How you behave
How you behave and act at court is going to make a difference. Your attitude and appearance can and may well affect the outcome of your case. If you appear unkempt, unruly and with no apparent respect for the judge and the court you can hardly expect them to look favourably upon you. Much is common sense but there are some general rules which you should always bear in mind.
Below are some actionable steps to keep in mind so you avoid negative court etiquette.
1. Arrive early and well prepared. The waiting area at court is not the best place to prepare for the hearing. Being late could result in your case being adjourned or set down the list. You will miss out on a last chance to reach an agreement with your opponent who may well be wishing to make a last minute offer.
2. Wear smart business clothes. Be clean and well groomed. No jeans, T-shirts, wild hairstyles or uncovered tattoos. Always wear a jacket and keep to conservative colours.
3. Make your presence known to an usher and then sit quietly until your case is called.
4. No eating or chewing gum.
5. Switch off your mobile phone before you enter the court room.
6. Enter the court as and when directed. If the judge is present, stop before you sit down, bow, and then sit as directed. If the judge is not present, sit where the court clerk directs and stand when the judge enters (and leaves) the court. Keep conversation quiet and at a minimum whilst you are waiting. Sit up straight and keep a good posture.
7. Address a District Judge as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. County Court and other judges should be addressed as ‘Your Honour’
8. Speak only when asked to do so or given permission. Under no circumstances should you interrupt anyone who is speaking – especially the judge. Only one person should ever speak at one time as this can confuse the court recording system of the hearing.
9. When speaking use formal English and avoid slang or colloquialisms.
10. Address what you say to the judge. He or she is the focal point of the court. Maintain eye contact but do not stare.
11. Speak slowly and clearly. Take your time and keep your voice up so you are clearly understood.
12. Do not read from a prepared speech. You may well have prepared notes of what you wish to say which you should have before you, but your presentation should flow naturally. Much as if you were explaining to a friend or colleague.
13. Try to relax and engage the judge naturally in what you are saying. Look upon it not as a debate on issues but as a conversation in which you explaining what has happened.
14. Keep what you say to the facts which you know and can prove. Do not exagerate or raise assumptions. You want the judge to trust and accept what you say.
15. Stop speaking immediately should the judge ask you a question. Never interrupt the judge and wait until he or she has finished speaking before responding.
16. Answer the judge’s question with a short opening sentence or just yes or no. Having done so you can then expand upon it.
17. Never argue with the judge or show any frustration with what is said or asked. This includes acts such as shaking your head, sighing or any show of disrespect.
18. Look upon the judge’s questions and reactions as signposts to the way they are thinking and deal appropriately. You may well be able to pick up on the judge’s concerns over your case and deal with them. Never attempt to avoid answering a question.
19. Avoid overusing hand gestures. Do not fidget or put your hands in your pockets or act in any way that the judge could find annoying such as moving backwards and forwards and swaying.
20. Never ever point at the judge.
21. Speak directly and as if what you are saying is a fact. Do not use ‘I believe’ or ‘I think’ but put everything you say as being certain, proven and not based on opinion.
22. Cut out as much as you can any ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and repeated ‘filler’ words.
23. Never include ‘respectfully’ when asking a question. It usually means the opposite.
24. Sarcasm has no place in the court room and humour is a risky tactic best avoided.
25. Be professional and respectful in attacking your opponent’s argument.
Success when dealing with the court is to be yourself, to be natural but always proper. If you are calm and confident but never aggressive, you will find favour with the judge, and complying with court etiquette can only enhance your chances of success.