Legal Help & the Legal System

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Courts and court guides

 For information about the Courts of Nova Scotia, including guides, forms, procedures and court contact information, go to

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 Family Court: In all areas of Nova Scotia, except Cape Breton and the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Family Court deals with most family law matters except division of property and divorce. These are dealt with by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
  • The Probate Court deals  with wills and estate issues.
  • Nova Scotia Supreme Court, which hears serious criminal cases including jury trials and most civil law suits that involve sums of more than $25,000. In areas outside Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality it also deals with divorce and division of property
  • The Supreme Court (Family Division) in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality deals with all family law matters including divorce and division of property.
  • The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal: This court 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, 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 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 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

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. This is called "unbundled services" or a "Limited Scope Retainer". Click here for information about lawyers and 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 (Click here for more court fee information). 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?
  • Your health and wellbeing. Your credibility may be challenged. Court is like a battle and 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 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 issue (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 [motions, exchange of documents, etc.] 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.

Criminal Appeal of a conviction or sentence

Go to 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 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.

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, he or she risks 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, he or she 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 he or she promises 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, he or she 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 him or her. 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, 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 him or her 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, he or she may be fined or given a jail term or both. The defendant may also be charged with any other offence (for example, assault) he or she committed when the peace bond was broken. The defendant can be charged with breaking the conditions of the peace bond even if he or she was 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 he or she 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 he or she 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 two 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 his or her 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 he or she 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 he or she will agree to assist 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 his or her 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 access to 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 court to decide on custody or access, you should tell your lawyer or the judge about the peace bond.

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 he or she 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, he or she 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

Victim Resources
Depending on your situation and on where you live in the province, there may be agencies that can help you such as:

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 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.

Last reviewed: February 2017

Civil Action (lawsuits) in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia

Go to 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, 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. These clinics are currently offered in Halifax and Sydney. 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. Click here for information about these Free Legal Clinics.

Civil Appeals in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal

Go to for information about representing yourself at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal,  including:

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. These clinics are currently offered in Halifax and Sydney. 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. Click here for information about these Free Legal Clinics.

Going to Probate Court

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,

The phone number for your local Probate Court office should be listed in the blue government pages of your phone book under "Courts". Office location information is also available on the Courts of Nova Scotia website.

The information available from the Probate Court includes:

Going to Provincial Court

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. Try to speak with a lawyer before you go to court. Click here for ways to find a lawyer (Lawyers & Legal Advice).


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. These are NOT criminal offences, but can still have serious consequences.  Click here for information about tickets, called "Summary Offence Tickets", under Nova Scotia laws and some federal laws.

No matter what type of offence you are charged with, you will receive 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. 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 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 18 months) 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 sometimes called hybrid offences. Examples are theft under $5000 and impaired driving. The Crown Attorney decides which procedure to use and tells the judge 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. Click here for information about summary offence tickets, like traffic tickets, under provincial laws.

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. Click here for information about summary offence tickets, like traffic tickets, 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. 

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.

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 he or she will explain it to you. If you do understand say so.

When you have told the judge that you understand the charge, he or she 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 extremely important that you get disclosure from the Crown, and review it with a lawyer if possible, before you enter a plea.

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.

Click here for information about sentencing.


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.

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, or look in the government pages of the telephone book under 'Courts'.

Who will be in court?

The judge

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. He or she usually wears a black robe in court. In Provincial Court there are no juries.

Crown Attorney

The Crown Attorney is a lawyer who presents the case against you. He or she usually sits 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, tax law, money laundering and proceeds of crime.  Go to for information about the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, or   for information about the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Court Clerk

The court clerk sits at a table in front of the judge facing the public. He or she 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 ensures 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.


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 his or her answers during cross-examination.  This is called redirect evidence.


In larger centres 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 newspapers. 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 in court.

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.

Males are expected to remove their hat or cap. 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 him or her "Your Honour". In Supreme Court you call the judge "My Lord" or "My Lady".

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 him or her 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 him or herself 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 his or her answers to the Crown, or to ask the witness about your version of events.

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 his or her 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 him or her.

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 he or she is sure of. Ask questions you already know the answers to. For example, if the witness claims to have seen something clearly at 10pm 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 10pm 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 he or she 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, he or she will acquit you (that is find you not guilty) and dismiss the case. If the judge disagrees with you, he or she 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. If you do not give evidence the Crown Attorney cannot mention your criminal record unless you are found guilty of the offence. He or she 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 he or she may have given while being questioned by the Crown.

6. Submissions

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.

7.  Sentencing

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 and set a date, usually six to eight weeks ahead, for a sentencing hearing. This allows time for the report to be prepared. The pre-sentence report is prepared by a probation officer and provides information about you, your family, education, work and community involvement and criminal record if you have one. The information for the report will come from you, people you suggest as references and police.

Click here for more information about sentencing.

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-ed). 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

Full disclosure

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.

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 (Nova Scotia) or (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.

Be prepared

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 he or she saw, heard or did.

The witness should not say what he or she believed happened. He or she must 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.

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.

Click here for more information to help you prepare for sentencing.


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 for the Criminal Appeal How-to Manualpeal How-to Manual to help you make an informed decision about appealing a criminal convction or sentence.

Finding a lawyer, more information and help

  • Legal Aid Duty Counsel: Nova Scotia Legal Aid has duty counsel in provincial court in some parts of 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;

  • 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 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:

  • Lawyers in private practice are listed in the Yellow pages of the phone book. You should look for a criminal law lawyer. A friend, family member or co-worker might also suggest a lawyer. If you have one, your union or workplace Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) may also offer some help with finding a lawyer;

  • You can call the LISNS 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. To use LISNS Legal Information Line or the Lawyer Referral Service call 902-455-3135 in the Halifax area or 1-800-665-9779 toll free.

