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 courts.ns.ca to read or download The Criminal Appeal: A How-to Manual (pdf) for those interested in appealing a conviction or a sentence. The manual aims to help you make an informed decision about appealing a criminal conviction or sentence. Starting an appeal means you are prepared to dedicate the time, energy, focus and possibly the money to see the appeal through to its conclusion. You should not start an appeal unless you are committed to this process.
Applying for a Peace Bond
Applying for a Peace Bond: To start the process you or your lawyer file a paper called an "Information" with the Provincial Court. Go to courts.ns.ca and click on HOW TO APPLY FOR A PEACE BOND at the bottom of the the Provincial Court page for details on how to apply.
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 www.courts.ns.ca, and click on 'HOW TO APPLY FOR A PEACE BOND" at the bottom of the Provincial Court page.
What conditions go into a peace bond?
By signing a peace bond, the defendant promises to leave you alone, keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the time set out in the peace bond. A peace bond may last up to one year. The judge decides how long it will last.
Before issuing the peace bond, the judge must decide whether to include conditions that will offer you further protection. These could include ordering the defendant:
- to stay away from specific places where you, your spouse or your child regularly go, such as your work, home or school;
- not to communicate with you, your spouse or your child. This includes by phone, by mail, in person, or through another person;
- to post an amount of money and obtain a surety. A surety is a person who vouches for the defendant and agrees to supervise 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
Depending on your situation and on where you live in the province, there may be agencies that can help you such as:
- help lines - call 211 or go to ns.211.ca/
- nsdomesticviolence.ca - information, support, resources
- transition houses - go to thans.ns.ca for shelter contact information, and
- women's centres (go to womenconnect.ca for locations)
Victim Services Division,
Nova Scotia Department of Justice
Halifax Region - 902-424.3307
Kentville 902-679.6201 or 1.800.565.1805 toll free
New Glasgow 902-755.7110 or 1.800.565.7912 toll free
Sydney 902-563.3655 or 1.800.565.0071 toll free
Go to novascotia.ca/just/victim_Services/ for more information about the Department of Justice Victim Services.
The Regional Victim Services Program provides information, support and advocacy for victims of crime within the criminal justice system. Services include the provision of information to victims on their particular case and on the criminal justice process; liaison with police, Crown Attorney, and other justice agencies as the case proceeds through the system; court preparation; and assistance with criminal injuries compensation and victim impact statements.
The program also provides a comprehensive service to address the special needs of child victims or witnesses as they prepare to testify in court.
Last reviewed: February 2017
Civil Action (lawsuits) in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
- 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
- A How-to Manual for Civil Appeals to help you make an informed decision about whether to appeal, and how to appeal a judgment in a civil law case
- NS Court of Appeal video tutorial: An introduction to the appeal process and a step-by-step guide for civil appeals.
- All about preparing your Appeal Book, including an Appeal Book Primer, Appeal Book checklist & practical tips, and a How-to Appeal Book video
Note: The Nova Scotia Courts offer free weekly legal clinics for self-represented litigants with certain types of cases going to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal. 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, courts.ns.ca/self_rep/self_rep_kits.htm.
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:
- The Probate Act - Questions and answers
- Dealing with an estate
- Grant of probate - checklist
- Grant of administration with will annexed - checklist
- Grant of administration - checklist
- Passing the accounts of an estate in Probate Court - checklist
- How to prepare the final account of the personal representative
Going to Provincial Court
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).
Being accused of a crime is a serious matter. It is wise to have a lawyer represent you. Lawyers know the law and legal procedures. They are used to presenting cases and speaking in court. They know what types of questions to ask and how to prepare evidence.
You should talk with a lawyer to get advice about your situation. Even if you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you in court, there are services and help available to you.
You may be able to get free legal help through Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid to see if you qualify. Visit nslegalaid.ca for more information or to apply online, or look in the telephone book under ‘Legal Aid’ or ‘Nova Scotia Legal Aid’ for contact information.
If you do not qualify for full representation from Nova Scotia Legal Aid you may be able to get summary (brief) legal advice or Duty Counsel help from NS Legal Aid. You should also contact a private lawyer who does criminal law. If you have an Employee Assistance Program through your employer, you may be entitled to a free consultation with a lawyer, or legal representation at a discounted rate. Click here for more ways to find a lawyer.
In the Halifax Regional Municipality and in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia Legal Aid offers Duty Counsel Lawyers. Duty Counsel lawyers are onsite at the Provincial Courts and provide free help with issues currently before the court, but do not provide full, start-to-finish representation. Services are provided to adults and youth in custody, as well as to those not in custody. Nova Scotia Legal Aid Duty Counsel is available to anyone who does not have a lawyer, regardless of income. Ask at the courthouse about Legal Aid Duty Counsel services.
Court-Appointed Counsel Applications ("Rowbotham Applications"): If you have been denied Legal Aid and cannot afford a private lawyer, there may be another option. You can apply to the Nova Scotia Provincial Court, or to the court that is to hear your case, to ask for a lawyer who will be funded for you. This is called a Rowbotham Application - click here for more information.
