A court room is a foreign place to many people and it is not surprising that most people do not know the basic etiquette expected of them when appearing before a judge.
Today, Macrossan & Amiet Solicitors talk to local Barrister Bronwyn Hartigan, to better understand what is expected of people who are appearing in court.
- Will a client be able to speak directly to the Judge?
It is not appropriate for a client to speak directly to the Judge unless the Judge asks a question of the client. When a client is represented by a solicitor or barrister it is customary for the solicitor or barrister to speak on the client’s behalf. Indeed if the client attempts to speak to the Judge it is likely the Judge will tell the client to stop and give instructions to his solicitor or barrister instead.
- What if the Judge asks our client a question?
If the Judge asks the client a question the client must answer. If the client does not understand the question it is appropriate for the client to say he or she does not understand. The Judge will repeat the question in a way the client can understand. The client should always answer the Judge in a courteous manner. If not, it may be detrimental to the client’s case and undo the good work the solicitor or barrister has done until that point on behalf of the client. Whilst the client is not under oath, it is always preferable that the client answers honestly.
Likewise, if the Judge speaks to the client, even angrily, it is not appropriate for the client to respond in a discourteous way. Sometimes Judges to give a client a “dressing down” and unfortunately the client must accept this without comment.
- What is appropriate Court room attire?
First impressions count in Court. A neatly presented client makes an immediate good impression on the Judge and shows respect for the enormity of the situation ie. You are in a Court arguing something important.
A client should always wear long pants, a long sleeve collared shirt and closed in shoes to Court. Piercings should be removed and tattoos should be covered up. Shorts, T shirts and thongs are not acceptable in a Court room. T shirts with offensive pictures or saying are absolutely not acceptable in a Court room. Dirty work clothes will see you requested by the Judge to leave the Court room as a general rule.
If a client’s hair is long to be honest I ask them to cut it short. I also prefer my clients to be clean shaven.
It is courteous to hold your sunglasses in your hand or a bag if you have one. As the Judge is elevated, sunglasses on the head reflect light from the overhead lights into the Judge’s eyes. Most Judges will ask you to remove your sunglasses. However, this should not be necessary as it is appropriate for the client to remove sunglasses from their head before going into Court.
Whilst not exactly on the topic of Court room attire, it is not acceptable to bring food or drinks (even water) into a Court room. Likewise, mobile phones MUST be turned completely off (not just on silent) as it interferes with the Court room recording system. Every matter in Court is recorded so that if need be, the proceedings can be replayed. For example if an Appeal needs to occur or a transcript needs to be obtained of the proceedings for some other reason.
All of these matters should be addressed with the client and any supporters prior to Court by the solicitor or barrister.
- How should our client and/or their supporters act if they are unhappy with the result?
No reaction either positive or negative should be shown in the Court room when a matter is finished. Celebration should occur outside the Court room. Likewise, unhappiness with a result should occur outside the Court room. The Judge is simply doing his or her job, mostly by following cases that have been decided by the Court of Appeal of the jurisdiction the Court is sitting in, and should not be subjected to such conduct.
The solicitor or barrister should inform the client and any supporters what is expected of them if the outcome is a good one or bad one.
- Can our client bring their family to court to support them? What about their children?
It is very powerful for a client to have family in support of them at Court especially in criminal matters. It is well known that rehabilitation is more likely to be achieved if a client has strong family support. It also performs the function of calming the nerves of the client on the day of Court. However, family members must never be allowed to interfere with the proper conduct of a client’s case. Neither should family members be spoken to without the client. Afterall, the solicitor and barrister are there for the client, not the client’s family.
Children should never be allowed to sit in Court in support of their loved one. Children being present in Court is frowned upon by Judges. It is surprising how many clients think it is appropriate for their children to be present in Court, especially in criminal matters. No child should be subjected to seeing their loved one in the dock or embroiled in family law litigation.
- Can our client keep their name out of the local paper?
No. Newspapers have the right to report on any matter before the Court when the Court Open sign is on. Newspapers cannot report on closed Court matters unless an application is made to the Court. A newspaper is not allowed to report on matters where the identification of the person before the Court will reveal the identity of a child victim.