Pre-Trial Applications

What does my lawyer mean when she talks about “Chambers”?

Chambers is another way of refering to pre-trial applications and procedures. The word “chambers” is an old-fashioned word dating back to when a judge’s office was called his chambers and he (in the olden days most judges were men) would hear some applications from lawyers there. Today, “Chambers” hearings are in courtrooms that are open to the public and there can be many people present. The person that we think of as being the judge is not actually called a judge in this level of court. Instead, the person is referred to as either a Master or a Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench . There are different kinds of Chambers sittings, such as Masters Chambers, Justice Chambers and Family Justice Chambers.

Last updated: June 2012

What types of matters are heard in Chambers?

A Justice, or a “Master” sitting in Chambers will hear what are called “preliminary matters” and “procedural matters”. This means that he or she will consider applications that have to do with an on-going civil law case, but that usually are not going to be the final decision in the case. Sometimes, the application will move a case forward in some way (for example, a Plaintiff may need a court order to serve documents on someone). Sometimes, the application will be for an interim order, which means that the order will only be in effect for a limited period of time or until the case goes to a full trial. There are, however, some exceptions to this general statement. Justices and Masters can make final decisions in foreclosure cases, and can hear applications for summary judgment. Summary judgment is an application that can be made to dismiss the entire case. For example, sometimes summary judgment will be applied for when there is no reasonable defence, and therefore no reason why a full trial should go forward.

Last updated: June 2012

What is an example of an interim order?

An example of an “interim order” is an order in a case where there is a dispute over who owns an asset. The Plaintiff in such a case might make an application for an order that the asset in question cannot be sold or disposed of until a trial is held to decide who owns the asset. Interim orders can help parties to know what is expected of them until their case goes to trial.

Last updated: June 2012

What is the difference between a judge, a Master and a Justice?

Judges are appointed to the Provincial Court, while Masters and Justices are appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Judges have a wide jurisdiction to hear matters in the Provincial Court, but there are many issues that must go to the Court of Queen’s Bench to be decided. In the Court of Queen’s Bench, Masters have very limited power to hear matters, while Justices have very wide authority to make decisions. Many lawyers will use the word “jurisdiction” to describe what kind of powers each of these positions has. For example, a Master has the jurisdiction (the power) to hear many procedural matters.

Last updated: June 2012

May I go to Chambers with my lawyer, or by myself?

Yes, all courtrooms in Canada are open to the public at any time. If your lawyer is going to Chambers to make an application, you can go with her. If you are representing yourself, then you can make applications in Chambers by yourself. You can even go to Chambers if you are curious and just want to see what goes on there.

Last updated: June 2012

If I am representing myself, how do I know if I need to make a Chambers application?

Chambers applications only happen after you have already become involved in a civil law case, either as a Plaintiff by filing a Statement of Claim (which is the document that starts the whole process and sets out why you are suing the other party), or as a Defendant. If you are the Plaintiff and there is something that you need the court to do in order to move forward with your case (for example, if you cannot serve documents on the Defendant, then you may need an order to serve the documents on someone else, or in a way that is usually not allowed by the Rules of Court) you may have to file an application in Chambers. You must consider whether your problem is one that can be resolved by a court order. You should know exactly what you want the Master or Justice to order. Does the Master have the jurisdiction to grant your Chambers application?

Remember that in many ways, a Chambers application is like a small trial. Should you decide to go ahead with one, you will spend a lot of your personal time learning about the process and preparing your application – are you willing and able to do this? Your application may also require you to take time off work without pay, which is an additional cost you may not recover. And, while there are no filings fees after the initial charge to file your Statement of Claim, there is a chance that you may end up paying court costs if the other side is successful in opposing your application.

If you decide to go ahead, there is a section of the Alberta Rules of Court (see link below)that deals with court applications. These Rules are found in Part 6, entitled Resolving Issues and Preserving Rights, and Division 1 entitled Applications to the Court. Part 6 sets out the procedure for applications in general, and also gives information about evidence and appeals from a Master’s or Justice’s order. You should read and become familiar with these Rules, because you must follow them if you want to make a Chambers application.

