Provincial Court of Alberta and the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench

Law

In Canada, each province and territory has different levels of courts. Which court a person uses depends on various things. Two important courts in Alberta are:

  • the Provincial Court of Alberta (PC); and
  • the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (QB).

If you are going to court in Alberta, you may have a choice about which of these 2 trial courts to use. See the sections below for information about:

  • what “jurisdiction” is and how it affects you when going to court;
  • why Alberta has these 2 different courts;
  • whether you can choose which court you go to;
  • how much help is available for you in each court;
  • the differences in rules and procedures in each court; and
  • things to think about when choosing a court.

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: October 2016
Who is this Information Page for?

In Canada, each province and territory has different levels of courts. Which court a person uses depends on various things. Two important courts in Alberta are:

  • the Provincial Court of Alberta (PC); and
  • the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (QB).

If you are going to court in Alberta, you may have a choice about which of these 2 trial courts to use. The 2 courts are similar in some ways, but very different in other ways. This Information Page describes the differences. This is important to know if you are:

  • already going through the court system for a legal issue in Alberta; or
  • thinking of going to court and need to know more about which court to go to.

With some legal issues you may not be able to choose which court you use. With other legal issues you may be able to choose either court. Whether a court can deal with a legal matter is determined by whether the court has “jurisdiction.” Keep reading this Information Page to find out if you have a choice, and what to consider when choosing a court.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has information on what the law says in Alberta. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

jurisdiction

This term refers to the right or ability of a government or a court to make decisions about things. It describes either:

  • a particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws; or
  • a particular court’s authority to deal with an issue.

For more information, see the “Jurisdiction: What is it and why does it matter?” section below.

party

Any person involved in a dispute. It can also refer to each of the people who sign a contract.

civil law

The law that involves disputes between individuals, such as family law and personal injury law.

criminal law

The system of law that involves punishing people who do things that harm people or property, or threaten to harm people or property. Property includes pets.

trial

A court proceeding where the judge makes decisions about something that 2 or more people disagree about. Written evidence (such as affidavits) are used in trials, but the judge also hears oral evidence from the parties. This is different from hearings (see below), where the judges usually do not hear oral evidence.

hearing

A court proceeding, other than a trial, where the parties appear before a decision-maker (usually a judge). That person will then decide about something that the parties disagree about.

Hearings often take place in a courtroom, but can also happen in other places. They are generally shorter and less formal than trials. Usually, only written evidence is used (not oral evidence).

To have a hearing, usually one of the parties must make an “application.” However, making an application may or may not result in a hearing. For more information, see the definition of “application” below.

“swearing” or “affirming” something

When you “swear” something, you are making a promise that what you are saying is true. This promise is often made over an object that is holy to you (such as the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran), or in the name of a deity you believe in (such as God or Allah). This is also called taking “an oath.” For people who do not want to swear over a holy book or in the name of a deity, this promise is called “affirming.”

If you swear or affirm that something you wrote is true, it may be called a “sworn” statement.

evidence

Information that is given in court to help prove or disprove a case.

Evidence may be given through:

  • written statements (called “affidavits”);
  • spoken statements (called “oral evidence” or “viva voce evidence”); or
  • documents or other objects.

A person who gives written or spoken evidence must “swear” or “affirm” that what he or she is saying is true.

oral evidence (also called “viva voce evidence”)

Spoken statements from a witness or one of the parties in a case that give a court information about a dispute. Before you give oral evidence, you must “swear” or “affirm” that what you are saying is true.

affidavit

A written statement that is sworn, or affirmed, to be true, and used as evidence in legal proceedings.

If you swear or affirm that something you wrote is true, it may also be called a “sworn” statement.

trial court

A court of law where you begin your court action. Trial courts deal with both “hearings” and “trials” (see above).

There are 2 levels of trial courts in Alberta:

  • The lower court is the Provincial Court of Alberta.
  • The higher court (or “superior” court) is the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.

court of appeal

A court of law where parties can challenge a decision made in trial court. Challenging a decision is called making an “appeal” (see below).

Courts of appeal are higher level courts than trial courts. They are also different than trial courts because cases do not start in courts of appeal.

appeal

The act of asking a higher court to review and change a decision from a lower court.

You cannot appeal a decision simply because you do not like it. You must have a valid legal reason to appeal a decision. These reasons are called “grounds to appeal.” To appeal a decision, the person must show that the judge:

  • made a legal error in deciding the case; or
  • made a significant error about the facts of the case.

In rare cases, the parties have an automatic right to appeal.

Provincial Court of Alberta

A lower trial court that only deals with certain types of cases, including:

  • some family matters (but not divorce or division or property);
  • all criminal matters begin in Provincial Court;
  • some civil matters (if the total amount you are suing for is less than $50,000);
  • traffic matters; and
  • all criminal matters for youth.

This may be the only court that a person goes to. Or, it may be the first court a person goes to before they go to a higher court.

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench

A higher trial court than Provincial Court. This court is also called a “superior court.” For some legal issues, you can only go to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

For example, you must go through the Court of Queen’s Bench for:

  • divorce;
  • division of property;
  • exclusive possession of a home or household goods;
  • declarations of parentage;
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders; and
  • restraining orders.

The Court of Queen’s Bench is also a court of appeal for the Provincial Court and some administrative tribunals and boards.

Alberta Court of Appeal

The highest court in Alberta. This court hears appeals from both the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench. This court is not a trial court. In other words, cases do not start in this court. If someone has grounds to appeal a decision granted in the Alberta Court of Appeal, the case would then go to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Supreme Court of Canada

The highest court in Canada. This court hears appeals from the provincial and territorial courts of appeal, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Court Martial Appeal Court. This is the final court of appeal in Canada.

judge

A person appointed by the government to hear and decide cases in a court of law.

A judge may be called different things depending on which court you are in.

  • In the Provincial Court of Alberta, this person is still called a “Judge.”
  • In the Court of Queen’s Bench, this person is either a “Master” or a “Justice” (see below).
Be Aware

In some laws, the term “judge” includes Masters. In others, it does not. Also, a Master’s powers are more limited than those of a Judge in Provincial Court or a Justice in the Court of Queen’s Bench. As a result, some of the resources linked below do not include “Masters” in their definition of “judge.” It is important to pay attention to the context to know what is meant. On this Information Page, the term “judge” can include a Master, while “Judge” (with a capital letter) means a Judge in Provincial Court.

