Using CSO E-search at Courthouse Libraries BC

Courthouse Libraries BC offers free access to Court Services Online (CSO) E-search from its public access computers located in libraries across the province. 

Anyone can now access features that would otherwise have a fee, including case views and document downloads. You don’t even have to sign up, just come into one of our libraries. 

It’s a great tool for researching people and companies, but also a good educational resource for seeing how the court system works at the file end. Lawyers, paralegals, self-represented litigants, legal advocates, law students, journalists, and the general public can all benefit from the depth of information this new service unlocks. It brings more transparency to how the courts operate, shows what filed legal documents and forms actually look like (and the context they are used in), and reveals what happens in court cases outside of the judicial decisions that get reported. For more about how to use CSO E-Search and access documents for free, see below. 

CSO contains filed legal documents and information about cases filed in BC’s three courts: the Provincial Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. All information is organized by specific court files for each case. Through these court files, CSO gives you access to millions of documents from real-life cases, including forms and pleadings completed by parties or their legal counsel. CSO lets you see what these documents actually look like if you’ve never prepared paperwork for court. Or, if you prepare pleadings and court forms all the time, you can see how other lawyers have drafted them. 

CSO E-search is a tool for finding cases on CSO. That said, CSO E-search is not like a search engine. You cannot search by keyword, ask it to filter for a specific legal issues, ask it to show only specific court forms, etc. It was only designed to locate specific cases. CSO E-search assumes you will know the name of a party, the court file number, or the date the case was filed.  

  • If you know the name of a party or the file number of a case, CSO E-search is simple to use.  
  • If you do not have a specific case in mind, and just want to discover cases and documents that deal with a specific legal issue, use a specific court form, or led to a specific kind of outcome, you need to find a workaround.  

This guide will help you use CSO E-search, and also find workarounds to get you results that are hard to get directly.  

Please note, CSO is not good for: 

  • Family law cases (except very limited details for Supreme Court family files) 
  • Supreme Court criminal proceedings 
  • Any cases involving children (i.e., adoption, child protection, youth criminal files) 
  • Reading all filed documents in a case: 
  • Typically you can view pleadings, notices of application, and orders 
  • Other available documents vary depending on the case’s classification and how old the file is 
  • Typically only 10-30% of all documents in the court file are downloadable 
  • Affidavits and exhibits are never available on CSO 

Start Your Search 

You must come in person to one of CLBC’s 30 branches and use one of the public access computers to get access. Once you launch CSO on one of our public computers: 

  • A pop-up survey will open in a separate window. Please remember to take the survey once you’ve completed your search(es).  Your feedback is important to us and the future of the pilot. 
  • Read the Disclaimer and close the box. 
  • From the “E-search Home Page” you will choose from the following search methods:  
Search Civil By: 
  • Party name (default) 
  • Deceased name 
  • File number 
  • Date range 
Search Appeal By: 
  • Case number 
  • Party name 
Search Traffic/Criminal By: 
  • Participant name 
  • File number 
  • Agency name 

What are “civil files”? 

This refers to the files courts’ registries keep when a civil claim is started. In general, a civil claim means a lawsuit brought by a party against another party (including contract breaches, personal injuries, property matters, and family law issues) or any proceeding where the court is needed to exercise its authority under its civil jurisdiction (to probate a will, for example). For BC courts, civil jurisdiction encompasses typical lawsuits, but also family law, probate, and bankruptcy proceedings.  

Here are some general tips for using the four search options listed within the “Search Civil” method. 

  • Search by Party Name (Tip: this is the most useful search) 

The Party Name search requires that you start with a name, but offers more customization than other search options because you can filter by case classification (e.g., Small Claims, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Probate, Supreme Court (General), Foreclosure, etc.), registry location (99 registries listed), date range (without limits), and even by the person’s role in the file (e.g., claimant, respondent, etc.).  

If you are searching for a person by name, a good strategy is to select “Both” individual and organization names, and to select “Partially”.  

  • Search by Deceased Name 

If you know the last name and the first initial of someone who has passed away, you can search for their probate file. The difference between this search option and a Party Name search is that this one shows results for only those who have died (not a beneficiary, executor, administratrix, etc.). You can filter results down to a narrower date range if you wish. 

  • Search by File Number 

If you know the docket number of a case file, enter that into the File Number search. This will pull up the case in the most precise way. 

  • Search by Date Range  

Searching by date range is great for narrowing results to a specific time period, however you cannot filter results based on classifications of cases (see more on classifications, below). You might use this method when you know the date a case was started, or to see a broad selection of all categories of cases being filed over a short period of time (from 1-7 days only).  

The maximum range you can set is seven days, and you cannot set this range further than 10 years back. (Note that this is more restrictive than the date ranges you can set using the Party Name search option.)  

You can confine the date range search to a single registry location if you wish—but that’s the only other filter.  