Also, the Alberta Rules of Court (see link below) say that you have to try to resolve your dispute by using a dispute resolution process. You can make an application in Chambers before trying one of the processes, but you must try one of them before you will be allowed to set a date for a trial. (Rules 4.4 and 4.16 (1)).

Last updated: June 2012

Where do Chambers sittings take place?

Chambers sittings are held in courthouses around the province. In larger centres such as Edmonton and Calgary, they are held every morning from Monday to Friday, usually at 10:00 a.m. In smaller areas, they may only be heard on certain days of the week or month. For information in your area, visit Court of Queen’s Bench (see link below) website or ask your lawyer.

Last updated: June 2012

What should I know about going to the courthouse?

Courthouses, especially in the cities, are big and busy places and can be intimidating. Security can be very high and you may have to go through a metal detector, similar to going through an airport. Do not bring things with you, such as a pocket knife, that might cause you problems. Be sure to arrive at the courthouse in plenty of time to get through security and find the right courtroom.

Last updated: June 2012

How can I find out where my application is being held?

In Calgary and Edmonton, there are electronic bulletin boards in the lobbies of the courthouses that show the courtrooms and the list of applications being heard there. You can look for the name of your case on these lists and then go to the assigned room. If you don’t see your case on the list, ask at the Information Centre in the courthouse lobby. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the staff; they are there to help you. Once you arrive at the designated room, there will be a monitor with scrolling information outside the door. Check the monitor for your case name to be sure you are in the right spot. In smaller centres, there may be a paper list posted in the lobby. Again, do not hesitate to ask courthouse personnel for help. Once you find the courtroom that you are supposed to be in, and if the Master or Justice has not started hearing matters, then you should check in with the Clerk at the front of the courtroom.

Last updated: June 2012

If I go to Chambers to represent myself, will there be someone to help me inside the courtroom?

Inside every courtroom there is a Clerk. That person assists the Justice or Master but also will give information to the people who come into the courtroom. If you are representing yourself, check in with the Clerk before chambers begins, so he or she knows you are present. The Clerk will be able to confirm whether or not your application is on the list for that courtroom for that morning and that you are in the right place.

Last updated: June 2012

What should I do once I am inside the courtroom?

If you have a lawyer, look for him or her to have a brief talk about what will happen. If you are representing yourself, you may bring a friend with you for moral support, but that person cannot speak for you. Observe general courtesies, such as not eating, drinking or chewing gum. Remove your hat. Turn off all electronic devices. The clerk will announce the arrival of the Justice or Master. Everyone stands when the Justice or Master enters the room. You should then sit quietly on the benches provided and wait for your case to be called by the Clerk. If you have a lawyer, he or she will handle everything inside the courtroom. You should just sit and listen quietly. You must not interject or interrupt, even if you are upset with the application or the decision. There is also a tradition that when you enter or leave the courtroom, while the Justice or Master is sitting, you should bow in the direction of the Justice or Master at the courtroom door.

Last updated: June 2012

How do I know when it is time for my application?

The list of cases to be heard in that courtroom will be numbered. However, once Chambers begins, the cases may not necessarily be heard in that order, and the Justice or Master will also hear certain cases that are not on the list.

Generally, cases called “consent” matters (situations where the parties have come to an agreement about what should be in the court order) will be heard first because they are the fastest. Next, “ex-parte” matters and consented to adjournments will be heard. Ex-parte (a Latin phrase) matters are where only one side to the dispute is there to ask for an order. Next, the Justice or Master handles unopposed applications, because they also do not take much time. An application is unopposed if no one shows up to argue against the order you are asking for. Next, the judge or master hears applications which are being presented by lawyers. Finally, applications by people who are representing themselves are heard, in the order in which they appear on the list. This is to ensure that more time can be allotted for people who may not be sure exactly what to do, so that they receive a fair hearing, and the Justice or Master can be sure that the person understands the decision.