Master

A type of judge in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Masters only have the power to make decisions for certain types of civil law matters, such as:

  • "procedural matters" (see definition below); or
  • temporary decisions before the parties go to trial.

If you have an Order that was granted by a Master, you may be able to ask a Master to “vary” (change) the Order if:

  • there is a change in circumstances; or
  • new information becomes available.

However, if you have an order that was granted by a Judge in Provincial Court or a Justice in the Court of Queen’s Bench, then you cannot request a variation from a Master.

Justice

A judge in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Unlike a Master, a Justice is able to hear any type of legal issue.

chambers

A type of court hearing held in the Court of Queen’s Bench. This type of hearing usually only looks at sworn written evidence to a reach decision. There are different kinds of chambers, including Masters’ Chambers, Civil Chambers, and Family Chambers. For more information about these, see the “What happens in these courts?” section below.

Chambers hearings are usually held in a courtroom that is open to the public. Or, more rarely, they may be held in “private chambers.” Private chambers hearings happen in the Justice’s or Master’s office. As a result, the word “chambers” may also refer to a judge’s office. If the hearing is in a courtroom, there will be a list of all the matters that will be heard in court that day. The judge may or may not deal with the cases in the order that they appear on the list.

docket court

A type of court hearing held in the Provincial Court. This type of hearing may consider oral evidence, but usually looks at sworn written evidence to reach a decision.

Docket court hearings are held in a courtroom that is open to the public. In this court, Judges will hear many cases on the same day. When you go to docket court, there will be a list of all the matters that will be heard in court that day. This list is called a “docket.” The Judge may or may not deal with the cases in the order that they appear on the list.

application

Smaller, individual parts of a court action, which are related to an ongoing case. One case may have several applications. Sometimes, an “application” is called a “motion.” Applications are heard in “docket court” or “chambers” (see above).

Applications can take place at different times during the legal process, including:

  • before a trial;
  • during a trial; or
  • after a trial.

For more information, see the “What happens in these courts?” section below.

preliminary matters (also called “pre-trial applications”)

Issues that can be dealt with before a trial, or that need to be addressed before a trial can happen. Preliminary matters are dealt with in “docket court” or “chambers” (see above).

For example:

  • To make a decision about child support, the court will need financial information about the person who is being asked to pay child support. Sometimes this person may not provide this information to the other party or the court. The judge may order this person to provide the missing information.
  • A separating couple may be going to trial to determine how their property will be divided. One person may try to sell or give away some of the property before the trial. The other person may request a hearing to ask for an Order that stops the other person from doing this.

procedural matters

Issues related to the “rules of court.” These are the formal rules and requirements that set out how things must be done when you are involved with the court in any way. For example: The rules say that a person must give paperwork to the person they are taking to court. If they cannot find the other party to give them a copy of the paperwork, they may go to court to find out what to do next.

court order

A written document that describes a judge’s decision about a case. Everyone who is mentioned in the order must follow what it says.

breach

The act of not following a court order (whether on purpose or by accident). Depending on the order, there are different consequences for breaching a court order.

self-represented litigant

A person who is representing himself or herself in a court action. This means he or she is not represented by a lawyer. Someone who has a “limited scope retainer” or is getting “unbundled legal services” can still be a self-represented litigant if he or she is not represented by a lawyer in court.

court agent

A person who speaks on your behalf in court. This person may be:

  • a friend;
  • a family member;
  • someone from a legal agency; or
  • a person you hire.

Court agents are not lawyers, so they cannot give you legal advice.

In general, you are only allowed to have an agent represent you in Provincial Court. In most cases, agents are not allowed in the Court of Queen’s Bench. For more information, see the “Differences between PC and QB: Who can represent you or support you in court?” section below.

The laws that may apply to you

As you work through your legal issues, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply. The laws included on this Information Page are:

Web Alberta Rules of Court
Government of Alberta
English

Web Provincial Court Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

Jurisdiction: What is it and why does it matter?

What is jurisdiction?

This term refers to the right or ability of a government or a court to make decisions about things.

In terms of government, “jurisdiction” refers to a particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws.

  • The Government of Canada has “federal jurisdiction”—the laws the Government of Canada makes apply to everyone in Canada.
  • The provinces and territories of Canada have “provincial jurisdiction”—the laws those governments make apply only within that province or territory.

The exact topics that each jurisdiction can make laws about is laid out in the Constitution Act, 1867. Governments cannot make laws about topics that are not in their jurisdiction.

Similarly, governments of other countries make laws that generally only apply in their geographic area.

In terms of the court system, “jurisdiction” is also used to describe a particular court’s authority to deal with an issue. This is related to the governmental jurisdiction:

  • Federal courts (such as the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court) deal with the laws passed by the Government of Canada.
  • Alberta courts (the Provincial Court of Alberta and the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench) have the authority to deal with Alberta laws, but they cannot deal with the laws of another province. In other words, “jurisdiction” is the geographic area where the judge has authority to make court orders.
  • Alberta courts can also deal with laws passed by the Government of Canada, if they have been given the authority to do so. For example: Alberta courts have the authority to deal with the Criminal Code of Canada (which is a federal law).

In general, courts cannot make orders using laws that are not in their jurisdiction, and courts cannot hear a matter about a person who is not in their jurisdiction.

Why does it matter?

A basic concept of law is that, in general, courts can only use the laws that apply in the geographic area where those courts are located. A court in Alberta is meant to apply the laws of Alberta. It cannot simply decide one day to apply the laws of Newfoundland or of the Netherlands to the case it is considering. It has no jurisdiction to do so.

Also, people are governed by the laws in the geographic area where they live. A person who lives in Camrose, Alberta will be governed by Canadian federal laws, Alberta provincial laws, and the city laws passed by the City of Camrose. A person living there cannot simply decide to be governed by the city laws of Moncton, the territorial laws of Yukon, and the federal laws of France instead.

Jurisdiction and Alberta’s 2 trial courts

In Canada, each province and territory has different trial courts where actions can start. Which court a person uses depends on various things.

Two important courts in Alberta are:

  • the Provincial Court of Alberta; and
  • the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.

