for a summary conviction offence.
Sometimes the Crown Attorney can decide whether the offence will be treated as summary or indictable. These are called hybrid offences. Most offences are hybrid offences. You may be fingerprinted and/or photographed for hybrid offences.. Examples are theft under $5000 and impaired driving. The Crown Attorney decides which procedure to use and tells the judge before you are required to enter an election or plea. An election is your choice on method of trial (talked about more below) on the first date that you are in court. The Crown Attorney is the lawyer who presents the case against you.
The police are allowed to assume that a hybrid offence will be treated as indictable. This allows them to demand that the accused provide photographs and fingerprints before the trial.
All offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act and the Liquor Control Act are dealt with by summary procedure. Offences under provincial laws are not criminal.
Will I get a criminal record?
You will get a criminal record if you are found guilty and convicted of a criminal offence (summary or indictable). However, if your sentence is an absolute or conditional discharge, you will not have a criminal record, although there will be a police record of the discharge. Click here for information about criminal records and record suspensions (pardons).
You will not have a criminal record if you are found guilty of an offence under provincial law.
When do I have to go to court?
The written notice that tells you what you have been charged with will also say the date that you first have to go to court.
You must go to court on the date and at the time indicated. If you do not turn up, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. A warrant is an order of the court that allows the police to arrest you and hold you in custody (lock up) until they can take you before a judge.
If you have a good reason for not being in court, you should call the court office and let them know. You may also ask a friend or relative to go to court and explain why you are not there. A good reason might be if you are ill. You will need to provide the court with a written note from your doctor that you are too ill to attend court. Failing to show up because you are on holiday or at work is usually not a good reason.
You may want to visit the court before your court date so that you can watch what happens there. You will see where everyone sits and what they do and how the court operates. This may help you be more relaxed and less nervous when your court date comes up.
On the day you have to go to court, you should arrive 10 or 15 minutes before you have to. If there is more than one courtroom you can ask at the information desk which court you should be in. You can go into the courtroom and sit in the seats for the public which are towards the back of the court room.
There are Nova Scotia Legal Aid Duty Counsel services (free legal advice for your court appearance for that day) are available at most courts. Ask at the information desk at court about Nova Scotia Legal Aid Duty Counsel.
Go to the Nova Scotia Courts website, Provincial Court section for more Frequently Asked Questions about court.
How many times do I have to go to court?
In many cases, if you plead guilty, there may only be one court appearance. In most cases where you plead not guilty, there are at least two court appearances.
There may be more than one court date:
a) If you or the Crown Attorney ask for adjournments (delays). For example, you might ask the judge for an adjournment to give you time to get legal advice or review your disclosure.
b) If you plead "not guilty" the judge will set a date for trial.
c) If you plead guilty, the judge may deal with the sentencing right away or set a date for sentencing.
d) If you are found guilty at your trial, the judge may want time to consider what sentence to give you and set a date for sentencing. You can also ask for an adjournment to have reports prepared to help with your sentencing like: a Pre-Sentence Report; a Gladue Report if you are Indigenous; or an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA), if you are African-Nova Scotian.
Your first court appearance (arraignment)
This is often called the arraignment date. Nova Scotia Legal Aid has an Arraignment fact sheet. The first appearance usually lasts no more than five to ten minutes. There will be a number of cases being dealt with by the court on the same day. Listen carefully so that you can hear when the court clerk calls your case. Cases where the accused has a lawyer are usually called first. The remaining matters are then called in alphabetical order.
The court clerk will read out your name. You should walk to the front of the court where the judge can see you.
The court clerk will read the "information", which contains the charge against you.
The judge will ask you if you understand the charge. Tell the judge if you do not
understand and the judge will explain it to you. If you do understand say so.
When you have told the judge that you understand the charge, they will ask you if you plead guilty or not guilty and how you elect (choose) to be tried. The judge will say "Are you prepared to plead?" . Nova Scotia Legal Aid has a Pleas and Elections fact sheet.
Pleading guilty means that you admit that you committed the offence you are charged with.
Your choices are:
1. You can plead not guilty. The judge will then set a trial date.
2. You can ask for a delay (called an adjournment) if you need time to speak with a lawyer.
3. You can plead guilty.
If you are not sure how to plead, the judge may adjourn the matter and give you time to speak with a lawyer, or enter a not guilty plea and set a date for trial.
It is your decision how you plead. Even if you decide not to hire a lawyer to represent you in court, you should get some legal advice about your situation before you decide how to plead. It is important that you get disclosure from the Crown, and review it with a lawyer if possible, before you enter a plea. Disclosure is explained below.
If you plead guilty the judge may sentence you then or set a date for sentencing.
You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to order a background report be prepared on you. This is called a pre-sentence report and is prepared by a probation officer.
With some indictable offences, you may elect (choose) how to be tried. This means you elect whether to be tried in
- Provincial Court by a judge alone;
- in Supreme Court by a judge alone; or,
- in Supreme Court by a judge and jury.