Sometimes the list will be followed, and sometimes the Justice or Master will not follow the list. This is why it is very important to show up early.

Last updated: June 2012

If I am representing myself, will anyone help me?

In some of the larger centres, there might be a lawyer who is called “duty counsel” available to give you some general advice about what to do. You should be sure to arrive early if you think that you will want to speak to this person. Usually duty counsel is available for family matters, but not for civil chambers. The Justice or Master will be helpful to some extent, but they must remain neutral and cannot help you argue your case. Also, remember that your must follow the Rules of Court for Chambers applications. The Master or Justice cannot overlook your failure to follow the rules. If you are going to represent yourself, you need to be prepared.

Last updated: June 2012

When my case is called, what should I do?

You should stand up and move to the front of the courtroom and introduce yourself to the Justice or Master. You should call them “Sir” or “Madam”. You should remain standing, as you must stand when you talk to the Justice or Master. You will tell them what it is that you are asking the court to do. If they ask you questions, only speak to them, and not the other party. Be polite, do not interrupt, and speak only when it is your turn to do so. Generally, the person who made the application (the applicant) speaks first and then the other party (the respondent). When it is your turn, tell the Justice or Master briefly what you want and why. After both parties have spoken, the applicant may have a chance to respond. The Justice or Master may ask you questions, so be prepared to answer in a polite and brief manner. The courtroom is a very formal place, so you should remain calm and courteous, even if you disagree with the other side, or what the Justice or Master orders.

Last updated: June 2012

Will the Justice or Master make a decision right away?

Yes, in Chambers, Justices or Masters almost always make their decision on the spot. They will tell you what they have decided and you must listen courteously and not argue. If you disagree and wish to have your application re-considered, you will need to obtain permission to appeal it. Remember, if you disagree with the order that has been made, you should remain calm.

Last updated: June 2012

How will I get my order?

If you have a lawyer who has made the application, your lawyer will write the order according to the Justice’s or Master’s ruling. Often, the lawyer will have an order ready for the Justice’s or Master’s signature, if the matter was relatively uncomplicated. Sometimes, the Clerk will prepare the order for the Justice to sign, and the Clerk will tell you how you can obtain a copy. If you are representing yourself, but there is a lawyer representing the other side, then the lawyer will be responsible for drafting the order and will usually send it directly to the Justice to sign. The Order will usually also state that your signature is not required, to make the process simpler. If you are representing yourself and there is no lawyer on the other side, you may have to write the order based on what the Justice or Master decided. The clerk may be able to give you some help. You will also have to file the order with the Clerk of the Court’s Office, and in order for it to be in effect, or for it to be appealed, you must arrange to have it served on the other side.

Last updated: June 2012

How long does an application in Chambers take?

Usually, Chambers takes place from 10:00 a.m. until whenever the list is completed. Most contested chambers applications (applications where both sides are present and make their arguments to the Justice or Master) should take about 20 minutes, with each side speaking for 10 minutes. In fact, if lawyers or self-represented persons think that their applications will take more than 20 minutes in total to be heard, then they should place their applications on a list for “Special Chambers”. Special Chambers are similar to regular chambers, but are usually heard in the afternoon to allow time for a longer hearing.

Last updated: June 2012

How can I learn more about Chambers applications before my hearing?

The Alberta Courts (see link below) website is a good starting point. The website has a lot of information on all sorts of court procedures. Also, Chambers are open to the public. If you are curious before your lawyer makes your application, or if you are representing yourself, look up the next time that Chambers applications are being heard in your area and sit in on a session to get an idea of what happens.

Last updated: June 2012

Links

See Also

For more information, see these other Canadian Legal FAQs.

This series of FAQs were prepared with research and assistance provided by Student Legal Service of Alberta/Pro Bono Students Canada, University of Alberta Chapter. We are grateful to participating students Steve Rohatyn, Michelle Herron, and Christina Johnson for their excellent work.

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