You’ll have a better chance of winning your case in small claims court if you’re well prepared. Here are eight tips to help you get organized, from the time of filing your documents in court right up to presenting your case to the judge.
1. File your evidence in court at least 21 days before the hearing
If you’re using documents as evidence, you must file the originals in court at least 21 days before the hearing date. Your evidence can include, for example, an invoice, emails, a contract or an expert report to convince the judge you’re right. You can send the documents by mail (registered mail) or file them in person. If you forget to file a document before the hearing, the judge could refuse to take it into account.
For more information: Evidence in Small Claims Court (Éducaloi video)
2. Take a full day off work for the hearing
It’s a good idea to take the whole day off work for the hearing because you never know how long you’ll be in court. Your hearing might not begin at the time indicated on the notice of hearing. There might be several cases scheduled at the same time, and you might have to wait while other cases are being heard.
3. Talk to your witnesses and prepare them to testify
Make sure your witnesses will be in court on the day of the hearing, especially if you have an expert witness who will provide technical explanations to the judge (for example, a building inspector testifying about a hidden defect). Contact your witnesses to remind them they must come to court to testify on the hearing date. Several months may have passed since the events took place, so it’s a good idea to refresh their memories.
For more information: Witnesses called to testify in civil proceedings (Justice Québec)
4. Ask your witnesses to sign a written statement (if necessary)
Your witnesses can sign a “Statement in Lieu of Testimony” so they don’t have to go to court on the day of the hearing. You must file the signed statement in the court record at least 21 days before the hearing. However, the other party can require the witnesses to be present at the hearing so they can ask them questions.
For more information: Affidavit in lieu of testimony (Justice Québec)
5. Be ready to explain your story to the judge
Be prepared to explain what happened in the order the events took place. The judge doesn’t know your case as well as you do. You must be clear and focus on the important aspects. You’ll be more convincing if you explain things clearly. Here are a few suggestions:
- Write an outline of what you want to tell the judge. Write down the events in the order they took place.
- Mention only what the judge needs to know (for example, don’t give details that aren’t relevant to your case).
- Organize the documents that back up your story in the same order as your outline (for example, copies of the documents you filed earlier into the court record, such as an invoice, expert report, etc.).
- Be prepared to explain to the judge how your documents back up your story.
For more information on how to prepare your presentation, see section 7 of the Guide des petites créances (smalls claims court guide – French only) published by the Young Bar of Montreal.
6. Get legal information to back up your case.
If you’re going to court, it’s because you have a legal argument to make. The judge’s job is to apply the law, so you need to know which legal arguments can help you. Several resources provide free legal information. Here are some examples:
- Éducaloi’s article on Hidden Defects in Buildings
- the Centre de justice de proximité (Community Justice Centre) in your area
- the website of the Office de la protection du consommateur (consumer protection office)
For more information: Getting More Help (Éducaloi)
7. Dress appropriately and be polite.
Dress appropriately on the day of your hearing. For example, you can wear dress pants and a shirt or blouse. Be polite when speaking, and follow the rules of the courtroom (for example, turn off your cell phone). The judge will ask the questions and tell you when to speak. You can address the judge as “Mr. Justice” or “Madam Justice.” Stay calm throughout the hearing. You must be polite at all times and not let your emotions get the better of you.
8. Arrive ahead of time and wait in the courtroom.
Arrive early. It’s important not to be late because your hearing could start without you if you’re not there on time. Also, make sure you’re in the right courtroom. The courtroom number is indicated in the notice of hearing. There will probably be several other people in the courtroom who are there to present their cases, and your case may not be the first. You must wait your turn. You can use the time to observe how the other cases proceed.
Did you know you can visit the courthouse before your hearing?
You’re allowed to go to the courthouse before the hearing so you can become more familiar with the location. This will help you feel more comfortable on the day of the hearing. You can also visit the courtroom where your hearing will take place. You can go to the office of the court as well and ask to see your file. You can also make sure that everything is in order and you haven’t forgotten anything. You’ll also be able to look at the documents the other party has filed in the court record and ask for copies.