Your next court appearance
If your case is adjourned (postponed) to allow you to get legal advice, the judge will set a date for another hearing. It will follow much the same procedure as that for a first appearance.
Be sure that you arrange to see a lawyer as soon as possible.
Do not leave it until the day before your next court date.
Judges are understanding about asking for adjournments to seek a lawyer. But if you ask for too many adjournments, the judge will deem your election and/or plea to be the highest available election. For example: if you are charged with an indictable offence the judge will deem you to have elected trial by Supreme Court Justice sitting with a jury.
If you plead guilty and the judge sets a date for sentencing, the next court date will deal with sentencing.
If you plead not guilty, the next court hearing will likely be the trial or a preliminary hearing and that may be several months after the first court appearance. Again, you should be sure to get some legal advice before your trial or preliminary hearing.
Whatever the reason for the second court date, the judge will choose a date that is acceptable to you and the Crown Attorney and that fits in the court schedule. Be sure you know if there are dates when you are not available so that you can tell the judge. Write down the date and time that you will need to be in court again. If you are unsure you can phone the court office and ask the court clerk to check it for you. You will find court contact information at www.courts.ns.ca, or look in the government pages of the telephone book under 'Courts'.
Who will be in court?
The judge decides, based on the evidence presented in court, whether the case has been proved against you beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, the judge decides what sentence to give you. The judge sits at the front of the court room. The judge usually wears a black robe in court. If you are speaking to the judge, address the judge as "Your Honour" in Provincial Court. In Provincial Court there are no juries. If your case goes to the Supreme Court, you should address the judge as "Justice".
The Crown Attorney is a lawyer who presents the case against you. They usually sit at a table at the front of the courtroom facing the judge. The Crown Attorney is also called "the prosecutor', or "the Crown", or "Crown Counsel". The Crown Attorney's job is to prepare the case against you and present the evidence to prove that you committed the offence. The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service prosecutes charges laid under the Criminal Code and Nova Scotia statutes like the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada prosecutes criminal offences under federal jurisdiction, including cases involving drugs, organized crime, terrorism, fisheries, some environmental regulations, tax law, money laundering and proceeds of crime. Go to gov.ns.ca/pps for information about the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, or ppsc-sppc.gc.ca for information about the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
The court clerk sits at a table in front of the judge facing the public. The clerk calls the court to order, receives physical evidence such as papers presented in court (these are called exhibits), calls and swears in witnesses, writes down any orders made by the judge, and makes sure that what is said in court during a trial is recorded on audio tape.
The Accused or Defendant
The person who is charged with the offence is called the "accused" or "defendant". You have a right to be in court at any time when your case is being dealt with. When your case is called, you should walk to the front of the courtroom and identify yourself. During a trial you should sit near the front of the court so that you can hear everything that is going on. If you are not represented by a lawyer, you should bring a note pad and pen or pencil to take notes about what witnesses say.
Usually, during the first court appearance there are no witnesses. They will be needed later during the trial to give evidence of what they know about the case. Both you and the Crown Attorney may call witnesses and cross-examine each other's witnesses if you choose to.
If you call a witness who is then cross-examined by the Crown Attorney, you may ask the witness further questions based on their answers during cross-examination. This is called redirect evidence.
In some parts of the province there may be community groups who provide courtworkers to help individuals through the court process. They cannot give you legal advice.
They can help explain what will happen in court, provide support, and help you contact legal and community services. They will speak to anyone who may need help.
Public and Media
Courts are generally open to the public and the media. Anyone can come in and watch what is going on. There are seats towards the back of the courtroom for the public.
Will the media always be there?
Often there will be reporters from local media. Other media usually only cover courts if there are serious cases or a well known person appearing in court.
Television and still/video cameras and other devices to record or transmit audio or video are allowed in the courthouse but they are not allowed in the courtroom unless the judge allows them. The Courts' website has further information about the use of electronic devices and technology in court and information for members of the media.
What should I wear?
There is no special way of dressing but you do want to make a good impression on the judge, so be neat and tidy.
How should I behave?
You should show respect for the court. Show the judge that you are taking the matter seriously. Do not smoke, eat, chew gum, or take drinks into the court.
While you may want to bring a friend or relative with you for support, it is not a good idea to bring a crowd of people who joke around or are noisy or otherwise disrupt the court.
You should stand up when you speak to the judge or when the judge speaks to you.
Speak clearly and loud enough for the judge to hear you. In Provincial Court, when you speak to the judge, you call the judge"Your Honour". Here is more information about how to address a judge if you are speaking to them in court, or writing to them.
What happens at a trial
In a criminal trial you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The trial is the time when the Crown Attorney must present evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offence that you are charged with. If the Crown fails to do this, the judge must find you not guilty. Nova Scotia Legal Aid has a Trials fact sheet.
