If you are like most people, you probably have not spent much time in Court. In fact, you may never have even visited a courthouse.
Being nervous is understandable. To help you put yourself at ease, here are a few tips for what to expect when you enter the courthouse and some of the etiquette rules to keep you onside with the judge and staff.
Preparing for Court
Be sure to dress appropriately. Restrained clothing suitable for a business environment is best for the courtroom, too. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt will not make a good impression.
Allow plenty of time and arrive early. The courthouse has security at the entrance that includes metal detectors and x-ray scanners, like at the airport. Because being on time is very important, be sure to keep these security lines in mind when you are planning your day.
It is worth saying twice: be on time! The court's time is very limited and judges do not like to be left waiting. In family matters, the courtroom is closed while hearings proceed. This means that if you are late and miss your case being called, you will have to wait outside the courtroom until there is a break. The people in the courtroom will not know you are there and the judge may proceed with your case in your absence and render an unfavourable decision. You do not want to be in that position.
If you are having trouble finding your courtroom, or you are not sure where you are supposed to be, just ask any staff member or security guard to direct you to an appropriate kiosk or information counter, where someone will be able to point you in the right direction. There is typically a centrally-located information kiosk in every courthouse with the day’s schedule.
Taking photos or recordings is absolutely forbidden. Along those same lines, turn off your phone when you are in the courtroom. Typically, only counsel, Court staff, and the media may use their phones.
Hats, sunglasses, food, and drink are also against the rules in the courtroom, though although there are medical and religious exemptions, so be sure to act accordingly.
Always be ready to stand up! You must always stand up whenever the judge is coming into the courtroom or leaving the courtroom, even for a break. Also, whenever the judge speaks to you and whenever you have to say anything to the judge (for instance, when you are testifying under oath), you must stand up.
Always remain quiet in the courtroom, unless the judge is speaking to you. Never interrupt someone when they are speaking. If you need to speak with your lawyer, get his or her attention subtly and wait for him/her to give you the go-ahead to speak.
Respect is important in the courtroom. Whenever you address the judge, look at him or her in the eye and speak clearly and politely. Remember, if you are asked a question, answer to the judge (not your attorney) and tell the truth! In the words of Me Goldwater, “If a judge figures out you are lying, you’re finished!”
Always be sure to listen to the instructions of Court staff. They are there to maintain both decorum and security.
After the Hearing
Once your hearing is over, gather your belongings quickly, and quietly exit the Courtroom. This is not the time to chat or to share your reaction with your attorney, especially if you are feeling upset!
This may seem like a lot of information to remember, but it boils down to a fairly simple rule of thumb: be respectful. Follow that rule, and you will help your lawyer present your case in the best possible light.
Photo: Saúl Bucio // Unsplash