Sometimes the Provincial Court will not have the jurisdiction to deal with your legal matter. If this is the case, you will have to go through the Court of Queen’s Bench. For example, the Provincial Court does not have jurisdiction to grant a divorce. If you want a divorce, you will have to go through the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Or, sometimes both courts will have jurisdiction and you will have to choose which court you want to go to. Keep reading this Information Page to find out what to consider if you have to choose which court will hear your matter.

More information

For more general information about what jurisdiction is and why it matters, see the following resources.

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English


Web Canada's Court System
Government of Canada
English

Web Powers of the National and Provincial Governments
Government of Canada
English

Web Distribution of Powers
The Canadian Encyclopedia
English

Web The Canadian Legal System
J.J.'s Complete Guide to Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

French resources:


Web L'appareil judiciaire du Canada
Government of Canada
French


Web Partage des pouvoirs
The Canadian Encyclopedia
French
Alberta’s courts: An introduction to the Provincial Court (PC), the Court of Queen’s Bench (QB), and other courts

This Information Page describes the differences between the 2 main trial courts that may be able to deal with your legal issues. These courts are:

  • the Provincial Court of Alberta; and
  • the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench

In some cases, either of these courts may be able to deal with your particular legal issues. In other cases, one of the courts may not have jurisdiction to deal with a particular type of legal issue. This will depend on the specific legal issue that you need the court to deal with.

In some provinces, all “family law” matters go to a specialized family court: everyone is in the same court. This is not the case in Alberta. In Alberta, both trial courts deal with family law matters. See below for more information.

Be Aware

There are other trial courts in Alberta and Canada that you may have heard of. These are briefly described under the “Other courts” heading below. These other courts are not the focus of this Information Page.

Provincial Court

The Provincial Court is the lower trial court in Alberta. This may be the only court that a person goes to. Or, it may be the first court a person goes to before they go to a higher court.

The Provincial Court only deals with certain types of cases. These include:

  • some family matters (but not divorce or division or property);
  • all criminal matters begin in Provincial Court;
  • some civil matters (if the total amount you are suing for is less than $50,000);
  • traffic matters; and
  • all criminal matters for youth.

Court of Queen’s Bench

The Court of Queen’s Bench is the higher trial court, or the “superior” court in Alberta. For some legal issues, you can only go to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Superior courts have the power to deal with any type of legal issue unless there is a law that says they cannot deal with a particular issue. Because superior courts are higher courts, they often deal with more serious cases or cases that only they have the power to deal with.

For example, you must go through the Court of Queen’s Bench for:

  • divorce;
  • division of property;
  • exclusive possession of a home or household goods;
  • declarations of parentage;
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders; and
  • restraining orders.

Other courts

In addition to the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench, you may have heard of other courts.

There are courts of appeal such as the Alberta Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. An “appeal” is the act of asking a higher court to review and change a decision from a lower court. For more information about appeals, see the “What the words mean” section above.

There are also courts that deal with specific types of law. This is because the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench do not have jurisdiction over certain types of legal issues. For example, immigration law and income tax law are dealt with by the Federal Courts.

In some cases, you will need to go to a board or tribunal to deal with your legal issue. This is something similar to a court that only deals with matters about a specific type of law or regulation that it has specialized knowledge to deal with. An example of a board is the Workers’ Compensation Board.

This Information Page is not about these other courts. The rest of this Information Page is only about the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench. You can find general information on the legal system in Canada and other courts in Canada on the Our Legal System Information Page.

Choosing between the Provincial Court (PC) and the Court of Queen’s Bench (QB)

In addition to jurisdiction, there are many other differences between the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench. If you have to choose which court you will use, you will want to consider these differences. Keep reading this Information Page for detailed information.

Tip

On our Information Pages, if certain options are only available to you in one of the 2 courts, we will note it with one of these icons:

Provincial Court

 

Queen's Bench

 

More information about the 2 levels of court

For more general information about these 2 trial courts, see the following resources.

Web What, Why and Where: Untangling Jurisdiction in Family Law
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web The Courts
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 5-6.

Web Provincial Court of Alberta
Government of Alberta
English

Web Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta
Government of Alberta
English


Audio/Web The Court System in Alberta
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Audio/Web Family Court
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Chart of Courts in Alberta
Government of Alberta
English

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 9-10.



PDF Legal Issues
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English
See chart p. 7-9.

Web Provincial Court Civil Claim Process: The Basics
Government of Alberta
English

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you a preview of the article, and you can find the full article at libraries across Alberta. Please note that this article is a section in a whole book. For more information about using the libraries listed below, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Preliminary Matters – Before Getting Judgment (article included in "Small Claims & Collections Boot Camp")
Legal Education Society of Alberta
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here. The focus of this article is for small claims cases, but some of the issues discussed also apply to other kinds of civil cases where there is a choice of court. Get the full article from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Why does Alberta have these 2 trial courts?

There are multiple trial courts in every province. This is because the lower provincial courts do not have the power (also called “jurisdiction”) to deal with all types of legal issues.

Canada has a “federalist” system of government. This means that some law-making power lies with the federal government, and other law-making power lies with the provincial governments. This is also called the “distribution of powers.” The exact topics that each jurisdiction can make laws about is laid out in the Constitution Act, 1867. Governments cannot make laws about topics that are not in their jurisdiction. For example, only the federal government can make laws about bankruptcy.

The court system is also divided based on Canada’s constitution and how power is divided. The Constitution Act gives each province and territory the jurisdiction to set up courts in that particular province/territory.

For more information about Canada’s legal system, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

Lower courts

The lower courts in each province are usually called “provincial courts.” The provincial/territorial governments are in charge of choosing the judges who will work in the provincial courts.

Provincial courts have limited power to make decisions:

  • Under the federal Constitution Act, these courts have the jurisdiction to deal with certain types of issues.
  • In addition to these powers, each province decides about the specific jurisdiction of these courts. In Alberta, the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court is limited to what it says in the Provincial Court Act.

Usually, provincial courts deal with less complicated legal issues. Because of this, they are able to hear more cases than the higher courts.

Higher courts

The higher courts in each province are called “superior courts.” Each province has a different name for its superior court. In Alberta, the superior court is called the Court of Queen’s Bench. The federal government is in charge of choosing the judges who will work in the superior courts.

Unlike provincial courts, superior courts have the power to deal with any type of legal issue unless there is a law that says that they cannot deal with that particular issue. Superior courts usually deal with more serious cases or cases that only they have the power to deal with.

