COURT 101: What To Do On The Day

One cannot fail to notice that, in today’s more enlightened society, mental health and wellbeing are commonplace discussions.

Topics that once would not have been discussed are now considered absolutely essential: depression, wellness, mindfulness.

As a barrister, I tend to meet people when times are hard. An old adage at the Bar is that people meet counsel when things are bad, not when things are good.

Many clients and witnesses find it incredibly difficult attending court. If they have any stress related problems before a court appearance is necessary, that problem is compounded by the court process. I haven’t seen a really simple guide to the practicalities of attending court for anyone who might be anxious. Perhaps there is one, and perhaps it has more detail than follows below, but I hope that this simple guide will help you understand what is likely to happen if you have to go to court.

You might have received a “Notice of Hearing” that tells you which court you need to go to and what time the hearing starts. It is always a good idea to aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before the time on the Notice of Hearing. However, it is important to understand that the hearing time isn’t always the time that your case will actually be called in to court. There might be lots of other cases listed in the same courtroom and yours might not be called on first which means you might have to wait at court for quite a while before you see the Judge.

Find out what time the building opens. ARRIVE EARLY! Many venues allow you in before the hearings begin. Sometimes there are food and drink facilities in the building.

The Security staff are a wealth of information. Once you have been through security checks (it is often best to put everything you have into your bag, and hand that over for inspection) tell them what type of case you have (e.g. family, civil, probate, etc.) and ask whereabouts you should go. If you have a drink with you, you may be asked to take a sip of it.

Somewhere on the wall there should be a court list, setting out the name of the Judge, and which courtroom he or she is in together with the list of the cases they are going to be dealing with. Check your case number (from any of the official documents you have been sent) or the name of your case against the list to make sure you are in the right place. Sometimes a city may have two court buildings, and it is not unknown for someone to attend the wrong one.

Look for the usher. Somewhere there will be an usher’s desk, with someone checking people in. There is often a queue! Tell the usher who you are, which case you are involved with, and that you would like to check in. If you need to go elsewhere, the usher can direct you. Ask if the usher knows where you are in the list (first case, somewhere in the middle, last case) so that you know whether you have time to get a coffee, pop to the toilet, or make any calls you need to make.

Try to keep hydrated throughout the day and bring a snack to keep your energy levels up. You are not allowed to eat or drink in court (water will be available in the court room) and may be asked to leave your bottle outside.

Once you are checked in, you will probably be asked to take a seat in the waiting area. You are probably already in the waiting area, so the seats will be nearby.

It is likely that the other side/ other parties/ other witnesses in your case will be waiting nearby.y not to sit directly opposite them, or right next to them, as this is unlikely to make the experience easier for anyone.

If you are represented, your barrister will check in, and will see that you have already arrived and come and find you. They might call your name out or the usher might point out where you are sitting. If your barrister has arrived before you, they will check with the usher from time to time to see whether you have checked in.

Although all courts have conference rooms, there are never enough. It is possible you may have to have conversations in the waiting area. If you are not represented, the other side’s barrister, or someone from the other side, may approach you to speak. There is nothing wrong with speaking to the other side or their barrister. Remember though that you are in the court and it is important to keep control and not lose your temper. Court is a pressured environment, and even the calmest individual can become agitated. I cannot count the number of people who, having never been to court, assure me that they “will be fine”, only to lose their temper on the day.

Remember that the other side’s barrister is a professional person. They are expected to be courteous to you, but they do not have to agree with you. They cannot give you advice. You should be courteous to them. After all, they are only doing their job.

In court, the Claimant/ Applicant tends to speak first. If the Claimant/ Applicant is unrepresented but the Defendant/ Respondent does have a barrister, the court may want to hear from that barrister first.

Allow the other side to address the court without interruption. You/ your barrister should be extended the same courtesy.

Always remember that court hearings are recorded. Do not say or do anything in court that you would not want to be available digitally forever.

Remember that the Judge is impartial and will want to hear both sides before making a decision. Always be polite to the Judge: you can disagree with them but if you are rude then you won’t help your case.

At the conclusion of the hearing, there will be a court order. This is a document that sets out what the court decided, and what is going to happen next. You may not have a physical copy of the order, but you should make sure you have a detailed note of what the order is to include (what needs to happen, important dates, who is to pay for anything, future hearings etc.)

Always make sure the court and the other side have your contact details. If anything is sent to a previous address and you have failed to keep the court/ the other side informed of your contact details, the case may move on regardless, but you will not know about it.

Court proceedings are by their very nature a difficult occasion. If you need any assistance with court proceedings, whether currently happening, or in the future, please contact clerks@becket-chambers.co.uk.