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Appearing in court, whether you are representing yourself or appearing on behalf of your business, can be extremely nerve-wracking. Courts can be intimidating and formal places, and it is not always clear what you should do to prepare or how you should act on the day. 

This article will set out some things to think about when you appear in court. This includes:

  • what to remember when you are preparing to appear in court; 
  • how to appear in court on the day; and 
  • how to interact with judges and the jury if there is one. 

These are general principles and tips that should be able to apply no matter what the case or issue is.

Preparing to Appear in Court

When preparing to appear in court, the first thing to think about is the nature of your issue, case or claim. Try to understand the detail and do any research you need to do on the context of your case so you can speak to it in court. If you are unclear about your appearance’s specifics, get in touch with the court support staff to ask for assistance as soon as possible. 

On a practical basis, when appearing in court, remember to take everything that you might need on the day. This includes: 

  • any relevant documents; 
  • a pen and notepad so you can take notes throughout the day; and
  • any letters or emails from the court. If you have witness statements or the like, do not forget those either. 

Support Person

You may wish to consider organising for a support person to join you in court on the day of your appearance. Their role is to keep you calm and offer any assistance (such as note-taking) that you might want. This kind of support person is often called a ‘McKenzie Friend’ in court. You need to get permission for a support person to join you. However, in most cases, the court will allow anyone to sit with you. They cannot speak for you in court and cannot address the judge (or jury), but they can quietly offer you help or advice throughout the day.

How to Appear on the Day

You do not need to worry about needing to buy a suit or a fancy dress just to appear in court. There are no specific requirements about how to appear when you are appearing in court. The only guideline is to dress in a smart or tidy outfit. When in doubt, err on the side of formality and wear something more formal.

A great start to your appearance in court is arriving early. This means you will not be rushed when you arrive. Further, you will have time to work out where you need to be. Courts can be quite confusing places with lots of different rooms and spaces. When you arrive at court, check the daily list to see which courtroom your hearing is in.  Usually, this list is visible as soon as you walk through the main courthouse doors. Ask reception if you cannot find the list. Alternatively, the Courts of New Zealand website has the daily hearing lists, so you can check the details there as well.

When actually appearing in court, do not worry about needing to sound ‘legal’ or like a lawyer. You are not expected to know legal terminology. Instead, speak to your experience and understanding of the issues. When speaking, try to remember to be as clear as possible.

It is usually best to speak slowly, loudly, and clearly so that everyone can hear you. Avoid using swear words or offensive language, and avoid slang if you can help it.

Interacting With the Judge and Jury

It can be intimidating to interact with the judge and jury (if there is one), but a few fundamental principles of formality can help alleviate any nerves on the day: 

  • you must stand whenever the judge enters or leaves the courtroom;
  • when you speak to them, you should address a judge as ‘Your Honour’; 
  • you should stand up when addressing them (or when they are talking to you or asking you a question); 
  • when a judge is speaking, you should not interrupt; and 
  • you should write down any instructions they give you.

There are some principles of formality for jury members, too:

  • you should stand to show respect for the jury members when they enter or leave the courtroom; and
  • if you refer to them while appearing, refer to the jury as ‘the jury’ or, when addressing them directly, as ‘members of the jury’.

Key Takeaways

Some good preparation and understanding of how a court operates can go a long way to making sure your appearance in court is less stressful and a success. Remember to:

  • ensure that you understand the topic and context in advance of what you are appearing about;
  • consider bringing a support person if you need one; 
  • try to show up to court early; and 
  • always err on the side of formality when interacting with judges and jury members.

If you want to know more about how to appear in court, contact LegalVision’s disputes and litigation lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should you prepare to appear in court?

Understanding the detail or context of the issue you are appearing about is the best way to prepare for court. Ensure that you have all the documents that you might need, and ask the court support staff in advance if you have any questions. You can also think about bringing a support person if you would like.

Should you stand when a judge enters a courtroom?

Yes, you should stand when a judge enters a courtroom and when they leave. You should also stand when speaking to a judge or when they are asking you a question.

What should you wear when appearing in court?

There are no specific requirements. However, you should wear something formal if possible or at least tidy. 

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