The information on this page only deals with Provincial Court. If you are charged with a very serious criminal offence, your trial may be in Supreme Court. If you have to go to Supreme Court, it is even more important that you have a lawyer.
If you are unable or do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself in court. You should still get some legal advice on your situation before you go to court, even if you are going to represent yourself in court.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the rights of Canadians, including those suspected or accused of a crime.
You have a right to have court hearings in English or French. Also, if you do not understand or speak the language in which hearings are conducted, or you are deaf, you have the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
You should tell the judge as soon as possible if you need the help of an interpreter or you want the hearings in French, or have a friend explain this to the judge.
If you are arrested you
- have a right to know the reason for the arrest;
- have a right to speak with a lawyer and the police must tell you of this right; and
- have a right to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest.
Other rights include
- the right to remain silent;
- the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court;
- the right to be tried within a reasonable time; and
- the right to a trial by judge and jury if the maximum sentence for the offence is five or more years in prison.
You will find more information here about some of these rights but it is not possible to go into them in detail. If you have questions about how these rights affect your situation you should talk with a lawyer.
What am I charged with?
What you are charged with is called an offence. There are offences under federal laws such as the Criminal Code. These are called criminal offences. There are offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act. 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 www.courts.ns.ca, or look in the government pages of the telephone book under 'Courts'.
Who will be in court?
The judge decides, based on the evidence presented in court, whether the case has been proved against you beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, the judge decides what sentence to give you. The judge sits at the front of the court room. He or she usually wears a black robe in court. In Provincial Court there are no juries.
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 gov.ns.ca/pps for information about the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, or ppsc-sppc.gc.ca for information about the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
The court clerk sits at a table in front of the judge facing the public. 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.
After all the evidence has been presented in court, both you and the Crown Attorney have an opportunity to sum up your case. If you presented evidence in your defence, you will make your submission first. If you did not present a defence, the Crown Attorney sums up first. Also, if you are not represented by a lawyer, the judge might ask the Crown to sum up first. You use the submission to sum up the points in your favour.
- Keep it short;
- Do not present any new evidence;
- Tell the judge why your witnesses are believable; and,
- Draw attention to weaknesses in the Crown's case and show that the Crown has not proved the case against you.
The Crown makes a submission to try to show the judge that the evidence proves that you are guilty.
The judge makes a decision as to whether the evidence against you is sufficient to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge takes into account all the evidence presented in court by you and the Crown Attorney. Sometimes the judge will adjourn the court briefly to allow time to reach a decision.
If the judge finds you not guilty you are free to go. You have been acquitted.
If the judge finds you guilty, the next step is for the judge to sentence you.
Before deciding on the sentence the judge will allow you and the Crown Attorney an opportunity to speak. This is called 'speaking to sentence'. It is an opportunity for you to tell the judge about yourself and any circumstances surrounding the offence. (For example, you were depressed because you had lost your job.) Be honest. The judge will have heard hundreds of stories and will not be impressed by insincere promises or excuses.
You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to order a pre-sentence report 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
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 novascotia.ca/pps/contact.asp (Nova Scotia) or ppsc-sppc.gc.ca (federal Crown), or in the government section of the telephone book under 'Public Prosecution' or 'Justice'. Go to the Crown Attorney's office and tell them who you are and ask for 'disclosure'. This information can be picked up by you, or in some cases, it may be mailed to you. You will need to show identification. If you do not have a lawyer, you should also say that you are going to court without a lawyer.
If you do not have a copy of the information (the paper that says what you are charged with), you can get a copy from the court clerk.
It is extremely important that you get disclosure from the Crown, and review it with a lawyer if possible, before you enter your plea.
Prepare your cross examination questions
The disclosure will tell you the basic information that the Crown Attorney will use in court.
Think about the offence you are charged with:
- who was there?
- what could each person see or hear?
- make a list of possible witnesses and write down what each saw or did. Do not forget to include police officers.
- are there possible witnesses that were not interviewed by police?
Think about what each person could say about the offence and make notes. Now think about what questions you could ask to point out any weaknesses.
Prepare your defence witnesses
Talk to your witnesses, one at a time, about what happened and what you will ask them in court. They must be able to say in court and in their own words what happened, and what they themselves saw or heard, or did. This is their testimony and must not be rehearsed.
The judge will not allow witnesses to give hearsay evidence. This means a witness is not allowed to say what another person told the witness 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 courts.ns.ca 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 nslegalaid.ca for contact information or to apply for Nova Scotia Legal Aid online. Nova Scotia Legal Aid also has some criminal law legal information online at: www.nslegalaid.ca
- Lawyers in private practice are listed in the Yellow pages of the phone book. 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 nsfamilylaw.ca 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 courts.ns.ca 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.
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
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.
NS Court Services.