The basic steps in a criminal trial are:
1. The case is called by a court official. You should go to the front of the court. You will be allowed to sit at the front of the courtroom so that you can hear what is being said and see the witnesses.
2. The trial begins. The judge will ask you and the Crown Attorney if you are ready for the trial. If either of you is not ready, the judge will decide whether to continue or adjourn and set another date. There must be a good reason to ask for an adjournment. When you answer the judge you should address the judge as "Your Honour". When you have told the judge that you are ready you can sit down. The court clerk will show you where.
3. You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to make an exclusion order. This means that the judge excludes anyone who is to give evidence at the trial from the courtroom. You should tell your witnesses ahead of time that they will be asked to leave the courtroom when they are not actually testifying and make sure that they leave. However, although you may be a witness and give evidence at the trial, you have a right to remain in court for the whole trial.
4. The Crown Attorney presents the case against you. To prove the case against you, the Crown Attorney must present evidence that:
- you are the person charged with the offence
- you committed the offence
- you intended to commit the offence.
The Crown Attorney will call witnesses. For example, if you are charged with shoplifting, the Crown would likely have as witnesses the store manager or security officer and the police officer who investigated the matter.
Each witness goes into the witness box, swears or affirms to tell the truth, and answers questions from the Crown Attorney. As the witness gives his or her answers, you should write down the main points and anything that you may want to question later.
Note any weak points, for example, where a witness contradicts themself or another witness. When the Crown has finished with a witness, you will have a chance to ask your questions. This is called cross-examination.
Cross-examining the Crown's witnesses
Cross-examination is an opportunity for you to ask the witness questions based on their answers to the Crown, or to ask the witness about your version of events. You should prepare questions or topics that you want to ask witnesses about ahead of time. Review each witness' statement or "Can-say" in your disclosure package before going to court.
It is not the time to tell your side of the story. You will have a chance to do this after the Crown has called all its witnesses. If you will be telling a different version of events you will need to ask the witness(es) about your version so they can respond.
You do not have to cross-examine every witness. You should only cross-examine a witness if you feel that it will help your case; if the witness made conflicting answers or there are weak spots in their evidence. For example, if the witness cannot clearly recall an event, or if you believe the witness knows other facts important to your case, you may wish to cross-examine the witness.
When you cross-examine you should ask questions that show that the witness is unsure of the facts or that the evidence is weak. For example, at the time of the offence, it was dark and raining and the witness, who says he saw you commit the offence, was standing 180 metres away and wears glasses. You might want to ask questions about the weather conditions, lighting and the witness's ability to see clearly.
Do not lose your temper, or say that the witness is lying. Do not argue with the witness. Make sure your cross-examination consists of questions directed toward the witness, instead of speeches directed at the judge.
Ask only questions that you feel will help your case. Do not ask questions that allow the witness to repeat something that the witness is sure about. Ask questions you already know the answers to. For example, if the witness claims to have seen something clearly at 11pm on August 19, all you want to point out is that it was dark at the time and there was no street light nearby.
When you are cross-examining you can use questions that suggest the answer that you want. For example you can say, "It was raining hard at 11pm on August 19, wasn't it?"
These are called leading questions.
Even if you do not cross-examine the witness, you can draw attention to contradictions and weaknesses in the evidence when you sum up at the end of the trial.
The Crown Attorney may also use written evidence such as a breathalyser test certificate or drug analysis certificate or photographs or videos. Before your trial you should get legal advice on how to handle such evidence.
Making a motion for a directed verdict
When the Crown Attorney has presented the case against you, if you feel that the Crown has failed to prove all the things that had to be proved, you can make a motion for a directed verdict. This means that you are asking the judge to dismiss the case, without hearing the defence evidence. You do this by standing up and saying to the judge:
"Reserving my right to call defence evidence, I wish to make a motion for a directed verdict." You should then tell the judge what you think has been missed from the Crown's case. For example, that none of the Crown's witnesses identified you in court as the person who was at the scene of the crime.
If the judge agrees with you, the judge will acquit you (find you not guilty) and dismiss the case. If the judge disagrees with you, the judge will refuse your motion and you may begin your defence.
5. You present your case (called your defence)
This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story.
Until now, the judge has only heard the Crown's side. You can call witnesses and, if you choose, give evidence yourself. Giving evidence means getting up on the witness stand and testifying under oath or affirmation. The Crown Attorney may cross-examine your witnesses and may cross-examine you if you decide to give evidence.
You do not have to give evidence yourself. You have a right to remain silent. You should speak with a lawyer about what is best for your situation and how best to present your case.
If you call witnesses, you must not ask them leading questions. For example, you can ask "Were you with anyone on the evening of August 19? You cannot say "You were with me on the evening of August 19, weren't you?".
When you have finished asking a witness questions, the Crown Attorney may cross-examine the witness.
If you decide to give evidence yourself, you will usually do this after you call any witnesses. The Crown Attorney may cross-examine you and ask if you have a criminal record, but cannot ask you about any of the details of any individual convictions. If you do not give evidence the Crown Attorney cannot mention your criminal record unless you are found guilty of the offence. The Crown can then mention it during the sentencing process.
