A continuance is a postponement of a court proceeding. There are a number of reasons why a break may be required, ranging from temporary incapacitation on the part of the judge to the need to deal with surprise information which has come up during the trial. In some regions of the world, the circumstances in which a request for continuance will be granted are limited, due to laws designed to ensure access to speedy trials.
Sometimes, a judge will order a continuance without consulting any of the parties involved. More commonly, one of the people involved in the trial files a motion for continuance with the judge, explaining that a hiatus is requested and providing the reasons why. Requests will be granted if it is clear that a rescheduling is needed in the interests of fairness.
Some reasons why a continuance might be needed include: the need to deal with new evidence or a new witness; incapacitation in a member of the legal team; inability to access evidence or a witness; heavy press coverage which might interfere with the trial; and, in civil cases, the absence of one of the parties involved. The request can be filed by a lawyer or one of the parties directly, and several companies have samples of requests for continuance which people can use to make sure that their letters are formatted and presented properly.
A judge will grant a continuance if it is evidence that the break is needed in order to enable a fair trial. If a postponement is refused, people may later argue that the trial was compromised, so judges are very careful about refusal and take the time to consider how the continuance might be viewed if the trial is appealed. Judges want to avoid permitting nuisance continuances and stalling tactics, however, as they can extend a trial and add to the costs of the trial considerably.
When a request for continuance is granted, everyone involved in the case is notified. The notification makes people aware of the fact that there is a break and informs people when they are due back in court. In some cases, the length of the break may unclear due to factors beyond everyone's control, in which case people may be asked to check back to find out when the trial will resume. For example, if someone needs a continuance to obtain new counsel, he or she is entitled to take some time to find an appropriate attorney.