Small Claims statutes and regulations
- Small Claims Court Act (NS)
- Small Claims Court Forms & Procedures regulations (NS)
- Small Claims Court Residential Tenancies regulations (NS)
- Small Claims Court Taxation of Costs Regulations (NS)
- Residential Tenancies Act (NS)
- Residential Tenancies regulations (NS)
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
- 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.
Artists' Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (ALIS).
Videos about Representing Yourself in Small Claims
Table of Contents
- Introduction and Disclaimer
- Introduction to Advocacy
- The Theory of the Case
- Being Persuasive
- Procedure: Role of the Judge (or Adjudicator) and Discoveries
- Procedure: Judgment and Costs
- Procedure: Pleadings and Adjudication
- Procedure: Conclusion
- Evidence: Show Your Story
- Evidence: Types of Evidence, and Introducing Evidence
- Evidence: Admissibility, Privilege, and Hearsay
- The Hearing: The Room and Witnesses
- The Hearing: Questioning witnesses
- The Hearing: Objections
- The Hearing: Types of Questions and Objections
- The Hearing: Argument
- Nuts and Bolts
1. Intro and Disclaimer
2. Introduction to Advocacy
3. The Theory of the case
4. Being persuasive
6. Procedure: Role of the Judge or Adjudicator, and Discoveries
7. Procedure: Judgment and Costs
8. Procedure: Pleadings and Adjudication
9. Procedure: Conclusion
10. Evidence: Show your story
11. Evidence: Types of Evidence, and Introducing Evidence
12. Evidence: Admissibility, Privilege and Hearsay
13. The Hearing: The Room and Witnesses
14. The Hearing: Questioning Witnesses
15. The Hearing: Objections
16. The Hearing: Types of Questions and Objections
17. The Hearing: Argument
18. Nuts and Bolts
Free Small Claims Legal Info Clinic: Bridgewater
Free Legal Information Clinic in Bridgewater
People thinking about going to Small Claims Court without a lawyer
Are you dealing with a conflict without a lawyer and do not know what to do?
Are you considering going to Small Claims Court to start or defend a claim? Do you have questions about the process or how to get started?
Would you find it helpful to talk to someone who can answer your legal information questions?
You can book a meeting with a public navigator team who will be pleased to talk to you about your situation and provide legal information to assist your decision-making. Book a meeting with a Public Navigator by contacting the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia at [email protected]
What is a Public Navigator?
The Public Navigator is a non-legal volunteer community member who has received training on legal information to assist a person who is considering going to Small Claims Court without a lawyer.
The Public Navigator is NOT a LAWYER. The Public Navigators are community volunteers. The Public Navigator is impartial, does not provide legal advice, and will keep your information fully confidential.
The Public Navigator will provide information on how to prepare for Small Claims Court, assist with form filling, and provide resources that may help you decide whether to go to court.
This is a pilot project
The Public Navigator Project is the first of its kind in Canada. It is being started in Bridgewater to serve the needs of those living on the South Shore of Nova Scotia on a pilot basis. Individuals who participate in the free legal information clinics with public navigators will be asked to provide their feedback on the meetings. This feedback will be critical to making this project helpful.
Book a meeting with a Public Navigator:
Book a meeting with a Public Navigator by contacting the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia at [email protected]
DOWNLOAD this Information Sheet in pdf.
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Time limits for suing
Nova Scotia's Limitation of Actions Act gives time limits for starting a civil lawsuit. The new Limitation of Actions Act became law on September 1, 2015.
Limitation periods prevent a claimant from starting a lawsuit after a certain time period has passed. The general idea is to give claimants a reasonable amount of time within which to sue, but at the same time respect the defendant's right to certainty and closure about potential claims.
The law says there is a two year basic limitation period (time limit) for suing in court. The two year time limit clock starts ticking from the date the person "discovers" that they have a legal claim. The new Limitation of Actions Act applies to claims to remedy an injury, loss or damage that resulted from something someone did (an act), or failed to do (an omission). Examples are a personal injury, medical malpractice or breach of contract claim.
There are some exceptions to the two year time limit rule. For example, there is no time limit for making a sexual misconduct or abuse claim. Depending on the type of claim, there may also be time limits in other statutes that would take precedence over time limits in the Limitation of Actions Act.
There is also a 15 year "ultimate" time limit for claims which may take longer to discover. An example is medical complications from surgery which may take several years to find out about.
It is important to check with a lawyer for legal advice if you are not sure what limitation period may apply to your situation.
For more information:
- NS government news release: novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20150805001
- NS Department of Justice summary of Nova Scotia's Limitation of Actions Act: novascotia.ca/just/documents/Limitation-of-Actions-Act.pdf
- Read the new Limitation of Actions Act: nslegislature.ca/legc/bills/62nd_2nd/3rd_read/b064.htm
This page gives legal information only. It does not give legal advice. If you have a legal problem, including a question about limitation periods, you should consult a lawyer.
Last reviewed September 2017