Generally you cannot use written evidence. You must get legal advice on what written evidence might be allowed in your case. If you are using written evidence, you will need an original for the court and a copy for yourself and for the Crown Attorney.
After the Crown Attorney cross-examines your witness, you may put forward redirect evidence by asking the witness additional questions. These questions, however, must be strictly limited to any issues which arose during cross-examination. It is an opportunity for the witness to clarify or provide context to evidence the witness may have given while being questioned by the Crown.
After all the evidence has been presented in court, both you and the Crown Attorney have an opportunity to sum up your case. If you presented evidence in your defence, you will make your submission first. If you did not present a defence, the Crown Attorney sums up first. Also, if you are not represented by a lawyer, the judge might ask the Crown to sum up first. You use the submission to sum up the points in your favour.
- Keep it short;
- Do not present any new evidence;
- Tell the judge why your witnesses are believable; and,
- Draw attention to weaknesses in the Crown's case and show that the Crown has not proved the case against you.
The Crown makes a submission to try to show the judge that the evidence proves that you are guilty.
The judge makes a decision as to whether the evidence against you is sufficient to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge takes into account all the evidence presented in court by you and the Crown Attorney. Sometimes the judge will adjourn the court briefly to allow time to reach a decision.
If the judge finds you not guilty you are free to go. You have been acquitted.
If the judge finds you guilty, the next step is for the judge to sentence you.
Before deciding on the sentence the judge will allow you and the Crown Attorney an opportunity to speak. This is called 'speaking to sentence'. It is an opportunity for you to tell the judge about yourself and any circumstances surrounding the offence. (For example, you were depressed because you had lost your job.) Be honest. The judge will have heard hundreds of stories and will not be impressed by insincere promises or excuses.
You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to order a pre-sentence report, Gladue Report, or Impact of Race and Culture Assessment. The judge will set a later date for a sentencing hearing to allow time for the report to be prepared. The report or assessment provides information about you, your family, education, work, community involvement, cultural background, criminal record if you have one, systemic and other factors such as historical disadvantages, systemic racism, discrimination and its effects. It is important to keep in touch with the people who are writing these reports. If you miss your appointments, they may send a letter to the Court indicating that you failed to attend your appointments.If you are unable or do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself in court. You should still get some legal advice on your situation before you go to court, even if you are going to represent yourself in court.
Preparing for trial
Do not leave it until a day or two before the trial date to prepare. You should make notes of what happened as soon as possible after the event. It may be several months before the trial, and you may forget important facts if you don't write them down. Think about:
- who you might call as a witness;
- whether you will give evidence yourself;
- what are the strong and weak points of your case;
- how you can best present the evidence; and
- what you will say when speaking to sentence, if you are convicted.
Sometimes people do not want to go to court to give evidence as a witness. If you have any doubt that a witness will show up at court, you should go to court one or two months before the trial date and ask for the witness to be subpoenaed (pronounced sub-PEEN-ahd). A subpoena orders a witness to come to court on the date and at the time of trial. Many employers required that employees have a subpoena before they will let them have time off work to go to court.
You should try to get some legal advice about your case from a lawyer. Do not leave this until the last minute.
Full disclosure: what is it and why you need it
The Crown Attorney must provide you with full disclosure of the case against you. Disclosure means that Crown must give you copies of all evidence relevant to the case including the Crown sheet, police reports, witness statements made to the police both written and verbal, and any other documents such as a breathalyser certificate. In some cases, the Crown can place reasonable limits on some parts of your disclosure. It is becoming more common for the video or audio recording of certain witness’ statements to be excluded from your disclosure. If this is the case, then you will still be given an opportunity to view it.
You can find out from the court clerk the location of the Crown Attorney's office which will deal with your case. You can also get contact information for the Crown at novascotia.ca/pps/contact.asp (Nova Scotia) or ppsc-sppc.gc.ca (federal Crown), or in the government section of the telephone book under 'Public Prosecution' or 'Justice'. Go to the Crown Attorney's office and tell them who you are and ask for 'disclosure'. This information can be picked up by you, or in some cases, it may be mailed to you. You will need to show identification. If you do not have a lawyer, you should also say that you are going to court without a lawyer.
If you do not have a copy of the information (the paper that says what you are charged with), you can get a copy from the court clerk.
It is extremely important that you get disclosure from the Crown, and review it with a lawyer if possible, before you enter your plea.
Prepare your cross examination questions
The disclosure will tell you the basic information that the Crown Attorney will use in court.
Think about the offence you are charged with:
- who was there?
- what could each person see or hear?
- make a list of possible witnesses and write down what each saw or did. Do not forget to include police officers.
- are there possible witnesses that were not interviewed by police?
Think about what each person could say about the offence and make notes. Now think about what questions you could ask to point out any weaknesses.
