Court proceedings are open to the public and student groups routinely come to watch. Observing court provides a valuable opportunity to learn first-hand how the court system works and how laws are enforced and applied.
1. Initial Considerations
Before bringing a group of students, consider the following:
- Live court is different than “TV Court”. Matters move slowly and information is discussed in great detail. The material may be dry at times and it may take close attention to follow along. This is particularly true with civil trials. Further, trials don’t often wrap up neatly in one hour. Classes may see only a portion of a case during a visit. It is also worth noting that while some courts conduct trials, others deal with issues such as bail, first appearances on charges, trial scheduling and guilty pleas.
- Court schedules are unpredictable. Classes may plan to watch a specific trial, only to find out the day before the visit that it has been adjourned or settled. The best advice is to book the visit in advance and call again just before the visit to confirm that there will likely be something to watch that is of interest to the class. If there isn’t, it’s important to be flexible enough to reschedule the visit. As well, a proceeding may start and then conclude in only a few minutes. It’s wise to visit court on a day where there are a number of matters scheduled so that there are alternatives.
- Consider the maturity of the students or group. Visitors to court are expected to watch without disturbing the proceedings. Consider how long the class or group can sit and listen before becoming restless. When travelling from some distance to observe court, keep in mind that the group will already have been sitting for that distance, as well. It’s common for groups to watch for approximately one hour, and sometimes older students will remain a little longer. However, the length of time spent watching court can be longer or shorter as desired.
- Consider the subject matter of court proceedings. Sometimes information in court can be very graphic and may not be suitable for younger students (for example, in a murder or sexual assault case). The court staff can advise of the nature of the proceedings; however, in some courts – docket court is a good example – it is not always possible to know in advance what evidence will arise. A judge has the authority to limit access to a courtroom in special circumstances. For example, it may be easier for a child victim to give evidence without a large audience present.
If observing court is not for your class, the courts have alternative activities that also teach about the court system, including court house tours and guest visits by a judge. As well, the courts are pleased to support the Try Judging program developed by the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association.
2. Making the Arrangements
In Regina, the Courts Communications Officer arranges court visits and bookings. At judicial centres outside of Regina, contact the court house directly and request the court clerk or the local registrar. (Provincial Court offices; Court of Queen’s Bench offices) Scheduling your visit ensures:
- Double bookings are avoided. Most courtrooms only have enough seats for one group at a time. Sometimes large groups need to split into two smaller, supervised groups.
- The visit occurs when court is scheduled. Court is not held daily in many of the smaller centres and court staff can advise of dates when court is scheduled. Remember the schedule often changes at the last minute. It’s a good idea to double check with court staff just prior to the visit.
- Court staff will notify security personnel so they will expect the group’s arrival. Please note that the group will still have to go through security screening upon arrival.
Court staff can advise you of any specific instructions you may need.
3. Preparing for the Visit
Before the visit, it’s a good idea to give the students or group some background. If it’s a Law 30 or Social Studies class, the students may have already covered the basics. If not, consider introducing them to the different types of court (see Court Structure and court proceedings, the role of the participants (see People in the Courtroom) and the courtroom guidelines on this website (seeCourtroom Guidelines). You may also wish to invite a guest speaker (like a lawyer or the Courts Communications Officer) to your classroom to do an orientation.
4. Security Screening
In some cities (including Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert), perimeter security screening is in place. Everyone entering the court house will be asked to empty their pockets before walking through an “airport-style” metal detector. Purses and bags will be screened as well. This process can sometimes cause line-ups to form at the court entrance during busy times of the day. Therefore, visitors to the court house are asked to arrive early.
5. More Information
If you have any questions about scheduling a court visit, please contact:
Courts Communications Officer