Reasonable Doubt: Researching the procedure for your legal issue
In my last column, I discussed the importance of figuring out your legal issue.
Determining what your legal issue is affects how you proceed, whether or not you have any legal remedy, and what sort of remedy you can expect if you are successful.
Understanding your legal issue and the remedies you can get can help you decide whether or not legal action is the right course for you, and can increase your level of satisfaction with any resolution you have at the end of the day.
So I stress again, if you cannot with 100 percent confidence express in a few words the legal wrong you are facing, consult a lawyer to help you out with that aspect of your case.
Once you have your legal issue synthesized, you are ready to move onto the next stage: preliminary research. I warn you, this article is about to get really dull. There is absolutely no way to make legal research sexy. It is boring and tedious. It is likely the reason most people will never aspire to be lawyers.
Two aspects of your case you need to research and be aware of are:
- Procedure; and
Let’s start with procedure. People who are not familiar with court proceedings will often be confused about procedure, but being aware of it is extremely important. Procedure dictates how your case can be run and whether or not you can take certain action. Procedure also determines where you bring your dispute, such as in provincial court, Supreme Court, or in front of a specific tribunal or decision-making body.
The following is a general guide to procedure. There will often be additional specific procedures in legislation that directly deals with your legal issue.
Criminal court can be confusing because it is fast-paced and there seems to be a lot of unwritten rules. Most hard and fast rules for procedure are in the Criminal Code. If you are set to argue an appeal or want some more information about Supreme Court or provincial court criminal case management, go to a courthouse library and ask to see the British Columbia Annual Criminal Practice white book. If you need a fast answer, seek out duty counsel at the courthouse.
Small claims procedures are set out in the Small Claims Rules; you can find these online using Google. Small claims court is very user friendly and publishes pamphlets and lots of easy to read information online about how to run your case.
If you’re in B.C. Supreme Civil Court, you need to make yourself familiar with what is commonly termed “The White Book”. Its real name is the British Columbia Annual Practice. It sets out all the rules of court and includes digests that demonstrate how those rules are supposed to work. It does not have all the answers, but it is the bible for any civil litigation lawyer. Understand it and you understand your opposition that much better.
If you’re in B.C. Supreme Family Court, there is a separate set of rules included in the White Book. Look for the Supreme Court Family Rules. Unfortunately, the White Book does not have case digests about the Family Rules.
If you are facing a tribunal or other decision-making body, you will have to look to the legislation and regulations that gives that decision-making body its power.
To find this legislation, I recommend using CanLII. CanLII is a free legal depository funded by Canada’s Law Societies.
It helps if you know the name of the act that you are looking for. If you don’t, I would recommend going to a courthouse library and asking a librarian to help you find the right piece of legislation. The nice thing about CanLII is that when you get the right legislation, it will link you to the correct regulations. For some reason that I cannot fathom, regulations often have a different title from the act that creates them.
Other legislation to be aware of when considering procedure in your case may be found in a few Acts that apply broadly to many legal issues:
Interpretation Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 328
If you are confused at all about how to calculate time or what certain phrases in legislation mean, this act is for you.
Limitation Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 266
This act will tell you how many months or years you have to sue someone for the wrong done to you (or if the other side is out of time to sue you).
Law and Equity Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 253
If you are suing or being sued over land or property have a look at this act. It deals with foreclosures as well.
Local Government Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 323
Be aware of this act if you’re suing the municipal or local regional government. The government has special rules regarding time limits and notice that you must give them if you’re suing them.
Crown Proceeding Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 89
If you’re suing the provincial government, you’ll find this interesting.
Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, RSC 1985, c C-50
If you’re suing the federal government, this is the act for you.
Offence Act, [RSBC 1996] Chapter 338
If you’re charged with an offence that is not a criminal offence in the Criminal Code, you will need to look through this act. This includes all by-law offences and traffic tickets.
The wording of these acts can sometimes be convoluted and hard to understand, but do not be deterred from carefully checking them to see if your case may be affected in some way.
Last, but not least, the Justice Education Society publishes some helpful guides for various court procedures in Supreme Court, including civil, family, and criminal; see www.supremecourtbc.ca.
Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. The column's writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A word of caution: Don't take this column as personal legal advice, because it's not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.