What happens at a child protection hearing or trial?

1. Listen to evidence CAS presents

In a child protection trial, the (CAS) usually starts with an . This is where they tell the judge:

  • the issues in the case
  • what they're asking for
  • the evidence they plan to use to support the orders they want the judge to make

CAS has to give the court enough information or evidence to prove that your child is a . They also need to show why they should get the order that they're asking for.

Listen carefully to the facts CAS describes. Take detailed notes. When you present your case to the court you have to say what part of the CAS case you disagree with and why.

CAS then calls their witnesses to give evidence to support their case. Your CAS worker is usually one of their witnesses.

Direct examination

The CAS lawyer asks each questions to get answers that support their case. This is called or .

Courts often ask CAS workers to give a written affidavit before trial where they say what evidence they will give. They have to do this at least 30 days before trial. This gives you or your lawyer time to look at the affidavit and plan your questions. 

Questions asked during direct examination are usually open-ended. This means they don't tell or guide the witness about what to say.

Questions that tell or guide the witness on what to say are called leading questions. A witness can't be asked leading questions on direct examination unless it's about facts that all agree on. For example, where the witness works.

Cross-examination

You, or your lawyer if you have one, can then cross-examine the witnesses, asking your own questions. Leading questions are allowed during . The purpose of cross-examination is to test how true and reliable the witness' answers are.

Re-examination

CAS can then their witnesses to make clear anything that came up during the cross-examination. But, they can't talk about any new issues.

Documents

Before CAS can use a document or another piece of evidence at the hearing, a witness has to tell the judge who wrote the document and what it's about.

These documents can include affidavits, CAS case notes, photographs, receipts, or reports.

If all the parties agree, these documents become exhibits. An exhibit is a document or piece of physical evidence that the court can rely on when making a decision.

There are rules that allow certain documents to be exhibits, such as business documents like a bank statement.

If anyone objects, the judge decides whether a document can be an exhibit. Some documents can't be included because they're privileged, such as notes that a took during [link to Step 3 of What is alternative dispute resolution with the Children's Aid Society?]. This means the court doesn't get a copy of the document.

You can also object to documents being given to the court if they're not relevant or reliable. There should be no “surprise” documents. CAS is supposed to share with you the evidence they will use at a hearing. So you can also object if it's a new document you haven't seen before.

Objections

When a witness is questioned, you can object to any question they're asked if you think that there's a problem with the question. For example, if the question isn't relevant because it's not related to any issue in the .

This doesn't mean that you can object just because you don't like the answer the witness will give.

New issues

If you talk about a new issue, CAS can respond by calling more witnesses or recalling witnesses who have already testified. These witnesses can be examined, cross-examined, and re-examined.

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