More information

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Canada's Court System
Government of Canada
English

Web L'appareil judiciaire du Canada
Government of Canada
French

Web What, Why and Where: Untangling Jurisdiction in Family Law
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 9-10.
What happens in these courts, and why does it matter to your choice of court?

When people think of “going to court,” they usually think of a “trial.” Not all matters go to a trial. Many matters may get resolved before trial. Or, even if there is a trial, there may be many steps before the trial. These steps before the trial may also take place in a courtroom.

This is important to keep in mind when:

  • deciding which court to go through, if you have a choice; and
  • understanding what will happen once you make that choice.

It is particularly important to know about:

  • docket court” (in Provincial Court); and
  • chambers” (in the Court of Queen’s Bench).

These are described in more detail below.

What are “hearings,” “docket court,” and “chambers”?

A ”hearing” is court proceeding, other than a trial, where the parties appear before a decision-maker (usually a judge). That person will then decide about something that the parties disagree about. Hearings often take place in a courtroom. They are generally shorter and less formal than trials. Usually, only written evidence is used (not oral evidence).

Docket court is a type of hearing in the Provincial Court. Chambers is a type of hearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

In civil law, to have a hearing, usually one of the parties must make an “application.” In criminal law, hearings are sometimes an automatic part of the process.

This Information Page is about civil law. The rest of this Information Page will discuss how docket court and chambers are used in civil law.

Applications: How hearings get to docket court and chambers

To have a hearing, one of the parties usually has to make an “application.”

Applications are smaller, individual parts of the court action, which are related to an ongoing case. One case may have several applications. Sometimes, an “application” is called a “motion.”

With an application, one party (the “applicant”) asks the Court for something, and gives the Court evidence about why he or she should get it. As part of the process, the “other side” (the “respondent”) can show the Court evidence about why the applicant should not get what he or she is requesting. The respondent may even ask for something different. The applicant could then respond to that request. The Court then makes a decision. The Court’s decision in an application is called an “order.”

Be Aware

Not all applications will result in “hearings.” For example, the parties may make an application, but come to an agreement before the hearing. Or, an application may be a “desk application.” This means that the paperwork is sent to the judge’s office for a decision, and the parties do not have to appear before the judge.

Applications can take place at different times during the legal process, as described below.

Applications before a trial

Applications often take place before a trial to deal with various issues, including:

  • procedural matters;
  • preliminary matters; or
  • temporary matters.

Procedural matters are issues related to the “rules of court.” These are the formal rules and requirements that set out how things must be done when you are involved with the court in any way.

For example: the rules say that a person must give paperwork to the person they are taking to court. If they cannot find the other party to give them a copy of the paperwork, they may go to court to find out what to do next.

Preliminary matters are issues that can be dealt with before a trial, or that need to be addressed before a trial can happen.

For example: a separating couple may be going to trial to determine how their property will be divided. One person may try to sell or give away some of the property before the trial. The other person may request a hearing to ask for an Order that stops the other person from doing this.

Temporary matters are issues that need to be settled in the short term before the parties go to trial.

For example: separating parents might ask for an order that says how their time with the children will be divided, while they work out all of their other separation issues. Later, the parents may go back to court to further address this issue.

Applications during a trial

Applications may sometimes be required during a trial, to decide a matter that must be resolved before the trial can continue. For example: during a criminal trial, the accused might ask for a hearing to request that certain evidence be kept out of the trial. This is usually because of a claim that this evidence was not collected in a way allowed by law.

Applications after a trial

Hearings may take place after a trial to deal with additional matters that must be resolved to help make sure the trial judgment is followed. For example: there may already be a trial decision, and one party is trying to give a copy of the paperwork to the other party. The rules say that the other party must get this copy. If this person cannot find the other party, he or she may request a hearing to find out what to do next.

Why do I need to understand docket court and chambers when choosing a court?

If you are going to court about a legal matter, it may happen in many ways. For example:

  • You may start with hearings in docket court or chambers.
  • You may have a trial.
  • You may even have many applications. Having multiple applications is common in separation and divorce matters, especially if there are issues about children to work through.

As a result, if you cannot resolve your issues out of court, you may have to go to court more often than you expected. Keep this mind as you read this Information Page, and learn about the differences between Provincial Court (PC) and the Court of Queen’s Bench (QB). The more you have to go to court, the more the differences may matter to you.

Remember

Depending on your issue, you may not have a choice of court. There is more information about that below.

More about docket court

Docket court is a type of court hearing in the Provincial Court. Docket court matters usually do not take much time. If you need to deal with more complicated matters, you may need to go to trial instead.

Docket court hearings are held in a courtroom that is open to the public. In this court, Judges will hear many cases on the same day. When you go to docket court, there will be a list of all the matters that will be heard in court that day. This list is called a “docket.” The Judge may or may not deal with the cases in the order that they appear on the list.

Usually, any evidence that you want to provide in docket court must be written and sworn.

For more general information about docket court, see the Understanding the Court Process Information Page and the following resources.

Web Courtroom etiquette
Government of Alberta
English

Web Civil Claim Process: Courtroom Etiquette
Government of Alberta
English


PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

More about chambers

Chambers is a type of court hearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Chambers hearings are usually held in a courtroom that is open to the public. Or, more rarely, they may be held in “private chambers.” Private chambers hearings happen in the Justice’s or Master’s office.

If the hearing is in a courtroom, the judge hears a list of different cases by different people. All of these matters are scheduled for the same time. When you go to chambers, there will be a list of all the matters that will be heard in court that day. The judge may or may not deal with the cases in the order that they appear on the list.

The judge in chambers may be either a Justice or a Master:

  • Masters only have the power to make decisions for certain types of issues. This can include many procedural matters.
  • Justices are able to hear any type of legal issue.
Be Aware

Sometimes people will call a chambers hearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench “docket court.” The correct term in the Court of Queen’s Bench is “chambers.”

Types of chambers

There are different types of chambers in the Court of Queen’s Bench. These are described below.

Justice Chambers (sometimes called “Civil Morning Chambers”)

This is a type of chambers where the judge deals with civil matters (but not family). In this type of chambers, a Justice makes the decisions. You can only go to Justice Chambers if your matter cannot be heard by a Master. If your matter can be heard by a Master, you will go to Masters’ Chambers (see below).

