The prospect of appearing in or even simply attending Court proceedings will fill most people with a sense of dread. There are a great number of unknowns and a Courtroom is not known as being an inviting or friendly environment.
However, a Courtroom is certainly a safe environment and while the participants in a Court process may appear to be aloof and unfriendly, in fact these people are well aware of the stress and anxiety that a person may feel when coming to Court and will happily answer questions or provide help.
The Courtroom is used for several types of cases and depending on the nature of the case or what stage it is at in the process, the Courtroom and the people in it can look quite different. For instance, if the Court is set up for a criminal matter there will likely be a jury, a full press box, an accused person near the back of the Court, several lawyers, the Judge, a registrar and members of the New Zealand Police. However, a commercial matter in the early stages of the process will be handled in what is called the commercial list and in that case there is no jury, any police and several matters will be heard one after another involving different lawyers that will come and go as their matters are called.
Accordingly, how to prepare to come to Court will depend on the reason for attendance and the type of case. However, here is a checklist of key things to do in preparation for attending Court as a support person or as a client in a civil (non-criminal) matter:
- If you are the client, travel to court with your lawyer. It is the best way to appear as if you know what you are doing and to avoid becoming lost or anxious. Your lawyer will have been to Court many times before.
- If you are to appear in Court (as a witness for example), prepare and ask questions about when you will be asked to appear and who will speak to you and when.
- Check whether the matter is to be heard in the District Court, High Court or Family Court (or indeed the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court) as these Courts may be in different places.
- Dress tidily. Judges have been known to refuse entry into their Court because of what a person is wearing. Unless you are appearing as a party to the matter, a witness or you are a lawyer, you do not need to wear a suit or equivalent. However, you are expected to dress professionally.
- Turn your mobile phone to silent. Mobile phones may not be used in Court and the Judge will become annoyed if he/she hears a phone ring.
- Do not take photographs.
- Be respectful. The Court is the Judge’s office and like anyone, the Judge will demand respect from people when they are in their office. The Courtroom is a solemn place and loud conversations, rudeness, foul language or poor behaviour will not be tolerated.
- Call the day before to ask any questions about the appearance, the time that the particular matter is to be heard and which Courtroom will be used (there are often several Courtrooms in one place)
- Be prepared to wait or stay for longer than you may have planned. The process of administering justice is not straight forward and hiccups do occur. So, bring a book.