Let's say you have a trial coming up and you realize you're not able to do the trial when scheduled – maybe you need a witness who is away or you decide you need a lawyer or maybe you have a family member who is ill.
What do you do?
Well the very first thing you do is ask whoever the other side of they will agree to an adjournment. Most of the time if there is a good reason the other side will agree to an adjournment. Even in law suits most people are reasonable about things like a necessary delay. Of course that point cuts both ways and if the other side asks you for an adjournment you should agree if there is a legitimate reason given.
You should ask for the adjournment as soon as possible. An email or fax explaining the problem is the best idea as sometimes phone calls can be confused or misunderstood. It may be sensible to do a phone call to follow up and make sure the email or fax is received.
The actual granting of an adjournment is up to the Court. Even if all parties agree the Court may refuse to grant an adjournment but it would be extraordinary for a consent adjournment to be refused.
Where adjournment is refused the Court has to decide if a delay is proper. Acting promptly on learning of the need to have an adjournment and telling the Court you are seeking an adjournment as early as possible makes the adjournment more likely.
Generally the Court is inclined to grant an adjournment unless it seems the adjournment is just an attempt to delay for no good reason. Judges and justices of the peace want to see justice done properly and if that means a case is delayed, well, a case is delayed. That said, an adjournment sought right before trial – especially on the day of trial – will be given close scrutiny and may well be refused. Adjournments sought the morning of trial are especially problematic. Everyone is ready for trial, the Court has set aside time for a hearing and a further delay will cost everyone money and effort. An especially good reason is needed to justify very last minute adjournments.
Illness, where established by a doctor's letter, is a good reason for adjournment even right before trial. Illness of a close family member is also a good reason for an adjournment.
If a witness doesn't come to trial that may be a good reason for an adjournment but only if the witness has something important to say, there is reason to believe the witness will come later and the party calling the witness took reasonable steps to get the witness to come to court.
The best principle is prepare for your trial but if you really need a delay seek it as soon as you possible can and give good reasons why you need more time.