  • 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 Aboriginal people who are involved in the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia.

  • 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: February 2017

Going to the Federal Court of Canada

Representing yourself in the Federal Court of Canada

Workbook for Representing Yourself in Family Law Matters

Go to to read or download the NS government publication: Going to Court: Self-Represented Parties in Family Law Matters.  If you are going to a family law hearing or trial, the workbook can help you to prepare for court. The workbook has information about preparing for court and how to present a case in court, as well as worksheets to help you prepare.

Going to Small Claims Court

This page pulls together resources, from a range of sources, for representing yourself in Nova Scotia's Small Claims Court.  Go to for more information.

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.

5. Experts

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 his or her 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 paralegal, or an organization such as the Legal Information Society, or Small Claims court staff. Free advice is widely available, and can help you to feel confident that you are on the right track. The Adjudicator hearing your case will also be willing to help, to a degree, where you are uncertain about proper procedure.

Getting started: Intro to Small Claims Court

Nova Scotia Small Claims Court Introductory Brochure
Nouvelle Écosse: Cour des petites créances

General information about going to Small Claims Court, including:

  • Is Small Claims Court for you?
  • How to make a claim
  • Defending a claim
  • Quick judgment
  • The court hearing
  • After the hearing
  • Procedural checklist

Read this brochure before you go to court.

Online at:

Also available at Small Claims Court locations.

Published by:
NS Court Services.

Brief overview of Small Claims

Brief Overview of Small Claims Court

One page start-to-finish overview of the Small Claims Court process.

Online at:

Published by:
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, Legal Education Action Project (LEAP)

Small Claims Court forms

Notice of Claim: Use the Notice of Claim form to start your claim. 

Online in interactive, fill-in the blank format at
Also available at Small Claims Court locations.

Go to for more information about Small Claims Court.

A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court

Advocacy: A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court

Step-by-step information about representing yourself in Small Claims Court, including:

      • Theory of your case
      • Theme
      • Procedure
      • Evidence
      • The court hearing
      • After the hearing
      • Procedural checklist

Read this before you go to court.

Online at: Click here to download the Self-Advocacy Guide in pdf.

Published by:
Artists' Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (ALIS).

Videos about Representing Yourself in Small Claims

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction and Disclaimer
    2. Introduction to Advocacy
    3. The Theory of the Case
    4. Being Persuasive
    5. Settlement
    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
    19. Conclusion

    1. Intro and Disclaimer

    2. Introduction to Advocacy

    3. The Theory of the case

    4. Being persuasive

    5. Settlement

    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

    19. Conclusion

    Time limits for suing

    Nova Scotia's Limitation of Actions Act gives time limits for starting a civil lawsuitThe 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:

    This page gives legal information only. It does not give legal advice.  If you have a legal problem, including a question about limitation periods, you should consult a lawyer.

    Last reviewed September 2017

    Guide to a successful interview with a lawyer

    This page will help you prepare for a first interview with a lawyer.


    This guide describes 4 steps to take before you see a lawyer. Before you see your lawyer, try to organize all your important information or documents so you and your lawyer can make the best use of your time together, and focus on the legal parts of your problem.  Click here to download the entire guide in pdf.

    This guide provides general information on how to prepare for an appointment with a lawyer. It does not explain the law. Legal advice must come from a lawyer, who can tell you why you should do something in your case or whether you should take certain actions.

    Step 1: Fill out the Information Sheet

    Fill out the Information SheetClick here for an interactive pdf version that you can fill out online and print.
    Take the Information Sheet with you to the interview.

    If there are other important names and addresses that the lawyer should be aware of, put them in too. If your problem has a file or case number, include that as well.

    If possible, print or type your Information Sheet.

    Step 2: Prepare your Documents List

    Take all letters and documents about your legal problem with you to the interview. If you are in doubt about an item, take it anyway. Next, put the documents in order according to their dates.

    Click here for a Document List that you can use to list the documents, including letters you have. For example, include documents:

    • you prepared
    • you got from the court
    • you have been served.

    If you have little Post-It notes, put the number of the document on a Post-It note. Attach the Post-It note to each document so that it corresponds to the Document List.

    Step 3: Prepare your written statement

    Write out your story in point form and in the order of dates and times they happened. This is your written statement. Put in all the facts that you consider important. Be specific about dates and who said what. When you write out your story, it should not be more than two pages. This will force you to focus on the important points.

    Take the written statement with you to the interview. It will help refresh your memory when you are talking to the lawyer.

    Tell the lawyer if you have difficulty reading or writing.

    If you have questions you want to ask the lawyer, write them out and take them with you. Put them in order of importance to you. It’s easy to forget the questions if you don’t write them down. The lawyer will want to know all the details.

    The lawyer will want to know:

    • Exact dates, if possible.
    • Who said what to whom – the exact words, not a summary.
    • Who was there during conversations and how long the conversations lasted.

    Important: The lawyer needs to know all the details, good and bad, about your case. If you are completely frank, the lawyer will be in the best position to handle your problem and advise you on it.  Your lawyer is not there to judge you, and can't give you good advice without knowing all the facts.

    Step 4: Going to the interview

    There are four “S’s” to a successful interview with a lawyer:

    • slow,
    • straightforward,
    • specific, and
    • systematic.

