Visiting a Courthouse
Determine what Courts are appropriate for a class visit
- What do you want the students to learn?
- What are the students capable of understanding?
- What is the interest level of the students? By its nature, the Court of Appeal may be difficult for younger students to follow. It may be easier for some students to follow a trial than an appeal argument.
Find out what Courts are available for your class to visit
- The Court of Appeal generally sits in Regina, although periodically sits in Saskatoon.
- There are a number of Queen's Bench Courts throughout the province, although smaller centres do not hold court as frequently as locations like Saskatoon or Regina.
- Provincial Courts are located in many smaller centres, as well as the larger cities. However, sitting dates may vary, especially for smaller centres or circuit court (often held in community halls).
- A list of locations and contact information is available on the Courts of Saskatchewan website at www.sasklawcourts.ca
Determine the best date and time to visit the Court
- Contact the courthouse to check on its schedule and let the staff know you are interested in a court visit.
- Ask if there are any trials or proceedings of particular interest to which you could co-ordinate your visit.
- Make sure that the subject matter is appropriate. For example, you may want to avoid a sexual assault trial.
- Court calendars can change quickly. Settlement of civil trials, guilty pleas in criminal proceedings or simple adjournments could change the Court schedule at the last minute. If possible, you should try to ensure that there are a number of possible proceedings for you to observe, so you are not left "high and dry" with nothing to see.
- Going to Youth Justice Court could be a problem if the students recognize a classmate who happens to be making an appearance.
- Make sure that the Court is able to handle visits from a group the size of yours. The Courthouse is a public building, but the presence of large numbers of people can disrupt proceedings. Ask about available seating in the Courtroom that you wish to observe. You may need to break the class into small supervised groups, depending on the size of the facilities.
- Check to see if a guide is available to show your class around the Court. If not, you may be able to arrange for a lawyer or an off-duty police officer to help.
- Depending on the purpose of your visit, you may wish to arrange for a Judge and/or other court participants (lawyers, court workers, clerks, sheriffs, etc.) to speak to the students for a few minutes or arrange for a classroom visit beforehand.
What to expect
- Although there may be some similarities between a real-life Courtroom and one you see on TV, there are a number of differences...
- Real-life Court proceedings go at a slower pace (it takes longer to present evidence or deal with objections and adjournments than with TV shows).
- Watching a real Court case will require you to pay more attention, and have more patience than when watching TV or a movie.
- Be sensitive to the needs of the participants in Court proceedings. A Courthouse is a public building, but rules are in place that visitors to the Court must follow. These rules help to...
- keep distractions to a minimum
- prevent disturbances and keep order in the Court
- provide a secure and safe place for trials to be held
- ensure a fair trial
Before going to Court, give the students some terms of reference
- Review the structure of the Courts in Saskatchewan.
- Review the procedures that will be followed for the trials you plan to observe.
- Review the basic layout of a Courtroom in the Court you will be visiting. You may even want to visit the Courthouse in advance of your class, to familiarize yourself with the facilities (including washroom locations).
- Review the function of the Court, and the various participants (i.e. the Judge, clerk, prosecutor, defense lawyer, etc.).
- Review the protocol or rules of behaviour for people attending Court.
- If possible, minimize your use of outerwear. Courthouses do not always have a lot of room to store overcoats and boots for visitors.
- No headgear should be worn, unless it is for religious purposes.
- No weapons of any sort will be allowed.
- No recording devices will be allowed and all cell phones must be turned off and put away.
- You may be subject to a search for prohibited material when you enter the Courthouse.
- No eating, drinking or chewing gum will be allowed in the Courtroom.
- Always follow the instructions of the Judge or Court staff. For example, always stand when the clerk announces the entry or the exit of the Judge from the Courtroom.
- While Court is in session, you should remain seated until it is time for you to leave the room. If "standing room only" is available, then remain in one spot. Do not wander around the public gallery.
- If a Judge speaks directly to someone, that person must stand. When speaking to a Provincial Court Judge, they can be addressed as "Your Honour." A Court of Queen's Bench Judge can be referred to as "My Lord" or "My Lady." It also is permissible to use "Sir" and "Ma'am."
- You may see that when lawyers and Court staff enter or leave the Court, they bow to the Judge, as a formal sign of respect. The public is not required to do this.
- Entering or leaving a Courtroom while it is in session can be distracting for the participants. Keep movement to a minimum, and be as quiet and subdued as possible at all times.
- Be aware of any restrictions on publishing the identities of young offenders, witnesses, victims or the accused. Such publication bans would apply to school reports. In such cases, use initials or pseudonyms.
How to get the most out of your visit
- Listen carefully to the lawyers' questions, witness responses and the Judge's comments.
- Try to answer the following questions...
- what evidence is important to the case?
- how do the lawyers bring out the evidence they want the Judge to hear?
- what evidence is or is not allowed by the Judge?
- listen to the Judge's decision - what did they think was important?
After the visit
- Follow up with the students. What did they see and learn? Was there anything they did not understand?
- Follow up with the Court staff. Thank them for their assistance. Ask if there were any problems that need to be "ironed out" for future visits. How can future visits be improved?
Albert Camus' The Plague: The Learning Resource