Matters in Justice Chambers must take less than 20 minutes (10 minutes for each party to present his or her case). If your matter will take longer than this, you will be scheduled in Special Chambers (see below).

Special Chambers (sometimes called “Civil Afternoon Chambers”)

This is a type of chambers where the judge deals with more complicated civil matters (but not family). In this type of chambers, a Justice makes the decisions.

You can go to Special Chambers for legal issues that are expected to take longer than 20 minutes, but not more than a half day. Matters that will take longer than a half day are supposed to be addressed at a trial.

Masters’ Chambers

This is a type of chambers where the judge only has the power to make decisions for certain types of civil law issues. This can includes many procedural matters.

For civil matters (but not family), if a Master has the jurisdiction to deal with your matter, you must go to a Master. In other words, you are not allowed to deal with that matter in Justice Chambers. For more information about what kinds of issues must be heard by a Master, see the following resource.

Be Aware

In most of Alberta, if you are going to chambers for a family law matter, all of your issues (even procedural ones) will be dealt with in Family Justice Chambers (see below). However, in Edmonton and Calgary, if you are dealing with an issue that a Master has the authority to hear (such as a procedural issue), then that particular issue must be dealt with in Masters’ Chambers. This is currently a pilot project. For more information, see the following resource.

Family Justice Chambers (sometimes called “Family Law Chambers”)

This is a type of chambers where the judge deals with family law matters. In this type of chambers, a Justice makes the decisions. Sometimes, this kind of chambers is called “Regular Chambers.”

Matters in this court must take less than 20 minutes (10 minutes for each party to present his or her case). If your matter will take longer than this, you will be scheduled in Special Family Law Chambers (see below).

Be Aware

In most of Alberta, if you are going to chambers for a family law matter, all of your issues (even procedural ones) will be dealt with in Family Justice Chambers. However, in Edmonton and Calgary, if you are dealing with an issue that a Master has the authority to hear (such as a procedural issue), then that particular issue must be dealt with in Masters’ Chambers. This is currently a pilot project. For more information, see the following resource.

Special Family Law Chambers

This is a type of chambers where the judge deals with more complicated family matters. In this type of chambers, a Justice makes the decisions.

You go to Special Family Law Chambers for legal issues that are expected to take longer than 20 minutes, but not more than one hour. If your matter will take longer than one hour, you must contact the Special Chambers Trial Coordinator to schedule up to a half day chambers hearing—see the following resource for contact information.

Web Court of Queen's Bench: Trial Coordinators
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

The rules for Regular Chambers are very different than the rules for Special Chambers. For example: in Special Chambers, the parties must send in a specific document called a “confirming letter.” Also, there are very detailed and strict rules about scheduling, paperwork, and deadlines. These rules are not just for lawyers—you must follow them even if you are representing yourself. For more information, see the following resource.

For more general information about chambers, see the Understanding the Court Process Information Page and the following resources.

Web Court hearings “In Chambers”: how the courts manage their workflow
Patriot Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Pre-Trial Applications FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Courtroom etiquette
Government of Alberta
English

More information

For more detailed information about docket court, chambers, and the processes around applications and hearings, see Understanding the Court Process Information Page.

You can also find information on the Process tabs of the Information Pages for each topic. You can find these Information Pages on the Legal Topics page or by using the search bar in the top right.

PC or QB: Do you have a choice of court?

Sometimes you may have a choice between going to Provincial Court or to the Court of Queen’s Bench to deal with your legal matter. But sometimes you must go to one or the other.

The main thing that determines whether you have a choice or not, is whether the court has the power (called “jurisdiction”) to deal with your legal issue. But there are several other things that can influence whether or not you have a choice, including:

  • court restrictions other than jurisdiction;
  • whether you are dealing with more than one issue in court;
  • whether a court action has already been started; and
  • whether you are asking to change an order that has already been granted.

The rest of this section will explain how to determine if you have a choice of court. If you do have a choice of court, see the “Differences between PC and QB” sections below for detailed information about things to consider when choosing a court.

Which court can hear your matter?

You can often choose which court you will use. However, if only one court has jurisdiction to deal with your legal issue, then you will need to go through that court. For example, the Provincial Court does not have jurisdiction to grant a divorce. If you want a divorce, you will have to go through the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Many cases can go through Provincial Court. The Provincial Court can hear cases about:

  • some family matters (not divorce or division or property);
  • all criminal matters begin in Provincial Court;
  • some civil matters (if the total amount you are suing for is less than $50,000);
  • traffic matters; and
  • all criminal matters for youth.
Be Aware

The maximum amount that you can sue for in Provincial Court has recently increased to $50,000. It was previously only $25,000. Some of the resources that we link to may not have been updated.

For other matters, the Provincial Court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the issue.

For example, some of the issues that you will need to go to the Court of Queen’s Bench for are:

  • divorce;
  • division of property;
  • exclusive possession of a home or household goods;
  • declarations of parentage;
  • some civil matters (if the total amount you are suing for is more than $50,000);
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders; and
  • restraining orders.

Are you dealing with more than one issue in court?

If you have more than one issue that you need the court to deal with, it may affect which court you choose.

For example:

  • You may need to have a court deal with division of property and child support.
  • To deal with child support, you can go to either the Provincial Court or the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • To deal with division of property, you must go to the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • You can choose to deal with both issues at the same time in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • Or, you may want to deal with only child support in the Provincial Court because it can be faster and simpler, and more help is available there.
  • You would then have to start a new application with the Court of Queen’s Bench to deal with the property.
  • Splitting up the issues may cost you more time and money than if you did everything together in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • Also, the Alberta courts prefer to keep all matters relating to one family within one court. Court staff will strongly encourage you to use the same level of court for all of your matters.
  • Using the same level of court for all matters is usually less complicated, and makes it easier for all parties involved to schedule hearings.

Has a court action already been started by someone else?

You will usually only have a choice of court if you are considering a new court application that has not yet been started.

Although either court may have jurisdiction to deal with your issue, if the other person started the court action in one court, you usually must continue with that court. There are some exceptions to this. For example, if you are applying to reduce child support arrears, you must go through the Court of Queen’s Bench, even if you already had a court action started in Provincial Court. If this is your situation, contact Resolution and Court Administration Services for help about how to proceed.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Do you want to change a court order that has already been granted?

You may have been to court before and received a court order. Some time has passed, your situation has changed, and now you want to vary or change the order.