    1. Slow

    People tend to talk too fast in a lawyer interview. This is natural. Many of us are nervous when we have to see a lawyer. We want to tell all.

    Think about it this way: hearing your story is like eating dinner.

    If the lawyer is eating too fast, he or she won’t be able to digest it properly.

    If you tell your story slowly, this gives the lawyer time to digest and understand your story. If you talk slowly, you give the lawyer time to ask questions.

    You will avoid missing important facts.

    The better prepared you are for the interview, the better advice the lawyer can give you.

    2. Straightforward

    All of us want to be seen in a good light. When we talk to other people, we usually try to emphasize the favourable things about ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this. It helps us all get along. However, when you’re talking to a lawyer, things are different.

    You need to give the lawyer both the good information and the bad information. If you did something wrong, admit it to the lawyer. It will most likely be brought to his/her attention later anyway, by the opposing party.

    The lawyer needs to know the good and the bad information at the beginning. That will help the lawyer to give you good advice and save time and possibly money in the long run. Unless the lawyer knows everything, he or she cannot give you good advice.

    Here’s a situation that illustrates the point. It’s about a man who was fired for being late for work. He does not want to answer the lawyer’s question.

    Q. Were you late for work on March 13, 2015?

    A. Late! You should talk to Margo Smith. She is never on time. She gets away with murder.

    Q. But on March 13, 2015, were you late?

    A. Is it my fault there was a car accident on the Port Mann Bridge? These things happen!

    Q. On Mar 13, 2015, were you on time for work? (FIRM VOICE)

    A. Don’t you listen? I’ve explained that! (LOUD VOICE)

    The lawyer asked the man, “Were you late for work?” But the man did not answer the question. Instead, he gave his excuses for being late. This uses up time at the interview.

    A good exchange goes like this:

    Q. Were you late for work on March 13, 2015?

    A. Yes!

    Q. What was the reason?

    A. There was a car accident on the Port Mann Bridge. I was stuck in traffic for thirty minutes.

    Q. Were you ever late before?

    A. No.

    Q. Were other people ever fired for lateness?

    A. No. Marge Smith was late all the time and she wasn’t fired!

    This exchange goes to the heart of the problem.

    Always be straightforward. Answer the questions directly. Many of the questions the lawyer will ask require simple answers.

    The simple, straightforward answer is best.

    3. Specific

    We all tend to talk in generalities. For example:

    • This person is good.
    • That movie is terrific!

    Generalities are not useful when you are dealing with the law.

    Law requires specific information. If you are asked a question such as: “On what date did this happen?” it is best to give the exact date, e.g., March 15, 2015.

    If you can’t be specific, be as specific as possible. “It happened the week of March 12, 2015.” Do not summarize conversations. Instead, tell the lawyer, “Mr. Jones said…and then I said…” Repeat the exact words that were said. The more straightforward you are in the interview, the better advice the lawyer can give you.

    4. Systematic

    When you are telling your story to the lawyer, tell it in chronological order. You cannot tell everything at once. Here is an example of what can go wrong.

    A woman is describing to her lawyer how she got fired from her job.

    Q. Did Mr. Jones, your boss, call you in his office?

    A. Yes.

    Q. What did he say?

    A. He said Mrs. Smith, please sit down. I sat down. Then he said, “This is difficult, but I’m going to let you go, because of the Atlantic mix-up. Well, I can tell you, I can swear on my mother’s grave, I had nothing to do with the Atlantic mix-up.

    The information in bold type breaks the flow of the story because Mrs. Smith has begun to talk about something new, “the Atlantic mix-up.”

    The flow of the story is important. The explanation of “the Atlantic mix-up” can wait until later in the interview. It may also be important, but if the woman gives it here, it is confusing.

    • Keep your story in chronological order. Do not skip about from one time period to another.
    • If you have papers and documents, get them in order before you go to see the lawyer. It is a waste of your time to spend several minutes looking for one letter in a pile of letters.

    Quick Summary


    Fill out the Information Sheet and take it with you.

    Fill out the Document List and take it with you.

    • Write out your story before you go to the lawyer.
    • If you have questions to ask the lawyer, write them down before you go. That way, you won’t forget them.
    • When you meet with the lawyer, remember to be slow, straightforward, specific and systematic.

    This page is adapted, with permission, from Access Pro Bono BC.

    How law is made

    Authority to pass laws in Canada is shared between the federal Parliament and the various provincial and territorial governments, which in turn pass on some of their powers to local councils.

    Federal laws

    The Parliament of Canada is divided into two sections:

    • the House of Commons, which has 338 elected members
    • the Senate, which has 105 Senators appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister

    There are usually one or two legislative sessions per year.

    Before a statute becomes law, it goes through the following process in Parliament:

    1. Introduction of a bill and first reading

    A bill is a law that is being proposed, developed and reviewed.  Bills are usually introduced in the House of Commons, but they may be introduced in the Senate. Bills introduced in the Senate go through the same process as those introduced in the House of Commons, the only difference is that the order of passage through the two houses is reversed. Financial bills can only be introduced by a minister in the House of Commons.

    There are 2 types of bills: government bills and private members bills. Government bills are introduced by the party in power in the House of Commons. Private members bills are introduced either by a government member or by a member of the opposition. Bills introduced by private members are rarely passed because government business takes precedence over all other business throughout the legislative session.

    The first reading of a bill introduces it to the House of Commons and outlines its general aim or purpose. There is no debate or amendments on first reading. Bills sometimes die at this stage, depending on public reaction to the bill.