Prepare your defence witnesses
Talk to your witnesses, one at a time, about what happened and what you will ask them in court. They must be able to say in court and in their own words what happened, and what they themselves saw or heard, or did. This is their testimony and must not be rehearsed.
The judge will not allow witnesses to give hearsay evidence. This means a witness is not allowed to say what another person told the witness they saw, heard or did.
The witness should not say what they believe happened. They must actually have seen or heard what happened or what was said.
Make sure your witnesses know that they may be cross-examined by the Crown Attorney. Make sure they know about the witness exclusion order.
You should make a list of questions that you want to ask each witness.
Prepare your evidence
You must decide whether you are going to give evidence yourself. You should talk with a lawyer about this. Here are some points for and against giving evidence.
- It is the only opportunity you have to tell the judge your version of what happened;
- You may be the only defence witness who was present when the incident occurred;
- You may have seen something that no one else saw;
- You may know facts that no one else knows about the offence;
- You can explain why you said or did something;
- You can explain why you could not have committed the offence; and,
- You can provide the judge with an opportunity to assess whether you are a truthful, honest person.
- You must give evidence under oath and the Crown Attorney may cross-examine you;
- The Crown Attorney may point out weaknesses in your evidence;
- If you have a criminal record, the Crown Attorney can ask you about it; and,
- The Crown Attorney can ask you about other matters related to the case that you did not talk about in your testimony
Prepare your submission
The Crown Attorney first presents the case against you, you then present your case.
Then you both have an opportunity to make a submission. The submission is a summary of the important points of your case. It is a final opportunity for you to remind the judge of the weaknesses in the Crown Attorney's case and the strengths of your case. Write down the main points that you want to cover so that you do not forget anything. If you do not call any defence evidence, you get to address the judge last in closing submissions.
Prepare to Speak to Sentence
If the judge finds you guilty, you will likely be sentenced immediately. Even if you feel certain that you will not be found guilty, you should be prepared to speak to sentence. Consider whether you want to ask for a Pre-Sentence Report. A Pre-Sentence Report (often referred to as a “PSR”) is a document prepared by Probation Services and is an organized way to tell the judge about your personal history including the background of your family, physical and mental health, education, employment, and anything else you think might be relevant.
If you are found guilty there may be circumstances that allow you to appeal the verdict or the sentence. Usually, you must file the appeal within 30 days. You should talk to a lawyer before you decide whether to appeal. The Crown may also appeal the verdict or sentence. Go to courts.ns.ca for the Criminal Appeal How-to Manual to help you make an informed decision about appealing a criminal conviction or sentence.
Finding a lawyer, more information and help
- Legal Aid Duty Counsel: Nova Scotia Legal Aid has duty counsel in provincial courts across the province. They can give you preliminary, free advice if you are in court without a lawyer. Call 902-420-7800 in the Halifax Regional Municipality or 902-539-7026 in the Sydney area, or ask at the courthouse.
- Nova Scotia Legal Aid: If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid to see if you qualify. Legal Aid is listed in the phone book under 'Legal Aid' (white pages and government section) or 'Nova Scotia Legal Aid' (white pages), or visit nslegalaid.ca for contact information or to apply for Nova Scotia Legal Aid online. Nova Scotia Legal Aid also has some criminal law legal information online at: www.nslegalaid.ca
- Lawyers in private practice are listed in the Yellow pages of the phone book, both online and in-print. You should look for a criminal law lawyer. Go here for other ways to find a lawyer in private practice.
- If you are having trouble finding a lawyer in private practice you can contact the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service where you may be referred to a lawyer who will give you an initial interview of up to 30 minutes for no more than $20 plus tax. Regular fees would generally be charged after the initial consultation, although some of the Lawyer Referral Service members may offer some flexibility in fee arrangements. Go here for ways to get in touch with the Lawyer Referral Service.
- Court-Appointed Counsel Applications ("Rowbotham Applications"): If you have been denied Legal Aid and cannot afford a lawyer, there is another option. You can apply to the Nova Scotia Provincial Court to ask for a lawyer who will be funded for you.
- Courts of Nova Scotia - Provincial Court : general information.
- Provincial Court forms and rules.
- Victim Services of Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Department of Justice, Victim Services offers a range of services to help victims of crime in Nova Scotia.
- Coverdale Courtwork Society: a non-profit community based organization that provides support to women and girls within the Halifax Regional Municipality who are experiencing the justice system.
- John Howard Society of Nova Scotia: a provincial organization comprised and governed by people whose goal is to understand and respond to problems of crime and the criminal justice system.
- Mi'kmaq Legal Support Network: The Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network (MLSN) a justice support system for Indigenous people who are involved in the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia. Call Toll Free: 1-877-379-2042 or 902-379-2042.
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada: federal government organization that prosecutes criminal offences under federal jurisdiction, including cases involving drugs, organized crime, terrorism, tax law, money laundering and proceeds of crime, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Criminal Code offences in the territories, and a large number of federal regulatory offences.