Understanding Civil Classifications 

The “Search Civil” method will provide results from Supreme Court and Provincial Court reveals court files belonging to one of 10 different classifications used by the court registry:  

Class: Small Claims  

The Small Claims division of the Provincial Court processes many thousands of claims. Most are individuals and companies suing one another for monetary relief in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $35,000. Reviewing these cases can reveal key documents, but also the names of people associated with a corporate party, where they have their addresses for service, and more.  

When you view the documents tab of a small claims file, the amount of the claim is shown right away. The Notice of Claim is almost always available to download, as is the Reply of the responding party, along with orders from the court.  

Class: Supreme Civil (General) 

A large percentage of Supreme Court cases involve parties who are suing each other. This generic class includes estate litigation, medical malpractice, breach of contract, slip and fall injuries, and a wide range of other claims. Motor Vehicle Accidents are put in their own class. The pleadings, notices of applications and responses to applications, and orders will commonly be downloadable.  

Class: Foreclosure  

Lenders (usually banks as mortgagees) or lien holders, file a petition to start foreclosure proceedings against property owners (usually these are owners who have not paid the mortgage). About 1,500 foreclosure files are started each year, and CSO is filled with information about lenders, borrowers, real estate properties, and the mortgages that bring them to court. Most foreclosure files include routine documents you can download (petitions and resulting orders), and in some cases the respondent homeowner brings applications to resist the foreclosure attempts. 

Class: Motor Vehicle Accidents  

The Supreme Court and the Provincial Court have a special classification for motor vehicle accident cases, so you might use this classification to focus your search only on these kinds of cases. This said, motor vehicle accident cases are still also classified under Supreme Civil (General) or Small Claims files (depending on the court), so you don’t have to search for them separately. They show up under the general results if you just want to use the more common classification. 

Class: Enforcement/Legislated Statute 

These tend to be court actions (in either Supreme Court or Provincial Court) filed to enforce orders from other tribunals or courts. Many are from the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) or the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). You can also find some BC Securities Commission enforcement orders, or orders from courts in other provinces or even the United States.  

There is no way to tell what kind of order (e.g. a tenancy decision, a CRT decision, or a foreign court order) is being enforced until you click on the search result and see the file’s document list. Download and view the file containing the original order to know for sure. 

The original order being enforced is often the only document available to download (especially if enforcement was granted without resistance). The resulting enforcement order from the court (e.g., certificate of judgement, garnishing order, writ of possession, etc.) is rarely available for download. 


  • RTB enforcement cases can sometimes be linked back to the original reasons of the adjudicator if these ordered since December 2022 or more recently. When viewing the original order look for the anonymous decision ID which can be entered at  
  • CRT enforcement cases can sometimes be linked back to the original reasons of the adjudicating tribunal member. Search parties names (or try searching for the exact dollar amount of the claim being enforced) at 

Class: Bankruptcy  

Most bankruptcies are administered through the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy, and never result in a court file. When debtors, creditors or trustees need the court to get involved, however, claims under the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act will typically result in a Supreme Court file being created with the Bankruptcy class assigned to it.  

The CSO E-search list of results for bankruptcy files usually show the name of the trustee alongside the name of the debtor (the person or company facing bankruptcy). This makes it hard to search bankruptcy files by creditors’ names.  

The documents available include a File Summary Report. Requisitions are commonly downloadable, but often contain very spare information. Notices of Application and Orders are also often available for download, and may contain more helpful information. 

Class: Probate  

After someone dies their estate’s representative will open a file in BC Supreme Court to obtain the necessary legal authorizations to handle the estate. The representative will seek an “estate grant” for their role. If there is a will, they will seek a Grant of Probate, and if there is not a will, they will seek a Grant of Administration. These kinds of files are called probate files, and the Probate class is given to them. (Note that one of the “Search Civil” options described above lets you specifically search for the name of a deceased person, weeding out people who are involved in probate files.) 

Probate files on CSO reveal case basics, and will often show the names of those involved including counsel for the representative applicant or executor. However, downloadable documents tend to be even more limited than in classic civil litigation files.  

Wills are not directly viewable as their own file. That said, a copy of the will is often attached to the Grant of Probate document. For probate files, this is frequently the only document available for digital viewing through CSO. 

Class: Caveat 

When searching CSO you may also see files with the “Caveat” class, which are created when someone with a role or interest in the estate (i.e., an executor, beneficiary, or potential beneficiary) files a Notice of Dispute in relation to a deceased person’s estate (the form used to be called a Caveat before 2014, which is why the class is named this way). The purpose of a caveat (now called a Notice of Dispute) is to oppose the validity of a will or to show that the person who files it disagrees with who should represent the deceased person and their estate.  

Caveat files on CSO are quite limited. They do not contain electronic documents, but you can see the name of the disputant and often their lawyer’s name and contact information.  

Class: Family Law Proceedings (and Divorce) 

Technically, there are two separate classifications here (Divorce and Family Law Proceedings), and both apply to Supreme Court files, but access to family files of any sort is restricted. This is true whether you are using CSO or visiting the registry in person. Provincial Court family law files are not available on CSO and do not appear in results. 

