At one time, court clerks were responsible for recording the main court proceedings with pen and paper. They still have a similar function but, today, generally use a computer to do their work.
In most provinces, the court clerk asks witnesses to swear or affirm to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” schedules trials and hands the exhibits such as documents and physical evidence to the judge, who takes them into consideration when rendering a decision.
Court clerks are like the stage managers of the courtroom. They make sure everyone does what is required of them and at the right time.
The duties of a court clerk vary depending on local protocol and the court where they are working (provincial court, superior court, etc.). This fact sheet offers an overview of the duties of the court clerk. The information in this fact sheet is specific to court clerks, who work inside the courtroom. It does not apply to registrars, who do not work inside the courtroom.
A court clerk’s is generally done during three distinct time periods: before, during and after a hearing.
Before the hearing
At this stage, the court clerk does things like:
- Speak with lawyers from both sides about their availability in order to set trial dates and times;
- Plan any meetings and conferences required prior to the hearing;
- Request an interpreter if one is required.
A court file is essentially a case file presented in court. Files are made up of a variety of documents, including many forms, as well as pieces of evidence and lower-court decisions. The court clerk is responsible for making sure the file contains everything that is required and meets all the legal requirements.
On the day of the hearing, court clerks are busy ensuring the hearing runs smoothly. Just prior to the hearing, court clerks:
- Post a list of cases being heard that day, known as the docket, both inside and at the entrance to the courtroom;
- Make sure the judge has a copy of the case schedule showing the lawyers’ names along with an estimate of the time each case should take;
- Ensure everyone is present (the parties, lawyers, stenographer, interpreter, etc.);
- Bring into the courtroom the files required for the hearing
- Know the distance reference points inside the courtroom so they can help witnesses describing distances during their testimony (for example, “I was about from here to the entrance from the accused”); and
- Have all the documents required for administering oaths and affirmations to witnesses.
During the hearing
Court clerks continue coordinating the hearing after it begins. Once everyone is present, the court clerk opens the proceedings. The court clerk sits at the desk in front of the judge. From their desk, they:
- State the style of cause and the name of the parties;
- Ask the lawyers to identify themselves;
- Call the witnesses to the stand and swear them in, or administer an oath or affirmation (i.e., ask witnesses to swear or affirm to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth;”
- Collect documents and exhibits (evidence) the lawyers want to present in court; the court clerk records information about each one before handing them to the judge); and finally
- Close the case.
In criminal cases, the court clerk:
- Reads the charges;
- Asks the accused how they plead (i.e., guilty or not guilty); and
- Records the decision to draft the judge’s order (if the judge imposes a sentence).
Language of hearing
During a bilingual hearing, the court clerk announces everything in French and English.
If an accused chooses to have a hearing in French, everything will be announced only in French.
In New Brunswick, the sheriff, the registrar or the court clerk may carry out the duties described above.
After the hearing
At the end of the trial, court clerks:
- Make sure the courtroom is cleared;
- Bring the case files back to their office;
- Complete the administrative tasks related to the file; and
- File the documents related to the case in the correct place.
Court clerks work in courthouses. Whether located in large cities or in other areas, courthouses and municipal courts are a potential workplace for someone interested in becoming a court clerk.
There is generally no specific training required to become a court clerk. However, a diploma from a legal assistant program or other training or experience in the legal field may be required. It would certainly be an asset for someone in this position.
Individuals interesting in becoming a court clerk must complete training offered by their employer to gain the knowledge and skills they need to do this job.
If you are interested in becoming a court clerk in Alberta, visit the Alberta Occupational Profiles website.
In order to be a court clerk in New Brunswick, you must first become a lawyer. For more information on becoming a lawyer in this province, visit the Law Society of New Brunskwick.
New technology is increasingly making its way into the courtroom. In order to do their job well, court clerks must be proficient in using a variety of types of technology and techniques such as:
- Recording hearings; and
- Creating digital documents.
Other conflict resolution choices
Given the popularity of other types conflict resolution, such as mediation and arbitration, the role of court clerks are likely to change of the coming years. This may lead to greater involvement of court clerks in out-of-court mediation and conciliation sessions.
Here are some of the important skills necessary to work as a court clerk.
Court clerks must follow all the courtroom rules, including courtroom decorum and etiquette. Their interactions with the judges, lawyers, witnesses, parties and all others who come to the court must be respectful and polite.
Attention to detail
As part of their administrative functions, court clerks draft a number of important legal documents for the different parties involved in a case. They must be very thorough and not forget any details.
Court clerks handle a vast number of documents and manage many case files. As a result, they must be very well organized.
Good written communication skills
Court clerks produce a number of important documents. Their writing, therefore, must be flawless.
These are just some examples of skills you would need. If you are also thorough and can work well without supervision, you would make an excellent court clerk.