- Public Prosecution Service of Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service prosecutes charges laid under the Criminal Code and under Nova Scotia statutes such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Last reviewed: May 2022
Going to the Federal Court of Canada
Representing yourself in the Federal Court of Canada
Going to Family Court
Going to court on your own without a lawyer is called representing yourself. There are things you can do to help yourself to prepare and present your case.
Read the 'Going to Court: Self-represented Parties in Family Law Matters' workbook.
The 'Going to Court' workbook has information on:
- getting legal advice (even if you are representing yourself it is a good idea to try to get some legal advice)
- proving your case
- what the hearing process is like
- what happens at the end of the hearing
The workbook also has worksheets and checklists that will help you to prepare your case for court.
To find a lawyer who does family law, you can
- contact your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid office at: www.nslegalaid.ca/contact.php
- contact law firms in your community that do family law
- contact your Employee Assistance Program or union if you have one
- go to nsfamilylaw.ca - the page on getting legal advice
- contact a women's centre or other trusted help organization to ask if they can suggest a referral
- ask a friend, family member or trusted professional for a suggested referral
- go to Lawyers and Legal Help for more ways to find a lawyer.
If you cannot pay a lawyer
You may qualify for Nova Scotia Legal Aid
Contact your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid office for information about Legal Aid's services: nslegalaid.ca/legal-aid-offices/, and ways to apply for Nova Scotia Legal Aid: http://www.nslegalaid.ca/apply.php . You can also apply for Legal Aid online: nslegalaid.ca/onlineapplication.php. Check your local directory for the addresses and telephone numbers of legal aid offices across Nova Scotia, listed under 'Legal Aid' in the white pages and government section of the telephone book, or visit Nova Scotia Legal Aid's website at: www.nslegalaid.ca
Free brief legal advice for family law issues
You can make an appointment with a Nova Scotia Legal Aid Summary Advice Lawyer. You do not have to qualify for Nova Scotia Legal Aid to use this service. Go to nsfamilylaw.ca/legal-advice-information , (under question 21), for contact information.
More about the Summary Advice Counsel at Family Courts
This service is available throughout Nova Scotia. Your case or issue must be somehow related to the court where the Summary Advice lawyer is located. For example, if you are making an application to the court in Halifax, you should book an appointment with Summary Advice lawyer in Halifax.
The Summary Advice Counsel is a lawyer who assists people who need legal advice on a family law matter, but who do not have a lawyer. The Summary Advice lawyer provides basic legal advice, free of charge, regardless of how much you make or where you get your income.
The purpose of the Summary Advice Counsel service is to give people a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities. The Summary Advice lawyer can give basic information about legal terms, how to start or respond to a court application, court processes, legal documents, and other aspects of family law.
The Summary Advice lawyer can give advice on parenting arrangements, child support and spousal support, property division, divorce, and most other family law matters and court processes.
The Summary Advice lawyer does not provide advice to parents involved in child protection matters, or for matters involving Mi’kmaw Family Services. The Summary Advice lawyer may provide advice to a non-party to a child protection matter. For example, if you are not directly involved with a child protection proceeding and are applying for decision-making responsibility for, or contact with, the children involved.
The Summary Advice lawyer does not go to court with you. For more information about this service, click here.
You can contact your local Summary Advice lawyer to book an appointment by calling the appropriate number below:
Lower cost options
Your lawyer may accept alternate billing arrangements, or may be willing to just work on part of your case.
If you have no extra money, but you and your spouse own property, such as a home, investments, or RRSPs, some lawyers may agree to be paid at the end of your case, when you receive your share of the family property.
Also, some lawyers may consider helping you with just part of your legal issue - for example, preparing an affidavit or cross-examining a witness in court. Helping with just part of a case is sometimes called providing 'unbundled' or "Limited Scope Retainer" legal services. Go here for more information about how lawyers charge for their work.
You can represent yourself
If you decide to or must represent yourself, you should still ask a lawyer to review court forms before you file them with the court, if possible. You should always get independent legal advice from your own lawyer before you sign a written agreement or enter into a consent court order.
Start with nsfamilylaw.ca for family law information in Nova Scotia
More legal information about family law in Nova Scotia
- Contact the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia by telephone, email or live chat to connect with a legal information counsellor and get free family law information
- Nova Scotia Legal Aid offers family law information and family law live chat on its website on Tuesdays from 3 pm to 5 pm
- Justice Canada Family Law Information
- The Court Services Division of Nova Scotia's Department of Justice has Family Law Information Centres at the Supreme Court-Family Division in both Halifax and Sydney. Visit nsfamilylaw.ca or contact the court for more information
- A website called CANLII offers free access to Canadian laws and court decisions. You can also find Nova Scotia laws on the Nova Scotia legislature website - nslegislature.ca
- Information about the Supreme Court-Family Division, court forms, procedures and court contact information, is on the Nova Scotia Courts' website - www.courts.ns.ca
- Francophone Nova Scotians can get help from l'Association des juristes d'expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse, or contact the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia by email anytime, or by telephone on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons for legal information in French.