    2. The second reading

    The bill is introduced for a second reading by the minister responsible for the subject of the bill. The general principles of the bill are debated fully by the Members of Parliament. The bill is then voted on and if it passes, the bill has been approved in principle. If it doesn't pass the vote, it dies.

    3. Committee stage

    After the second reading, the bill is referred to a committee which examines it in detail to see if its provisions will effectively attain the bill's desired ends. By tradition, party representation on these committees is roughly in proportion to that in the House of Commons.

    There are four kinds of committees:

    • Standing Committees are the ones most often used. There are 26 standing committees in the House of Commons, each one specializing in a particular area (for example, agriculture or regional development).
    • Special Committees are specially created to examine a specific bill.
    • Joint Committees contain members of both the House of Commons and the Senate.
    • A Committee of the Whole includes all members of the House of Commons, sitting as a committee and not in their official capacity.

    4. The third reading

    After committee review, the bill is re-examined by the House of Commons to determine whether the committee's amendments are satisfactory. Once it is decided that the bill is in an acceptable form, it is given a third reading, followed by a vote.

    5. The Senate

    If the bill successfully passes the third reading in the House of Commons, it is referred to the Senate, where a similar process of first and second readings, committee review and third reading is carried out. Any amendments passed by the Senate must be referred back to the House of Commons for approval. If it is referred back, it does not have to go through the whole process in the House of Commons again.

    6. Royal Assent

    If the bill passes in the House of Commons and in the Senate, it is submitted to the Governor General of Canada for his or her signature. This is called Royal Assent. The bill is then called an Act or statute.

    An Act or a statute does not necessarily become law immediately. There are three possible ways in which it will come into effect as law:

    • It has a proclamation date which gives the day upon which it will be proclaimed or come into force.
    • It has a section saying that it comes into effect on proclamation, which means at some unspecified date in the future.
    • If it has no proclamation date, either specified or unspecified, it comes into force on the day of Royal Assent.

    Until it has been proclaimed or comes into force, the statute or Act is not yet law and cannot be enforced by the government or the courts. Different sections of an Act may come into force at different times. For example, although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms section of the Constitution Act came into force on April 17, 1982, section 15 of the Charter only came into force on April 17, 1985.

    Visit the “How Parliament works” section on the Parliament of Canada website for more information about the Parliament and how federal laws are made.

    Nova Scotia laws

    Each province and territory in Canada has a provincial or territorial legislature. The Nova Scotia government is made up of only one House, called the Legislative Assembly, and has 51 elected members. The way it makes law is similar to the process followed in Parliament. A bill goes through two readings, then a committee review and a third reading. As there is no Senate or upper House, the bill then goes directly to the Lieutenant Governor for Royal Assent. The provisions regarding proclamation dates when the bill becomes law are the same as for federal statutes.

    A unique institution in Nova Scotia is the Law Amendments Committee, a Standing Committee of the Legislature. The Law Amendments Committee reviews bills referred to it by the House after second reading. Members of the public may attend hearings and comment on a bill or make written submissions. Contact the Legislative Counsel's Office for information about participating in Law Amendment Committee hearings. After the hearings, the committee reports back to the Legislative Assembly.

    Private bills go through a similar process of review by the Private and Local Bills Committee.

    Nova Scotia also has an independent Law Reform Commission. It reviews the laws of Nova Scotia and makes recommendations for improvement, modernization and reform.

    Visit the “Proceedings” section on the Nova Scotia Legislature website for more information about how provincial laws are made.

    Municipal laws

    The Constitution Act gives the provinces full control over municipal institutions. Each municipal government receives its power from the provincial legislature.

    In Nova Scotia, there are four types of municipal units, as defined by the Municipal Government Act: cities incorporated under their own Charter, towns, municipalities (sometimes called rural municipalities), and villages.

    Laws and regulations made by municipal councils are called by-laws. Councils also pass resolutions to deal with administrative matters such as agreeing to a contract for paving a road. Each council creates a by-law that sets out the procedure it must follow to make a law (that is, other by-laws); the procedure is usually similar from council to council. By-laws are reviewed at a committee stage before they are presented to council. All by-laws need the approval of the Minister of Service Nova Scotia before they become law.

    Council sits on a regular basis, not in sessions. Most by-laws make it to the stage of being passed or defeated, since, unlike the procedure in the federal Parliament or the provincial legislature, bills do not die at the end of a session or after second reading. By-laws usually come into effect when adopted and signed, although occasionally a by-law includes a later date when it will come into effect.

    The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities has a directory of all towns and municipalities in the province, and Service Nova Scotia has a directory of municipal contacts.

    Making changes to laws

    Statute law is constantly undergoing change in the following ways:

    • When a new Act is passed, an outdated Act is often repealed (declared no longer valid); usually this is stated in a section in the new Act.
    • The legislature may pass an amending Act which repeals, or replaces, some parts or sections of an existing Act. Amending Acts can also add new sections to existing Acts, as long as the sections remain broadly within the scope of the old Act. The amending act or new act must go through the entire legislative process.
    • Regulations can also be changed or repealed, as long as the new regulations are within the authority given to the delegated body under the original Act.

    Laws in Canada and Nova Scotia

    Nova Scotians are subject to laws set out in legislation and case law. Legislation is made be legislatures.  When a case comes to court, a judge interprets what the law means and how it applies, and these court decisions are called "case law". For example, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that an accused is entitled to a trial within a reasonable time. Judges have interpreted what a “reasonable time” means - the Supreme Court of Canada did so in a 2016 case called R v. Jordan.  As the Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in Canada, the legal principles set out in the Jordan decision are law and now govern how that Charter right is to be interpreted and applied.