The courts will treat this request as part of the same application so you will need to go through the same court that originally issued the order. For example, you may have gone to the Court of Queen’s Bench to get a child support order. Even though normally you could go to either the Court of Queen’s Bench or Provincial Court to deal with child support, in order to change this child support order, you will need to go back to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

More information

For more information about things that affect your choice, see the following resources.

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 9-10.

Web What, Why and Where: Untangling Jurisdiction in Family Law
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 5-6.


PDF Legal Issues
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English
See p. 7-12.


Audio/Web The Court System in Alberta
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Audio/Web Family Court
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Provincial Court of Alberta
Government of Alberta
English

Web Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta
Government of Alberta
English

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you a preview of the article, and you can find the full article at libraries across Alberta. Please note that this article is a section in a whole book. For more information about using the libraries listed below, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page .

Book Preliminary Matters – Before Getting Judgment (article included in "Small Claims & Collections Boot Camp")
Legal Education Society of Alberta
English
 LESA Preliminary Matters This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here. The focus of this article is for small claims cases, but some of the issues discussed also apply to other kinds of civil cases where there is a choice of court. Get the full article from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.
Differences between PC and QB: Time, location, and cost

If you have a choice of court, there are some practical things to consider, including:

  • the time your matter will take to resolve in court;
  • the location and how often a court hears legal matters in your area; and
  • the cost of going to court.

These are described in more detail just below.

Time

Time can be an important consideration when choosing which court you will use. If it takes more time to resolve an issue, it may cost you more money. And, it will delay what you are trying to accomplish in court.

The Provincial Court is designed to be quicker and easier for people to understand. Because there are fewer rules and procedures to follow, it is often faster to go to Provincial Court. Also, there may be less of a wait to get a court date with the Provincial Court.

However, this is not always the case. In some areas, Provincial Courts are so busy, it may be faster to go to Queen’s Bench. If time is a concern for you, ask at Resolution and Court Administration Services to see what will be faster in your judicial centre.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Location

There may not be a court where you live. If you have to travel to a court in another city or town, this may cost you more money and time.

In Alberta, there are more Provincial Courts than there are Courts of Queen’s Bench:

  • There are 21 permanent Provincial Court locations in Alberta and 50 that only hear legal matters on certain days.
  • There are only 11 permanent Court of Queen’s Bench locations and 2 that only hear legal matters on certain days.

If you live in a rural community, it is more likely that a Provincial Court is located closer to you. Also, because there are more Provincial Courts, it may be quicker for you to get a court date. This would allow you to resolve your legal issues more quickly.

For more information about court locations in Alberta, see the following resources.

Web Provincial Court Locations & Sittings
Government of Alberta
English

Web Court of Queen's Bench Location & Sittings
Government of Alberta
English

Cost

Going to court can be expensive. The exact amount will depend on your particular situation and the choices that you make.

It is often more expensive when you go through the Court of Queen’s Bench. This may be due to:

  • court fees;
  • the complexity of the Court and the issues it deals with; or
  • the awarding of costs by the Court.

Court fees

It costs money to start a court action. Sometimes, you will also need to pay a fee if you are responding to an application that someone else started. The exact amount that you will need to pay the court will depend on what your legal issues are. Each court has a list for how much certain applications cost.

Sometimes the fees are higher in the Court of Queen’s Bench. However, applications made under the Family Law Act are the same for both courts.

See the following resource for a current list of court fees.

Web Court fees
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

The court fees recently changed. Some fees have increased, and some applications that used to be free now have a fee.

If you cannot afford the fee, both courts can “waive” your court fees if you meet the requirements. This means you would not have to pay them. For more information about this, see the following resources and ask at Resolution and Court Administration Services.

PDF Court Fees & Waivers in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Court fees
Government of Alberta
English
See “Filing Fee Waivers.”

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Complexity

If your legal matter is complex, it will likely cost you more money. More complex matters usually take more time for you to go through all the steps.

The court process can be complex too. Usually going through the Court of Queen’s Bench is more complicated than going through the Provincial Court. This means that it may cost you more for things such as:

  • paying lawyer’s fees over a longer period of time;
  • learning the rules and procedures for the Court of Queen’s Bench if you don’t have a lawyer;
  • taking more time off work; and
  • paying for extra child care.

Costs awards for civil matters

A costs award is an amount of money that a judge will make one party pay to the other party to help pay for the cost of going to court.

If you want to ask for costs, you must ask for it in your court paperwork. The judge may not even consider the request if it is not included in the paperwork. The judge may or may not grant your request. In rare cases, a judge might grant costs, even if it was not requested. This could happen if the judge feels that one side has been unreasonable or vexatious.

Costs are usually only awarded to the successful party. However, if you are behaving badly in court, the judge may award costs against you even if you were the successful party.

Costs awards for civil matters are treated differently in the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench. The differences will depend on your specific situation. Contact Resolution and Court Administration Services if you have questions about this.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

For more information about costs, see the following resources.


Web How much can be payable for court costs in Alberta?
Bayda Disability Law Firm
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Is It Worth Suing?: Costs
Government of Alberta
English

PDF Client Guide to Basic Costs
Field Law
English
This is an older document. Some of the specific information may be out of date but the general concepts are still helpful. This is also from a private source. Learn more here.

Web Provincial Court Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English
See “Provincial Court Fees and Costs Regulation.”

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you a preview of the article, and you can find the full article at libraries across Alberta. Please note that this article is a section in a whole book. For more information about using the libraries listed below, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Preliminary Matters – Before Getting Judgment (article included in "Small Claims & Collections Boot Camp")
Legal Education Society of Alberta
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here. The focus of this article is for small claims cases, but some of the issues discussed also apply to other kinds of civil cases where there is a choice of court. Get the full article from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.
Differences between PC and QB: Help available before court and during court

If you don’t have a lawyer, you may want to consider how much help is available in the different courts.

In general, there are fewer resources available in the Court of Queen’s Bench than in Provincial Court. Because of this, representing yourself in the Court of Queen’s Bench can be more difficult than in Provincial Court.

The rest of this section describes the programs available to help in each court. You may also want to see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page.

Help from Resolution and Court Administration Services

Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS) is a group of programs and services offered by the Alberta government to help people resolve their legal matters. RCAS staff:

  • help you stay out of court when possible;
  • help with the court process and forms if you go to court; and
  • offer free or low-cost programs to help people with the legal system.