Last reviewed: August 2022
Going to Small Claims Court
Go to courts.ns.ca for more information or contact us for more legal information.
Preparing for Small Claims Court app
Full Length Videos about Representing Yourself in Small Claims
See our SHORT VIDEOS to help you get prepared for small claims court right away or...
Small Claims Court Representing Yourself Videos – a comprehensive guide
- Introduction and Disclaimer
- Introduction to Advocacy
- The Theory of the Case
- Being Persuasive
- Procedure: Role of the Judge (or Adjudicator) and Discoveries
- Procedure: Judgment and Costs
- Procedure: Pleadings and Adjudication
- Procedure: Conclusion
- Evidence: Show Your Story
- Evidence: Types of Evidence, and Introducing Evidence
- Evidence: Admissibility, Privilege, and Hearsay
- The Hearing: The Room and Witnesses
- The Hearing: Questioning witnesses
- The Hearing: Objections
- The Hearing: Types of Questions and Objections
- The Hearing: Argument
- Nuts and Bolts
1. Intro and Disclaimer
2. Introduction to Advocacy
3. The Theory of the case
4. Being persuasive
6. Procedure: Role of the Judge or Adjudicator, and Discoveries
7. Procedure: Judgment and Costs
8. Procedure: Pleadings and Adjudication
9. Procedure: Conclusion
10. Evidence: Show your story
11. Evidence: Types of Evidence, and Introducing Evidence
12. Evidence: Admissibility, Privilege and Hearsay
13. The Hearing: The Room and Witnesses
14. The Hearing: Questioning Witnesses
15. The Hearing: Objections
16. The Hearing: Types of Questions and Objections
17. The Hearing: Argument
18. Nuts and Bolts
7 important things to do when presenting a case in Small Claims Court
From a Small Claims Adjudicator's Desk...
Seven important things to do (or not do) when presenting a case in Small Claims Court
audio Click here (2.26 MB) to download & listen to these 7 tips in audio
1. Tell a story
Good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. And your dispute is best presented as a story. The Adjudicator needs to know the background so that he or she can place the dispute in context. Take your time. Set the stage. Introduce yourself. Start at the beginning and bring out the rest of the story in a methodical way, ending up at the point that you started your Claim. If you are the Defendant, the same principle applies, except that the Claimant gets to go first.
2. Cases are presented with evidence
Adjudicators will decide the case based on the evidence presented. Evidence comes in several different forms, principally the sworn testimony of people (witnesses) and documents. Witnesses should have first-hand knowledge of what they speak about, otherwise their evidence may be seen as mere “hearsay” and given little or no value. As a party (Claimant or Defendant) you must bring to court all of the witnesses (including you) and documents that you believe would be helpful to proving your case. It will not help you to speak about documents that you left at home, or to refer to witnesses that are busy elsewhere. The trial is when these things or people are needed. Sometimes, a trial may be adjourned to allow a necessary witness to attend on another day, but there had better be a good reason for why they are not in attendance for the first day.
3. What is cross-examination?
You will also have the chance to cross-examine the other party and his or her witnesses. Cross-examination means asking questions, not just arguing with the witness. A good cross-examination brings out facts that the witness omitted, or shows that they may not be telling the whole truth. If you choose to cross-examine, be careful what you ask, as you are stuck with the answers. Many self-represented parties choose not to cross-examine, knowing that cross-examination is a legal skill that not everyone possesses. The Adjudicator will not hold it against you if you decide not to cross-examine, but just wish to tell your own story.
4. Documents must be proved
With rare exceptions, documents must be authenticated by someone who is familiar with the document. For example, if it is an email between A and B, either of A or B can authenticate it by saying “I sent it” or “I received it.” If it is a contract, you may be able to testify that you signed it, or were given it. If it is a photograph, someone may need to testify that they took the photograph. A document that is not authenticated this way may not be accepted, or may be given little “weight.”
Any document that you refer to becomes part of the court file, so bring enough copies (usually three) so that the court and the other party can have one. The same is true of photographs - bring copies for everyone. If you plan to show a video, bring copies on a DVD or thumb drive, so it can be shown on the equipment in the court and also taken away by the Adjudicator.
Do not offer to show pictures or videos on your phone or laptop. Print them out and bring copies, or in the case of videos, bring it on a CD or thumb drive.
Sometimes, to make out your case you need to call an expert to testify. For example, you may have a mechanic who can testify that a repair done to your car by someone else was improper. Best practice is to have that expert put their opinion in writing, and also come to court prepared to testify. You may have to pay them for their time. That is only fair.
If you do get an expert report, it is also best practice to send it to the other party before the hearing, so they are not taken by surprise. They may wish to get their own expert, so send it well in advance of the trial date. Otherwise, there is a risk that the trial will have to be adjourned so the other party can prepare a response.
