Court etiquette: What to do, and not to do in Court

Whether you’re in the physical courtroom or appearing in an online Court, good manners, presentation, tone of voice, and proper courtroom etiquette is essential for making a good first impression.

By Courtney Mullen, Head of Family Law at Australian Family Lawyers, Canberra, ACT.

In a recent decision of Fowles & Fowles [2021] FamCA 368 (9 June 2021), we read of a display of ‘what not to do’ in Court. 

Judge Bennet was hearing an oral application from the Husband in this case to recuse herself. This was on the basis that he thought she was biased against him – based on constraints on his liberty, the length of cross-examination and Her Honour’s intervention in that cross-examination.

It is a good reminder that just because you might appear in Court remotely from your lounge room, the same formalities and etiquettes still apply.

The Husband, in this case, gives some good examples of what not to do, including:

  1. He interrupted the affirmation (where he declares her will tell the truth in giving his evidence);
  2. He ate a banana while being cross-examined by the other party’s counsel;
  3. He was reading a newspaper and putting his shoes in front of the camera during the court hearing;
  4. He changed the name on his video conference screen to “Victim” during virtual court hearings;
  5. He repeatedly winked at the counsel for the other party;
  6. He routinely referred to counsel for the other party by his first name rather than as Mr Sheales.

Court etiquette 101

Man in suit and tie sigiing documents adhering to proper court etiquette

My top 10 tips about some basic courtroom etiquette include:

1. Dress like you’re going to a job interview.

While there are no dress codes for attending Court, it is a formal place, and you should dress as seriously as you are taking your application.

2. Preparation

The law requires you to inform the court beforehand if there is an existing or pending family violence order involving yourself and/or your children. Any concerns you have about your safety should be discussed with the Court Registry before your court date to put a safety plan in place (Please call 1300 352 000).

3. Arrive early. 

Be on time so you can be calm and ready for your matter when it is called by the court officer.

4. Children are not permitted in the courtroom

But you can bring a support person with you (provided they are over the age of 18). They will not be permitted to sit at the bar table with you nor speak on your behalf unless they are your lawyer or Mackenzie friend.

5. Recording devices 

These are not permitted in courtrooms without permission from the court officer. If you are unsure what was said in Court, or there is a dispute about what occurred, you can obtain a copy of the transcript of proceedings afterwards.

6. Before entering the courtroom, you should:

  1. Turn off electronic equipment, including mobile phones; and
  2. Remove hats or sunglasses, unless for medical or religious reasons.

7. Do not bring or consume any food or drink in the courtroom.

Seek permission if you require medication that requires eating or chewing.

8. You must stand and then bow each time the Court commences or adjourns. 

The court officer or associate will announce this by saying ‘All rise’ or ‘Please stand’. The requirement to bow as you walk in and out of the courtroom also exists whenever a judicial officer is already on the bench.

9. Be polite to the judicial officer and all court staff

Refer to them appropriately. For example, if they are a Judge or Magistrate, refer to them as ‘Your Honour’.

10. Try your best to answer their questions 

You will have your notes and what you want to convey in Court, but it is important to remember that the judicial officer is responsible for making a decision in your matter, and they may have additional questions for you before reaching a verdict.

We guide many clients through the court process. If you need some help to prepare for your next court event, reach out to a family law expert with a call, or request a callback via the form below.

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