Going to court can be a daunting process, and you’ll naturally feel nervous about it. However, with the right preparation you can help to ensure your court day goes as smoothly as possible.
Being calm and collected may also help you achieve a better outcome if on trial with juries always watching how you behave. Here are some top tips on how to conduct yourself in court.
Follow the unwritten rules of the court
There are several conventions in court that, if broken, can be anywhere from counterproductive to very serious. Ensure you only speak when spoken to. If you are appearing self-represented without a lawyer do not interrupt someone unless it is to call a formal objection to something a lawyer or witness has said. If represented always let your criminal lawyer do the talking, as they’ll be well versed in the rules of the court.
If asked a question is asked of you directly by the Magistrate or Judge refer to them as Your Honour. If ever needing to refer to anyone else be sure to use their title and surname. Make sure you stand both when you’re talking and when being spoken to.
It’s important to be on time to your court case or there may be serious consequences.
It’s important that you arrive early for your court mention or hearing. This isn’t like being late to work or school – the court has a busy schedule to keep, and if you are late a warrant may be issued for your arrest or your case may be heard without you. Contact the court if you are going to have any issues attending, or if you believe you will be at risk by turning up in person. Map out your route on the day before your court date. This isn’t something you want to risk. Even if the court does wait for you, it can be a terrible look if a jury is involved.
Remember to be polite and courteous at all times. Say please and thank you when addressing the court staff – they will try and help you in any way they can, but are not able to give you legal advice or any recommendations on what to do. If the court staff ask you for anything, do your utmost to comply as quickly as possible. It almost goes without saying but if you are represented only ever ask your lawyer for legal advice or other issues about your court matter.
Avoid unfavourable remarks about people – it can be extremely frustrating to face someone who’s brought a case against you in court, but it won’t help you at all if you let this frustration influence the way you conduct yourself. Don’t raise your voice or point at anyone, and make no gestures when you leave the podium.
Ensure you dress appropriately. There aren’t any defined rules about what you should wear at court, but your appearance is inevitably going to influence how the magistrate, judge or jury sees you. This means it’s important to dress conservatively. If you’re a man, wear a suit (you can always borrow one from a friend or go to an op shop if you don’t own one- and make sure it actually fits!) or if that is a stretch dress smart casual. If you’re a woman, wear suit trousers or a plain dress. Try not to wear too many bright colours.
Switch off your mobile phone and leave it outside, and don’t eat or drink anything in court except the water given to you by court staff.
It’s important that, if you have any friends or family attending the court with you, they are well versed in all of these rules as well, to give you the best chance of a favourable outcome.
Ben Aulich is a partner at Aulich