6. Beware the internet
Adjudicators will rarely accept articles or opinions that you got off the internet. The internet may be a good starting point for educating yourself, but printouts from the internet will rarely be accepted as evidence by itself. For example, you may find a website where someone in the US gives an opinion that such and such a vehicle has defective brakes. The court will not accept that as evidence, where the state of the brakes is a major issue in the case. You will need a live expert who can defend their opinion.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – a little can go a long way!
The more complicated your case, or the more money involved, the more advisable it is to get a bit of legal help in advance. Consider asking for help from a lawyer, or an organization such as the Legal Information Society, or Small Claims court staff. The Adjudicator hearing your case will may also be willing to help, to a degree, where you are not certain about proper procedure.
Time limits for suing
Nova Scotia's Limitation of Actions Act gives time limits for starting a civil lawsuit. The new Limitation of Actions Act became law on September 1, 2015.
Limitation periods prevent a claimant from starting a lawsuit after a certain time period has passed. The general idea is to give claimants a reasonable amount of time within which to sue, but at the same time respect the defendant's right to certainty and closure about potential claims.
The law says there is a two year basic limitation period (time limit) for suing in court. The two year time limit clock starts ticking from the date the person "discovers" that they have a legal claim. The new Limitation of Actions Act applies to claims to remedy an injury, loss or damage that resulted from something someone did (an act), or failed to do (an omission). Examples are a personal injury, medical malpractice or breach of contract claim.
There are some exceptions to the two year time limit rule. For example, there is no time limit for making a sexual misconduct or abuse claim. Depending on the type of claim, there may also be time limits in other statutes that would take precedence over time limits in the Limitation of Actions Act.
There is also a 15 year "ultimate" time limit for claims which may take longer to discover. An example is medical complications from surgery which may take several years to find out about.
It is important to check with a lawyer for legal advice if you are not sure what limitation period may apply to your situation.
For more information:
- NS government news release: novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20150805001
- NS Department of Justice summary of Nova Scotia's Limitation of Actions Act: novascotia.ca/just/documents/Limitation-of-Actions-Act.pdf
- Read the new Limitation of Actions Act: nslegislature.ca/legc/bills/62nd_2nd/3rd_read/b064.htm
This page gives legal information only. It does not give legal advice. If you have a legal problem you should consult a lawyer.
Last reviewed August 2022
Slip and Fall
Law that applies to a slip and fall
Nova Scotia's Occupiers' Liability Act,, as well as principles established in court cases, apply to most slip and fall injuries. This Act says that an occupier has a duty to see that each person entering on the premises is reasonably safe while there. Almost all workplace injuries are covered under the Workers' Compensation Act.
Who is an occupier?
An occupier is a property owner and/or operator. More specifically, Nova Scotia's Occupiers' Liability Act says that an 'occupier' includes:
i) a person who is in physical possession of the premises; or
ii) a person who is responsible for, and has control over, the condition of or activities on the premises, or over people allowed to enter the premises.
' Premises' include, among other things, land and buildings, water, ships and vessels, fixed structures, etc.
Most business and home insurance policy include a section that covers occupiers' liability.
Occupier's duty of care
The duty of care requires an occupier take reasonable care to prevent injuries to visitors from unusual dangers that the occupier knows about, or should have known about. This duty applies to the condition of the premises and activities on the premises, and to the conduct of third parties on the premises.
I slipped and fell on someone else's property. I am injured. Does the property owner have to compensate me for my injuries?
Maybe. The answer depends on the specific circumstances of the accident, and particularly whether the property owner satisfied its duty to take reasonable steps to protect facility users. For example, if the stairwell was poorly lit and you slipped on a broken step, and the owner had not taken reasonable care to repair the step and improve the lighting in the stairwell, they might be financially responsible for your injuries.
Do I need to get legal advice?
It is wise to talk with a lawyer if you are injured on someone else's property or you are being sued by someone who was injured on your property. The lawyer can give you advice based on the circumstances of your case, how the law may apply and the compensation that might be awarded. Go here for ways to find a lawyer.
Will I have to go to court?
Usually you only go to court if you and the occupier or the occupier's insurance company cannot agree on liability and/or the amount of compensation.
What factors does the court consider in deciding if an occupier satisfied their duty of care to the injured person?
Factors a court would consider include :
- whether the occupier knew, or ought to have known, that the person was on the premises
- the injured person's ability to appreciate the danger. For example, there is a higher duty to protect children
- the reason the person was on the premises. For example, was the person invited or trespassing or intending to commit a crime on the property
- any efforts the occupier made to warn people about the danger, or to discourage people from running the risk. For example, was the property or the danger fenced or were there warning signs
- whether, under the circumstances, the occupier should reasonably have been expected to provide protection against the risk.
The Occupiers' Liability Act also sets out a number of circumstances when a person entering certain types of premises is deemed to assume a greater degree of risk.