Published: 02 August 2018
Author: Kellie Knowles
Top tips for preparing for court
If your case is going to court, here are some tips on how to prepare and what to expect.
1. Clear the diary. Don’t plan to do anything else on the day of the hearing. Your case may start in the morning or the afternoon, depending on when the judge finishes hearing other cases.
2. Get a good night’s sleep. If you can get a good night's sleep beforehand, do so. You will make much better decisions and be able to nthink more clearly if you are well rested.
3. Bring a support person. A familiar face can be a huge help. Bring a family member or a friend along for support to your hearing. Your lawyer won’t always be able to chat with you, as they will be busy with the case. A book or sudoku can be a good distraction if there is a delay in starting.
4. What (not) to wear. Courts are serious places. No loud hats (I once saw a man wear a straw party hat into court), tuxedos, crop tops, thongs, or slogan T-Shirts. For blokes, a collared shirt, jacket and a pair of pants, not shorts, will make a good impression. Female lawyers usually wear jackets in court. This works well for female witnesses too.
5. Leave home early. Going to court is like going to the airport. Leave plenty of time to get there and get through security. Most courts have a weapons detection system near the entrance. Prohibited items are things like metal nail files, knitting needles and cutlery. Glass and ceramic items will also be confiscated. Check out parking options prior if you are driving.
6. View the courtroom. Seeing the courtroom before your case begins can help ease nerves. Your lawyer can show you around. Be sure to check out the witness box, as this is where you will be called to give evidence. You can also check out the court ahead of your hearing date. Courtrooms are generally open to the public.
7. Turn your phone off. Or make sure it’s on silent. You don’t want your phone going off in court, no matter how good your ringtone. This will annoy the judge and rightly so. Don’t use your phone in the courtroom.
8. Respect court etiquette. When the judge is ready to come on the bench, court staff will ask you to stand. Don’t sit down until directed to do so. It is custom to stand and bow when the judge enters and leaves the courtroom. You should also bow to the judge anytime you enter or leave the courtroom while the judge is on the bench. If you happen to walk into a courtroom while a witness is giving an oath or affirmation, stop and wait until they are finished before taking a seat.
9. Know where to sit. The plaintiff sits in the front row of the gallery behind their lawyer and barrister. This is helpful if your barrister or lawyer needs to ask you questions.
10. Giving evidence. The plaintiff is usually the first witness to give evidence. You will be asked whether you wish to swear an oath on the bible or other religious text or make an affirmation. Either way, you are making a promise to tell the truth. You don’t have to hold the religious text if swearing an oath for it to be valid.
Your barrister will then “examine you” by asking questions about your case. The judge may also ask questions. You should address the judge as “Your Honour”. This applies to any court. If you are at VCAT, before a Member, use “Sir” or “Madam”. The Victorian Law Foundation has a handy resource called 'What do I call the judge?'
The defence barrister also gets to ask questions by cross-examination. It is the stuff of famous movie scenes. Keep your cool and no Jack Nicholson moments like “You can’t handle the truth” in the movie 'A Few Good Men'. If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated. It’s also okay to be nervous. It’s expected.
You won’t be able to speak to your barrister or lawyer while you are being cross-examined, but your barrister will have an opportunity to “re-examine” you afterwards and can ask some more questions, if necessary.
The judge will let you know when you can be excused from the witness box.