    There are three types of legislation in Nova Scotia:

    • Statutes of Canada, which are laws passed by the Canadian Parliament;
    • Statutes of Nova Scotia, which are laws passed by the Nova Scotia Legislature;
    • By-laws, which are laws passed by municipalities that have law-making powers given to them by the provincial law. By-laws deal with local issues such a parking and zoning.

    Acts or Statutes usually include a section appointing a person or body to make regulations in relation to that law.  Regulations provide details about how the Act is applied. They are part of the law and have as much force as the Act itself. For example, Nova Scotia’s Consumer Protection Act has regulations outlining specific rules about gift cards, payday lenders and online shopping contracts.

    When a regulation is passed, it must be filed and published. At the federal level, the regulation is filed with the Clerk of the Privy Council and is published in the Canada Gazette. Exceptions to this rule are listed in Part II – Consolidated Index of the Canada Gazette. At the provincial level, regulations must be filed with the Registrar of Regulations.  In Nova Scotia, regulations are published in the Royal Gazette, Part II.

    See the section on Legal Research for resources on doing legal research and finding legislation.

    Case law

    Case law is also known as common law, judge-made law or case reporting. It mainly comprises all previous decisions and judgments made by all levels of court across Canada. The development of case law is an ongoing process.

    In Canada, with the exception of Quebec, laws have their origin in English common law. William the Conqueror developed common law in England after the Norman conquest in 1066.  At the time, there were few written laws in England, and William sought to establish a uniform system of law.  The King’s court travelled around England and selected the best local customs, common traditions accepted as binding on all members of the community. These customs were made law, and this new legal system became known as the common law.

    Eventually the common law evolved into a formal system based on the rule of precedent.  The rule of precedent is the custom of judges standing by previous judges’ decisions.  It is also known as stare decisis (which means to stand by things decided). When making a decision, judges refer to the principles and decisions made by judges in previous cases.  These are called “precedents”. Precedents are examples of how laws or by-laws have been interpreted and applied.

    The authority or importance of a particular precedent depends on the level of court and the jurisdiction in which the original decision was made. A precedent-making decision can only be changed by a court higher than the court which made the original decision.  The higher the court, the more weight will be given to its decisions.  However, courts are not bound by the decision of the following courts:

    • Other courts lower than the supreme court of a province;
    • Courts outside the jurisdiction or province (the exception is Supreme Court of Canada decisions);
    • Courts of equal jurisdiction (for example, a judge of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal will not be bound by a previous decision of a judge sitting on the same court - but he or she may be persuaded by it).

    In all cases, the court’s decision can still be persuasive, even if it does not follow the precedent.

    A judge may also consider decisions from other countries, in particular, other common law jurisdictions such as Britain and the United States. Different decisions on the same subject matter may conflict. In reaching a decision, a judge may have to choose which previous decision or principle to follow. In doing so, he or she may either overrule one of the decisions as being bad law or may distinguish one of the cases based on the case facts.

    Case law is contained in law reports, in print or electronic format. See the section on Legal Research for resources on doing legal research and finding legislation.

    The Constitution and Charter of Rights

    A constitution is a document that sets out a country's system of government and the civil rights of its residents and citizens. In Canada, the Constitution Act was proclaimed on April 17, 1982. This Act consolidated the British North America Act of 1867 and 30 other constitutional Acts, and forms the core of the Canadian Constitution. The Constitution can be altered, but it is a long and complicated procedure.

    The Constitution Act contains the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets out the rights and freedoms to be enjoyed by all Canadian citizens, and extends some of these rights and freedoms to all Canadian residents. These rights and freedoms are not absolute or limitless. As indicated in Section 1 of the Charter, they are subject to reasonable limits laid down by law which can be shown to be justified in a free and democratic society. The courts must decide what amounts to “reasonable limits”. They must strike a balance between individual rights and the needs of society.

    Charter rights only apply to federal, provincial and municipal government actions; they do not apply to the actions of private individuals, such as a dispute between neighbours, or between a homeowner and a contractor. The Charter also protects Canadians from the actions of agencies regulated and/or funded by government, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

    The federal Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal governments have the power to declare, within clearly defined limits, that a piece of legislation is not subject to some provisions of the Charter. This power is rarely used.

    The Charter is a reminder to all governments and legislators that their powers are limited and must be exercised with respect for the rights of individual citizens. The courts must see that legislation or government actions do not violate the rights and freedoms set out in the Charter. The courts also play an important role in deciding the provisions of the Charter, for example by interpreting what the rights and freedoms in the Charter mean, what they cover, and how far they extend.

    Legal authority, or Jurisdiction, is set out in Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, and list areas in which only the federal or the provincial government may make laws. For example, under section 91 (27), only the federal Parliament may make criminal laws and set the criminal procedure for the courts. Or, section 92 (14) says that only a province may make laws for the purpose of administering courts in that province.
    In general, the federal government has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada, and laws regulating trade and commerce. Provinces have the authority to make law with respect to property and civil rights within their province, in matters of a local or private nature.

    Some of the powers set out in sections 91 and 92 are narrowly defined. For example, section 91 (9) makes it clear that the federal Parliament may make legislation about Sable Island off the east coast of Nova Scotia.  However, most of the powers referred to in sections 91 and 92 are so broad that courts have been asked many times to decide whether the federal or provincial government has jurisdiction over a particular area.

    The publication How Canadians govern themselves, written by former Senator Eugene Forsey, provides more information on the Constitution and our system of government.