For Supreme Court family law matters, only the names of the parties, the dates the file was opened and last updated, the registry, and the file number will show up in a search. If you are a lawyer or one of the parties involved, you can access the files by visiting the registry in-person, or by creating your own CSO account and following the steps to request the files. However, Courthouse Libraries BC’s CSO E-search account cannot be used to do this.  

File Viewing Tips 

  • Get the File Summary Report:  Despite the $6.00 tag, this is actually free to download using CLBC’s CSO account.  Once you’ve selected to view a file, download the file summary report.   This PDF will give an overview of what has happened in the case file, show the sequence of any hearings that were held and the terms of order (if any), and list all the case basics in one place. Each report generally includes sections such as “General File Details,” “Parties on File,” “Documents Filed,” “Hearing and Results,” and “Terms of Order.”  
  • Documents: Look for the tab that lists documents. Some documents will be available for download but a lot of the court file is not digitally stored. Affidavits and exhibits are never available using CSO (they contain too much personal information). For cases within the past 20 years, you usually see downloadable options for: 
  • Pleadings (e.g., Petition, Notice of Claim, Response to Notice of Civil Claim, etc.)  
    These critically important documents frame the position of the parties and reveal what the case is about. 
  • Forms bringing or responding to applications (e.g., Notice of Application, Application Response, etc.)  
    These are also critical documents, as court applications for procedural orders or interim relief make up a big part of an active case file. 
  • Orders  
    Orders are different from published reasons for judgment found on sites like CanLII. They contain the precise wording about what the court has decided (or what the parties have mutually agreed to by consent), what parties must do or pay, and the fate of the case. 

Even if there is no option to download a document, click on its name and you may see court notes (if there are any) pertaining to that document that could provide useful information.  

You can always create your own CSO account if you find a case and decide you’d like to request documents and pay the fee to do so. 

  • Hearing and Results: Under this tab, you will see details about any hearings and trials that may have happened, including unofficial terms of orders. Checking this is a quick way to see how active the parties were on the file. 

“Search Civil” is good for seeing what happens in civil files and litigation in BC’s Supreme Court and Provincial Court. To see results for civil matters in the Court of Appeal, you have to use the “Search Appeal” method

"Search Appeal" is good for locating and accessing records from the Court of Appeal in CSO. The section contains civil and criminal appeals cases, and gets you access to case details and court documents from the past 20 years. For cases older than 2004, however, you might see the names of the parties and the file numbers, but no option to click and see details or documents.   

The Search Appeal method provides two primary options for initiating a search: 

Search by Case Number 

This option is only useful if you know the exact case you want to view. If you have the reasons for judgment in a case, enter the “docket number” (it’s at the top right). For most Court of Appeal cases, you can just enter the five-digit case number "XXXXX"  

Search by Party Name 

This option lets you see a list of appeal cases that match a name search. You can search for either:  

  1. A last name (you don’t have to supply a first name or initial); or  
  2. The name of an organization.  

Unlike with the Search Civil option, you cannot search both individual and organizational names. You also cannot filter by date range.  

You can, however, search civil and criminal appeals together in a single search. And you can instruct CSO to only show results where the name you entered appears in relation to a specific role (i.e., appellant, respondent, or intervenor), or for cases according to a specific status (i.e., active, closed, inactive, or stayed). 

File Viewing Tips 

Once you have a list of appeal case search results, you can click on the case name to view various details and documents.  

Get the Case Summary Report: Once you’ve selected to view a file, download the case summary report. The Court of Appeal case summaries have a consistent structure with sections like “Case Basics,” “Previous Courts,” “Parties on Case,” “Documents Filed,” and “Court Hearings and Results.”  

Note: You can view case basics for these kinds of cases without a CSO account for free and from anywhere.  

There is a lot of information in CSO for Provincial Court traffic and adult criminal matters. However, CSO contains no information about youth criminal matters, nor Supreme Court criminal proceedings involving adults.  

  • You can only search records by participants’ names, or if you know the court file number. There is no date range search.  
  • You can use the “Class” filter to limit results and only show criminal cases, or only show non-criminal offences. 
  • To search for people who have been charged with criminal offences in Provincial Court, select “Adult” under the “Class” option.  
  • For traffic and bylaw offences, select “Ticket (Traffic/Bylaw)”.  

File Viewing Tips 

While documents are not available for download in these cases, there can be extensive information under the following tabs:  

  • “Participants” - indicates the name and year of birth of the accused. 
  • “Charges” - lists the specific laws (statute and section) someone was charged under, including offence date and location. 
  • “Appearances” - offers a detailed list of dates, locations, and results for appearances that were made in court.  
  • “Sentences/Disp.” - lists the outcome of each charge. Be sure to click on the accused’s name to see the sentencing results, including fine, probation order, jail time, etc., and the quantum (i.e., amount of jail time or the dollar amount of a fine) of each sentence.  

Our librarians are available to assist you 

You must come into a Courthouse Libraries BC location to gain free access to CSO E-Search and download documents. If you need guidance, our librarians are available to help you. If you have a question but cannot come into a courthouse library, you can also contact us by phone or email.