There is no busier or more chaotic place in the Canadian justice system than the provincial criminal court, which handles the bulk of all criminal matters.
Counsel should appreciate the critical role that the court clerk plays in the administration of justice. The clerk assists the judiciary in navigating the daily docket of scheduled cases in a timely and efficient manner. The clerk’s responsibilities also include reading charges aloud to an accused, administering oaths to witnesses, preparing and issuing court orders, and securing the courtroom and exhibits.
Counsel can more effectively serve their clients by taking the following actions to assist the clerk:
1) Approach the clerk and identify yourself and your client before court begins. It may be helpful to provide the clerk with your business card and your client’s name in writing. It is frustrating for a clerk to have a lawyer sit at counsel table without an indication as to who they are or what matter they are appearing on;
2) Indicate whether your client is in custody, and if so, whether the client is in cells at the courthouse or will be appearing by way of video link from a correctional facility;
3) Provide the clerk with an estimate of how long your matter will take (the clerk will endeavor to call shorter matters first, subject to seniority of counsel);
4) Indicate whether an interpreter is present to assist your client;
5) Indicate whether a witness will require a particular religious document for the purpose of taking an oath;
6) In the event of a consolidation, ensure that you have made prior arrangements to have all necessary charging documents brought before the Court;
7) In the event of a consent release at a bail hearing or a joint submission at a sentencing hearing, ensure that you have all of the terms of release/resolution in writing to assist the clerk in preparing and issuing orders of the Court; and
8) Appreciate that the clerk is responsible for securing the courtroom and exhibits at the conclusion of a session. The clerk is not permitted to leave the room to attend to other duties until such time as counsel have collected all of their belongings and left the room.
For counsel, a relationship with court staff that is grounded in respect and consideration is critical to developing a successful and rewarding practice.