    Policy is a set of rules or procedures that guide how decisions should be made with regards to public affairs. Policy is not law. If a policy is contrary to the statute or regulations, it can be challenged.
    For example, the work of income assistant caseworkers is governed by Nova Scotia’s Employment Support and Income Assistance Act. The Employment Support and Income Assistance Policy Manual details practical procedures caseworkers use in carrying out their work.

    Government policies are often available to the public, either online or in paper format at government offices. If a policy is not already available, you can make an access to information request, at the federal or provincial level, depending on the policy.  Requests to federal departments are made under the Access to Information Act. Requests to Nova Scotia’s provincial departments are made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) Act.

    Lawyer Referral Service

    (Legal Info Nova Scotia's Lawyer Referral Service)

    Click here for other ways to find a lawyer in Nova Scotia.

    Need a lawyer? Don't know which lawyer to choose?

    We may be able to help. Call the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-665-9779 (toll free) or 902-455-3135 in the Halifax area.

    Since 1992, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia has operated this key legal resource, and has referred thousands of Nova Scotians to a private lawyer. Lawyer Referral Service members offer an initial consultation of up to 30 minutes for a fee of only $20 plus tax.

    Please note that the lawyer is not expected to do legal work for you during the initial 30 minute consultation, just review your legal problem and talk about options you may have to solve your legal problem, and how much it may cost to have the legal work done.

    How does the Lawyer Referral Service work?

    • Call the Lawyer Referral Service
    • We will ask you some questions to:
      • find out whether you have a legal problem and whether a lawyer can help you
      • determine what type of legal problem you may have
      • determine whether there are other resources that might help you (for example, Nova Scotia Legal Aid or a community agency), and
      • give you legal information. 
    • Some of the questions may be personal, but we are asking to try to make sure we are making an appropriate referral, and to give you helpful legal information
    • The service is anonymous, and confidential
    • If it is appropriate to provide a lawyer referral, we will do our best to refer you to a private lawyer who does the type of law you need, in your part of the province.  Unfortunately we can't always help or refer you to a lawyer, but if not, we will try to refer you to other resources that might help
    • Referrals are made on a rotation basis, taking area of law and geographic location into account
    • When we provide a lawyer referral, we give you a lawyer's name and telephone number.   It is up to you to contact the lawyer to set up an appointment
    • Make sure you tell the lawyer you were referred by the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service
    • You can meet with the lawyer for up to 30 minutes for a fee of $20 plus tax. Consultations are generally in the lawyer's office, although it is up to the lawyer.  During this half hour you will discuss your problem with the lawyer and get an idea of what your options are and costs involved.  Do not expect the lawyer to do any legal work for you during the initial consultation. Legal work includes things like giving a legal opinion or advice, reviewing, interpreting, or drafting documents.
    • Prepare for your meeting with the lawyer.  Think about what you want to say - what are the most important points?  Take important documents with you, including any court order(s), contracts, financial information (if relevant), etc., so that you can leave the documents (or copies) with the lawyer if you decide to hire them. Briefly summarize your legal problem.  Keep in mind that 30 minutes goes by very quickly!  Click here for a Guide to a Successful Interview with a Lawyer.
    • If you decide to hire the lawyer after the initial 30 minute consultation, and the lawyer agrees to represent you, you will need to work out a fee arrangement directly with the lawyer. This usually means you will be paying the lawyer's regular fees. Be certain you understand the fee arrangement. 

    Can I get a list of lawyer who are part of the Lawyer Referral Service?

    No.  We cannot provide a list of lawyers who are registered with the Lawyer Referral Service.

    What information do we have about the lawyers who are part of the Lawyer Referral Service?

    We have the following information:

    • areas of law the lawyer does
    • where the lawyer is
    • fee arrangements the lawyer may consider (eg. regular fees, contingency fee agreement, limited scope retainer, flat fees, fee for service)
    • whether the lawyer offers in-office, telephone or email consultations
    • how long the lawyer has practised law
    • whether the lawyer can meet the client where they are instead of at the lawyer's office
    • whether notary public services are offered
    • whether the lawyer is a member of the Bar anywhere other than Nova Scotia
    • whether the lawyer offers service in languages other than English.

    How do I use the Lawyer Referral Service?

    How do I use the Lawyer Referral Service?

    Call the Lawyer Referral Service at:

    902-455-3135 (Halifax Regional Municipality) or
    1-800-665-9779 (toll free in NS)

    When is the Lawyer Referral Service open?

    Monday to Friday 9:30  am to 5:00 pm

    Closed 1 pm to 2 pm. Closed weekends and holidays.

    Please note that unfortunately we cannot accept messages for return phone calls. Calls are answered as they come in to the office.  If you are calling when the service is open and can't get through it means the Legal Information Counsellors are on the phone right now, so please try again soon.

    Mediator Referral Service

    Trying to resolve a dispute without going to court?

    Mediation might help.

    Mediation is a process that allows people in conflict to discuss the situation in a private, confidential setting. People with problems, conflicts or disagreements can talk with each other and make decisions about their situation in a supportive environment.  Mediation can help deal with a broad range of issues, including neighbour, workplace, consumer, commercial, business, non-profits, and family disputes. Mediation can help people resolve their problems and settle their disputes without going to court.

    Contact a mediator to find out if mediation is right for you.


    The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia’s Mediator Referral Service can help put you in touch with a mediator. Call 1-800-665-9779 or 902-455-3135 to ask for a referral to a mediator who deals with the type of issue you have. You can speak with the mediator for up to 30 minutes for no more than $20 +tax to help you decide if mediation is right for you.

    Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
    1 800 665-9779 or 902-455-3135
    open Mon-Fri 9:30 to 5:00

    Click here for more information about mediation, and other ways to find a mediator.

    Working things out without court

    Settlement Smarts for Self-Represented Litigants

      pdf Settlement Smarts for Self-Represented Litigants: How to use Settlement Processes Knowledgeably & Effectively (1.95 MB)  from Dr. Julie MacFarlane for the National Self-Represented Litigants Project.

    This publication covers:

    • Settlement basics
    • Settlement conferences
    • Mediation
    • Negotiation and formal Offers to Settle
    • Advice from other Self-Represented Litigants.

    Settlement conferences in Family Law

    Information from about Settlement Conferences in the Supreme Court-Family Division or Family Court:

    Court-based Assisted Dispute Resolution (Conciliation) for Family Law

    Information from about Assisted Dispute Resolution or 'Conciliation' offered at the Supreme Court-Family Division and Family Courts across Nova Scotia:

    Mediation and Access to Justice

    Typically, “access to justice” initiatives have focused on how to make the adversarial court process more accessible to self-represented litigants who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. Such initiatives focuses on things like, pro bono legal services, public legal education, legal aid, and unbundling of legal services (the limited retainer). The aim these efforts are to assists self-represented litigants as they move their case to trial for judicial resolution, so they can have their day in court.

    "Having their day in court”, however, does not mean that the parties get to be heard and to speak about what is important for them in their dispute. The legal issues frame what information is relevant and what information will be heard. The legal issues also define the range of remedies, not the parties. For example, in many cases an apology may be important, but most often, judicial remedies are measured in money damages and there is no apology judicial remedy. In this sense, the legal system may not be responsive to what the parties needs.

    The cost of a lawyer is not the only cost of a trial for a party. Litigation has emotional costs. A person cannot get past a conflict until it is resolved. The Court process takes time: there are many procedural steps to getting to Court. For as long as that process takes, the parties to the dispute live with the conflict every day.

    There are also opportunity costs to litigation. Each step in the litigation process takes time and time spent in litigation is time taken away from other more productive things, like your work, your business or your family.

    Finally, there is the cost of lost relationships. In some matters, it is important to maintain some kind of relationship with the other side. Litigation, however, is adversarial dispute resolution. The parties to a dispute before the Court are adversaries – they are against each other. This process is destructive to relationships that may be important, such as in the case of litigants who are neighbors or to people who will have to deal with each other again in the future.

    The longer a party is in litigation, the more that these costs continue to grow. That is why between 95 to 97 percent of all cases are either settled outside of Court or dropped. Litigation fatigue can lead people to drop their case.

    A lawyer has a duty to explore settlement for his or her client. But when a person is self-represented, who is there to explore settlement for that person? Clearly then, “access to justice” must also have effective means to settle disputes other than going to Court.

    Mediation is one tool for alternative dispute resolution.

    There are many benefits from mediation.  Mediation is a facilitated negotiation, where a neutral mediator helps the parties talk about their dispute and about settlement. It empowers the parties in the dispute by allowing them to talk about what is most important in the conflict to them. The parties have the opportunity to be fully heard as they engage in the mediation – the legal issues do not limit what they talk about.

    Mediations are quick. They are confidential and private. Generally, they are a lot less expensive than trials. The parties cannot use what they say in the mediation against each other in Court if they don’t settle, which can make mediation a very safe environment in which have candid settlement discussions. The two big benefits from mediation are either that, the parties settle or they become clearer about what their differences truly are. When parties truly understand what the dispute is about they usually need less Court time. Mediations can also make future settlement discussions between the parties easier and more focused.

    Mediations are widely used to help parties solve all manner of disputes, not just ones that involve a court action. The studies show that mediations have a high rate of success for resolving disputes, as high as an 80% success rate.

    Watch this short video about Mediation

    Answers to common questions about Mediation

    Mediation is a process for resolving conflict. It is an alternative to court.  

    Mediation is:

    • voluntary
    • private
    • confidential.

    The parties have sole control over the outcome. Mediation is often used when parties to a conflict have failed to work the issue out for themselves.  Mediation is about cooperative problem-solving.

    Mediation is a process that involves a mediator, who is appointed by both parties, to help the parties find common ground and reach a mutually agreeable outcome, if possible. Mediators are neutral, impartial professionals. Mediators do not provide legal advice.

    Can Mediation help me solve my problem?

    Mediation is a process that allows people in conflict to discuss the situation in a private setting.  People with problems, conflicts or disagreements can talk with each other and make decisions about their situation in a supportive environment.  Mediation can help people resolve their problems and settle their disputes.

    Who can benefit from mediation?

    Neighbors, families, parents, community groups, co-workers and people in litigation can benefit from mediation.  Mediation can be used for just about every kind of conflict.

    What does the mediator do?

    The mediator facilitates discussion between people in conflict so they can have the difficult conversations they need to have.  The people in conflict can say what they need to say and be heard and hear the other persons as well.  Mediation’s greatest value is not only to find solutions to people’s problems but to change how people in conflict behave toward each other: mediators help with this process.

    How does mediation work?

    It starts with all the parties involved agreeing to try mediation to resolve their problems. The mediator, who does not have decision making authority, may meet with each of the parties before the mediation to gather some information and to explain to the parties what to expect.  A date is then set for the mediation.  Often one session is all that is required.  

    What happens during mediation?

    mediationprocessPre-Mediation Stage

    This is a stage where a mediator prepares for mediation. It is used to assess the dispute and the parties' willingness to negotiate and to arrange the meetings. At this stage the parties receive information about the process and how to prepare for the first meeting.

