A Six-Point Guide to Appearing in Court

23 June 2016

Uncategorized , Commentary

Courts are inherently adversarial places where strong emotions mix with often complicated facts – so when it’s your livelihood, business or lifestyle on the line, it can also be quite a stressful environment.

Grimshaw & Co lawyers are well-versed in representing clients from all walks of life at all levels of New Zealand’s court system – from homeowners with leaky building claims and contractors in commercial cases and construction disputes, through to large corporate clients.

We understand that finding a solution without having to head to court may well be the best course of action, but we also have an extremely strong team of experienced court advocates who will ensure you are well-served in the courtroom.

Our experienced advocates will always explain every step of the process both before and during any case appearing in court so you can be confident that you will understand what is happening at all times and your own role in proceedings.

Every civil case will have its own specific routine – and you may or may not be required to address the court, but to help you prepare for going to court here’s our six-point guide.

1. Keep in touch with your lawyer: You are likely to be questioned by lawyers from either side of the dispute so you will certainly go through your evidence before you go to court. But because of the long times between cases heading to court and the case actually being heard it’s important to think through and prepare your version of what happened, who was involved, and, most importantly, how the events affected you and how you felt.

2. Make a good first impression: It might seem an obvious point but judges take a dim view of those not dressed neatly, those who turn up late, those whose mobile phones go off, or those who are talking to their neighbour and fail to stand up when the judge enters the court. It’s also good to know some of the basic etiquette surrounding court procedure: for example, in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court, judges are referred to as Justice (surname) while judges in the district courts are Judge (surname). You can address them as “your honour” or “sir” or “ma’am”.

3. Address the court calmly, confidently and honestly: The most important aspect of addressing the court is making sure you are understood. If this means asking someone to repeat the question, then do so; if it means asking for a glass of water, ask for it. In most civil cases, you will read your evidence from a sworn statement – don’t rush it (just because you know what is written down, doesn’t mean the judge has the full picture). And you may well be cross-examined after giving your evidence – do so calmly and tell the truth. Don’t joke, swear, guess at answers or get angry. If you do feel upset ask the judge for a short break.

4. Regard the judge as all-seeing and all-powerful: If you are going to be present in the courtroom for long periods of the case, the judge is going to get to know you fairly well and will base some of their impressions on you from the way you act. Any gestures, side-remarks, outbursts or eye-rolls will not help your case.

5. Don’t interrupt or be discourteous: Although the courtroom can be a confrontational place, being rude, aggressive or condescending to any party or parties on the opposing side is not going to help your case. You are likely to hear things said that you simply don’t agree with – even things which strike hard against your own character, but you should never interrupt court proceedings. If you want to make a contribution, write a note and give it to your lawyer.

6. Be patient: Your lawyer should be able to give you a good timeframe for your case – but, just as the buildup to most civil cases can be quite lengthy, so the result isn’t always delivered straight away. In some complicated cases a judge may well adjourn and deliver a verdict at a later date so it’s important, once again, to keep in touch with your lawyer so that they can guide you through the process.

Grimshaw & Co has offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and specialises in leaky buildings, earthquake claims, insurance law, construction disputes, employment law, commercial litigation, body corporate law and professional negligence. For more information or advice about our range of expertise, contact us on (09) 377 3300 or email us via the website.