A few examples of the kinds of help available from RCAS are described below.

Triage services

Triage is offered in both Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench, but only for matters under the Family Law Act, and not in all locations. At triage, you will:

  • meet with RCAS staff for about 10 minutes to see what your next steps should be;
  • be referred to different services based on your needs;
  • be told what steps you can take next; and
  • schedule an intake appointment if needed (see below).
Be Aware

Triage is not available for matters under the Divorce Act.

Intake services

Intake services are available in some locations across Alberta, for both Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench. At intake, RCAS staff will discuss your options with you. This may include a referral to court-supported family mediation when appropriate. In some areas, a formal intake appointment is required if you are using the Family Law Act, and must be completed before any documents can be filed.

Be Aware

Intake is not available for matters under the Divorce Act.

Caseflow conferencing

This is a program that is available to parties without a lawyer who have filed their first court application, but have not yet gone before a judge. It is meant to help parties reach an agreement out of court, or to be better prepared when going to court.

Caseflow conferencing is available in Provincial Court in most of Alberta. It is also available in the Court of Queen’s Bench, but only in some areas, and only for matters under the Family Law Act. Contact Resolution and Court Administration Services to see if it is required in your judicial centre.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Family Court Counsellors

Family Court Counsellors (FCCs) help you learn about the court process. FCCs can also help present the facts to the judge. To get this help you will need to talk to them long before your court date!

Family Court Counsellors are available in Provincial Court in most of Alberta. They are also available in the Court of Queen’s Bench, but only in some areas, and only for matters under the Family Law Act.

See the following resources for more information.

Web Family court assistance
Government of Alberta
English

Web Family court counsellor locations
Government of Alberta
English

Civil mediation

RCAS offers civil mediation for civil law matters. This program is offered in Provincial Court only, and only in certain locations. Civil mediation is meant to help you resolve your dispute without having to go to trial. A court may order you to attend civil mediation or you can ask to use this program.

Court forms information coordinators

Information coordinators are available in certain courts to help you with court forms. You can use this service to help you find the forms that you need and get help filling them out.

More information

To learn more about what help is available in your particular area, contact your local Resolution and Court Administration Services.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Duty counsel

In both Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench, there may be duty counsel to help you. Duty counsel are lawyers who offer limited services to people who are unrepresented at their court appearance. There is no financial eligibility requirement to get help from duty counsel. It is free to all Albertans.

Duty counsel may:

  • review why you are appearing in court that day (before you enter the courtroom);
  • explain the issues involved in your case and give you advice about your options;
  • refer you to Family Court Counsellors (if available), mediators, or other agencies for help; and
  • appear in court with you to speak about your matter.

Duty counsel will not:

  • represent you at future court appearances;
  • meet with you at any time other than before and after your court appearance;
  • appear in court about your matter without you there; or
  • prepare documents for you.

Duty counsel are only at certain courthouse locations on certain days. And they may not be available in courts dealing with certain types of law. Also, there may be many people waiting to speak with them. If you need to speak to duty counsel, make sure you get to the courthouse early.

For information about what matters duty counsel can help with, and which judicial centres have duty counsel available, see the following resource.

Web Duty Counsel - Legal Assistance at Court
Legal Aid Alberta
English

More information

Other organizations may also provide family court workers/counsellors, depending on the area of the province. These include: Native Counselling Services, the John Howard Society, and the Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic / Women’s Outreach Court Preparation Program.

For more information about organizations that might be able to help, see the following Information Pages:

Differences between PC and QB: Rules, procedures, and etiquette

For most people, going to court will be a brand new experience. It may also come as a bit of surprise. Being in court is not really as it appears on most television shows. Whenever you go to court, there are certain rules and procedures that you have to follow (yes, there are rules!).

The 2 courts are very different when it comes to rules, procedures, and etiquette.

Be Aware

The rules and procedures that you have to follow will depend on which type of hearing you are attending. For example, the rules and procedures in chambers will be different than during a Queen’s Bench trial.

Provincial Court

The court process and the experience are usually easier in Provincial Court than in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

For example:

  • The forms that you need to fill out are usually easier to understand and take less time.
  • The court process is usually less formal in Provincial Court. Because of this, the court may be more forgiving if you make a minor mistake with the rules. Or, the court may take more time to explain the process to you.
  • The rules and process that you must follow when you go to the Provincial Court are determined by the Provincial Court Act. These rules are much easier to follow and are not as demanding as the Alberta Rules of Court in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • There is more help for self-represented litigants to help them through the process. See the “Differences between PC and QB: Help available before court and during court” section above for more information.

The Provincial Court may be less formal than Queen’s Bench, but there are still certain behaviours and procedures that you will need to follow. For example: you should address a Provincial Court Judge as “Your Honour,” “Sir,” or “Madam.”

For more information on acceptable behaviour in Provincial Court, see the following resources.

Web Courtroom etiquette
Government of Alberta
English

Web Civil Claim Process: Courtroom Etiquette
Government of Alberta
English


PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Evidence

Provincial Court is often more flexible in the way that evidence is presented in court. The court will usually still require evidence to be written, but sometimes you can give oral evidence in Provincial Court. It is much more common for a judge to allow oral evidence in Provincial Court than in the Court of Queen’s Bench. However, in both courts, written evidence must still be in the form of a sworn affidavit (see the “What the words mean” section above).

Preparing the court order

In Provincial Court, court orders are prepared for you. Court orders are written documents describing what the judge decided. A court order must be written every time a judge makes an order. In most cases, when your court hearing is over, the Order granted by the judge will be typed up by the court clerk. It may be ready shortly after the hearing. If it is not, it will be mailed to you.

Court of Queen’s Bench

The Court of Queen’s Bench is more complicated and formal than the Provincial Court. The judges in the Court of Queen’s Bench usually expect you to be prepared and follow the rules and procedures. They are usually much less forgiving if you make a mistake with one of the rules or procedures. The Court of Queen’s Bench has formal rules that you must follow. These rules are set out in the Alberta Rules of Court.

For example: you should address a Court of Queen’s Bench Justice as “My Lord” or “My Lady.” You should address a Master as “Master.” You can refer to either a Justice or a Master as “Sir” or “Madam.”

For more information on acceptable behaviour in the Court of Queen’s Bench, see the following resources.

