How Should I Behave In Court In Australia?
Going to court can be daunting. Having an idea of what to expect will ensure that you
are prepared and know how to behave appropriately. Courts are formal places and certain rules
of etiquette apply to anyone who enters as is the case in any other formal setting such
as workplaces and educational facilities. You are expected to be respectful and you
must behave appropriately at all times. You may be asked by the magistrate or judge to
leave the court if you dress or behave inappropriately. If your behaviour disrupts proceedings, you
could also be fined or sent to jail. When going to court, make sure you are punctual
and arrive before the scheduled time. You can find the correct courtroom by reading
the notice boards and television screens at the courthouse or by asking someone at the
registry counter. These are usually located in the court’s foyer.
If your matter is being heard in a Magistrates or Local Court, wait outside the courtroom
until you are called. In the District or County Court, the bailiff will be able to tell you
when your case will be heard. If you are going to the Supreme Court, you should wait inside
the courtroom. Check with the bailiff to find out when your case is due to start.
If you are being held in custody, corrections officers or police will make sure you are
brought to the correct court at the appropriate time. They will show you where to sit.
As you enter the courtroom, stand at the doorway and bow your head to the Coat of Arms behind
the judge or magistrate as a sign of respect before finding your seat.
Courts are busy places so even once you have entered the courtroom you may have to wait
for a time until your matter is called. In this case, you should wait in the public seating
area in the back until the court is ready to hear your case.
When the court is ready for you, go to the centre table in the front of the courtroom.
If you are represented, your lawyer will show you where to sit. You may represent yourself
at court, but it is always advisable to seek legal advice first. Where you do not have
a lawyer, if you are bringing the matter to court, you should sit on the right side of
the table as you face the judge or magistrate. If you are the defending the matter, you should
sit on the left side of the table. The general rules of court etiquette apply
throughout a court proceeding to everyone in the courtroom. Make sure you:
turn your mobile phone off – don’t just switch it to silent
turn off any alarms on your watch or on any pagers you have
do not talk unless called upon to speak by the judge or magistrate
do not eat, drink or chew gum do not smoke
do not record or publish any of the proceedings. This includes posting to social media.
The magistrate or judge is the ‘boss’ of the courtroom. They sit at the front facing
everyone else. Every person in the courtroom must behave respectfully towards the magistrate
or judge by: calling the magistrate or judge ‘Your
Honour’ bowing their head to the magistrate or
judge when entering or exiting the courtroom standing and keeping quiet whenever the
magistrate or judge enters or exits the courtroom standing whenever the magistrate or judge
addresses them listening to and following any instructions
given by the judge or magistrate. To show your respect in a courtroom, you will
need to dress in a tidy, modest, and smart manner. Conservative colours are best. Dress
attire that may be suitable includes: a suit (though this is not essential)
a collared button up shirt (make sure it is buttoned to an appropriate level)
pants or a skirt at or below knee level clean closed in shoes.
If you are representing yourself, it is recommended that you wear a jacket.
Dress attire that is not suitable includes: singlets
strapless or see-through tops clothing with obscene, offensive, or disrespectful
slogans or graphics jeans
thongs short shorts
mini skirts sunglasses
hats or caps. If you are dressed unsuitably, the judge or
magistrate may reprimand you or ask you to leave.
There is no specific legislation which prevents you from wearing forms of religious dress
such as turbans, skullcaps, and burqas, in the courtroom. However, some states now have
legislation requiring you to remove head-coverings if asked by police for identification purposes.
Refusal to do so can result in a fine or imprisonment. Generally, the police will ensure that only
female officers are present, and that it is only for a short period of time.
Court etiquette in Queensland requires that, when leaving the courtroom, you again bow
your head to the Coat of Arms behind the judge or magistrate as a sign of respect.
If you are unclear about court etiquette in Australia, court staff will be able to assist.
However, keep in mind that they are generally very busy, so it might be best to seek your
information from organisations such as the Court Network.
If you have a legal question, you should seek advice from a lawyer as soon as you can.
Alternatively, the courts in each state and territory have a dedicated website which contains
useful information about the Magistrates or Local Court, the District or County Court,
and the Supreme Court, including details regarding court etiquette.
You can also familiarise yourself with court etiquette and procedures by going to court
and observing a proceeding before the commencement of your own. When doing so, sit in the public
seating area in the back. You can find information about which matters
are to be heard that day on the daily law lists page of the courts’ websites. Not
all cases are open to the public – you should check with the registry staff or the bailiff
to make sure you can observe the proceedings. What to do next
If you or someone you know has to go to court, it is important to obtain legal advice quickly.
Go To Court Lawyers operate a Legal Hotline on 1300 636 846 where you can talk directly
to a lawyer 7am – midnight, 7 days/week. Your call will be treated with the strictest confidentiality
and without judgement. The lawyer will assess your matter and recommend
a course of action. Should you need a Court lawyer, even if it
is at very short notice, the Legal Hotline staff will be able to arrange legal representation
for you. You can also request a call back via the website and a lawyer
will call you back to assess your matter.