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Representing Yourself: Small Claims Court

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

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

Click here to download 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: courts.ns.ca

Also available at Small Claims Court locations.

Published by:
NS Court Services.

Brief Overview of Small Claims Court

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

Online at: www.leapnovascotia.com/small-claims-court.html

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

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).

Watch & Learn: Instructional Videos for 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

 

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 interactivecourtforms.ns.ca
Also available at Small Claims Court locations.

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