Web Courtroom etiquette
Government of Alberta
English

Web Alberta court procedures
Government of Alberta
English

Queen’s Bench “Practice Notes”

“Practice Notes” are additional rules issued by the Court of Queen’s Bench, often about court procedures. These rules apply only in the Court of Queen’s Bench (not in Provincial Court). These rules are not just for lawyers—you must follow them even if you are representing yourself. For a list of the Practice Notes, see the following resource.

Web Court of Queen's Bench: Practice Notes
Government of Alberta
English

Evidence

The Court of Queen’s Bench usually requires evidence to be given by “affidavit.” An affidavit is a sworn written statement. If you want to give oral evidence, you will have to apply to the court for permission. Oral evidence is more common in Provincial Court.

Preparing the court order

In the Court of Queen’s Bench, the successful party usually has to prepare the order. However, in some courts, a court clerk may prepare the order. Court orders are written documents describing what the judge decided. An order must be written every time a judge makes an order. There are certain rules that you must follow when you prepare an order—see the following resource.

Web Alberta Rules of Court
Government of Alberta
English
See Rule 9.1.

In some locations, there may be help available for you. You can ask at Resolution and Court Administration Services.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

For more information about court orders, see the Understanding the Court Process Information Page.

Differences between PC and QB: Who can represent you or support you in court?

The term “representation” refers to one person acting or speaking officially for another person. It is more than just “helping”: the person being represented usually says nothing (unless they are representing themselves).

There are different ways to be “represented” in court hearings. You can:

  • represent yourself in court;
  • have a lawyer represent you in court; or
  • have an “agent” represent you in court.

There are also some other ways to be supported in court. Two possibilities are:

  • a type of assistant known as a “McKenzie Friend”
  • an interpreter.

Each of these options for being represented or supported in court are discussed below, including how they apply in each of the 2 courts.

Representing yourself

Both the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench will allow you to represent yourself. When you represent yourself in a court action, you are known as a “self-represented litigant.” This means you are not represented by a lawyer. If you have a “limited scope retainer” or are getting “unbundled legal services,” you can still be a self-represented litigant if your lawyer does not represent you in court.

You may choose to represent yourself for various reasons, such as:

  • you can’t afford a lawyer;
  • you had a lawyer but ran out of money before the case was settled; or
  • you want to deal with the matter yourself.

Depending on which court you go to, your experience as a self-represented litigant will be very different.

You can represent yourself in either court. However, self-represented litigants are much more common in Provincial Court than in the Court of Queen’s Bench. This is because the court process and the experience are usually easier in Provincial Court.

For example:

  • The forms that you need to fill out are usually easier to understand and take less time.
  • The court process is usually less formal in Provincial Court. Because of this, the court may be more forgiving if you make a minor mistake with the rules. Or, the court may take more time to explain the process to you.
  • The rules and process that you must follow when you go to the Provincial Court are determined by the Provincial Court Act. These rules are much easier to follow and are not as demanding as the Alberta Rules of Court in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • There is more help for self-represented litigants to help them through the process. See the “Differences between PC and QB: Help available before court and during court” section above for more information.

For more information about being a self-represented litigant, see Representing Yourself in Court Information Page and the following resource.

PDF Families and the Law: Representing Yourself in Family Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Hiring a lawyer to represent you

Both the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench will allow you to use a lawyer. Using a lawyer may also include law students from a university legal clinic or articling students. An articling student is a person who has graduated from law school and is in an apprenticeship at a law firm.

If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will explain to you what is happening with your case and why. A lawyer will be able to help you through the court process in either court, and can tell you which court would be best for you.

For more information, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may still have options. See the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page.

Having an agent represent you

If you want to have an agent represent you, the rules are different.

An agent is a person who speaks on your behalf in court. This person may be:

  • a friend;
  • a family member;
  • someone from a legal agency; or
  • a person you hire.

Court agents are not lawyers, so they cannot give you legal advice.

You may choose to use an agent for many reasons, such as:

  • the agent may have more legal knowledge than you;
  • the agent may not cost you any money, or costs less than a lawyer; or
  • you may want help presenting your matter to the judge.

You usually cannot use an agent in the Court of Queen’s Bench. However, you can usually use an agent in Provincial Court. For criminal matters, the Criminal Code of Canada also has restrictions on when agents can be used.

For more general information about using an agent, see the following resources.

Web Alberta Rules of Court
Government of Alberta
English
See Section 2.23(1).

Web Provincial Court Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English
See Section 62(1).


Web Court Agents
Government of Alberta
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Access to Justice and Representation by Agents
ABlawg
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Who can represent a corporation in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench
Gurevitch Burnham Law Office
English
This is a private source and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.


Web Agent Regulation: The Case of Emmerson Brando (AKA Arturo Nuosci, AKA Maverick Austin Maveric, AKA Landon Emmerson Brando)
Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Others who can support you in court

Assistance from a “McKenzie Friend”

If you are representing yourself, you may wish to have some support so that you are not all on your own. Rule 2.23(1) of the Alberta Rules of Court allows for a person to “assist” you in ways that are not legal representation. They can assist with:

  • quiet suggestions;
  • note-taking;
  • support; or
  • addressing your particular needs.

A person who assists in this way is sometimes called a “McKenzie Friend.” For more information about the differences between “legal representation” and a “McKenzie Friend,” see the following resources.

PDF The McKenzie Friend: Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project
English

Web What is a McKenzie Friend
The Contempt of Court Legal Clinic
English

PDF Being a Friend to Court: A Guide
Community Legal Assistance Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Interpreters

In either court you may be able to have someone speak for you if you cannot understand English. This person is only there to make sure that you understand what is happening and so that you can communicate with the court. This person is an interpreter, not an agent. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Going to Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “Am I Entitled to an Interpreter in Court Proceedings?”

Process

For detailed information on the actual court process, such as:

  • starting a court action;
  • which forms to fill out;
  • where to file your documents; and
  • how to “serve” documents on the other party

see the Information Pages about your specific topic. You can find these on the Legal Topics page or by using the search bar in the top right.

You may also want to see the Understanding the Court Process Information Page.

See the Law tab of this Information Page for general information about:

  • the 2 trial courts in Alberta;
  • how to determine whether you have a choice about which court to use; and
  • what to consider in making a choice between the courts.

 

Last Reviewed: October 2016

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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