    Commitment Stage

    This is generally a session where the mediator explains to the parties the process and procedures. The parties explain their issues, priorities and hear those of the other party(ies). This is the first opportunity for the parties to learn if there is a willingness to work through the issues in order to reach a settlement. The parties begin to develop a cooperative relationship and some confidence in the mediation process and the mediator.

    Negotiation Stage

    The parties develop a mutual understanding of the interests underlying the issues and generate possible options for settlement. Where issues of disagreement exist, objective criteria are used as tools of persuasion. The mediator may meet separately with parties (caucus) and have joint sessions. The parties with authority to settle must be part of the negotiations at this stage.

    Settlement Stage

    Options for settlement are evaluated based on general principles and specific objective standards. Options are evaluated as possible solutions. Outside advice regarding possible solutions is sought. The processes for reaching and documenting agreement are discussed. When all parties are satisfied with the solutions, an agreement outlining the areas of agreement in clear, specific language is prepared.

    What are some of the benefits of mediation?

    Mediations are private and confidential; the court process is public and not confidential.  They do not require forms and people in conflict do not have to follow complicated steps to get to mediation: the court system is all about forms, Rules and processes which can be very complicated for the ordinary person to follow.  Mediations are quick, efficient and often much less expensive than court.   Because problems can be addressed sooner, the parties are spared the emotional turmoil of ongoing conflict.

    Voluntary Participation

    Parties who enter into mediation do so freely. They are not forced to negotiate or settle but do so of their own free will.


    The parties set their own timelines for the process. It is not controlled by court dates or waiting periods. Normally, the process can be arranged directly, between the parties and a mediator, to be held at a time and place convenient to the parties with little or no delay.

    Saves Money

    A mediator can normally provide an estimate of the cost of the process at the beginning. Evidence suggests that conflicts handled through mediation are most often much less expensive than the cost of going to court. The ability to choose an informed mediator usually increases the opportunity for cost savings.


    Mediation sessions are held in private and all proceedings are confidential to the mediator and the participating parties. Mediators usually cannot be called upon to give evidence, in any action that may follow the mediation, about any matters that were discussed during the mediation.

    Supports the Parties

    Parties who reach their own decisions through mediation have more influence on the outcome of their dispute as they remain in control of the decision-making process. This is very different from arbitration or going to court where the decision-making authority is with the arbitrator or judge. The mediator has no decision-making authority and is there to help the parties understand each other.

    Practical Solutions

    Parties who mediate their conflicts are able to consider the details of implementation. Settlements can be specially tailored to meet the parties’ needs.

    Maintains Relationships

    Because mediation addresses the parties’ interests and seeks to achieve a win for all involved, the process is non-adversarial compared to going to court. There is a greater likelihood of parties maintaining relationships through a mediation process.

    Stopping the Process

    As mediation is voluntary it can be stopped by any party at any time and it in no way affects pursuing another option for resolving the conflict.

    Is mediation appropriate in abuse cases?

    Although mediation is an alternative to court, it is not usually suitable for situations involving abuse, because of the imbalance of power in abusive relationships.  It is important in mediation that all parties are able to take part in the process without feeling afraid, intimidated, controlled, pressured or coerced into coming to an "agreement".  If there is a history of abuse or violence in the relationship between the parties mediation may in some cases provide an opportunity for further abuse, and may heighten safety risks.

    If you are considering mediation it is very important to tell the mediator, and your lawyer (if you have one), about any abuse.

    If you are speaking with a mediator to explore whether mediation would be right for you, and they do not ask you questions to screen for abuse or safety concerns, you may want to consider a different mediator.

    Can my lawyer be our mediator?


    For a successful mediation, both parties must trust the mediator to be completely neutral. Your lawyer’s job is to protect your interests and negotiate on your behalf.  Your lawyer is not neutral.   Lawyers can be mediators, but only where both you and the other parties together decide to hire the lawyer specifically for mediation, and not to provide legal advice.  In such a case, the lawyer will act only as the mediator.  Mediators do not provide legal advice.

    Finding a Mediator or other dispute resolution professional

    The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia offers a Mediator Referral Service

    You can also find a mediator through:

    • ADR Atlantic Institute - find a mediator, arbitrator, or other dispute resolution professional in Atlantic Canada.  Members of ADR Atlantic Institute adhere to the Rules and Codes of Conduct & Ethics of the ADR Institute of Canada.
    • ADR Canada Connect - find an alternative dispute resolution professional Canada-wide
    • Family Mediation Canada - find a family law mediator
    • Mediators are also listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book under "Mediation-Services" and "Marriage, Family & Individual Counsellors", or look online.

    More information about Mediation

    Family law: Collaborative law approaches

    Collaborative law is a dispute resolution process, facilitated by trained lawyers who assist participants in resolving conflict using cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques.  Get more information about Collaborative Family Law, including contact information for trained collaborative family law professionals, from Nova Scotia Collaborative Lawyers:

    Appeals in a civil or family law dispute: Judicial Mediation at the NS Court of Appeal

    Judicial Mediation at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal -

    This program helps litigants avoid costly and time-consuming courtroom hearings. It is voluntary and is available to those who have launched an appeal in a civil or family dispute (not available in criminal appeals).

    The idea is to give litigants the opportunity to resolve their differences themselves under the guidance of a Judge. Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, or who are representing themselves, have access to the services of a lawyer free of charge. Go to to find out more about Judicial Mediation at the NS Court of Appeal, including answers to common questions and form to fill out when requesting mediation.

    Last updated August 2017