Getting to court
Find out where the court is and plan to travel there so that you arrive in good time. Don’t wait until the morning of your hearing to find out that the bus services are not running as usual, try and plan your journey and factor in any possible delays.
Dressing for court
If you have some smart clothes, like a suit or a blazer style jacket you can make sure that these are clean and ironed the night before so that you feel less anxious attending court. Try to present yourself in the best way possible and avoid leaving things to the last minute so that you don’t feel stressed or rushed. It’s helpful to feel comfortable in what you are wearing.
Arriving at court – what to expect
Arrive at least 30 minutes early and let the usher know when you arrive.
All courts have security staff and you will have to pass through security on your way in to the court building. This is nothing to worry about. They will check your bags and scan you for any weapons. If you are carrying a drink, they may ask you to drink from it, a bit like airport security.
Switch off your mobile phone before entering the Court. Ask the Usher if you have any questions. Let court staff know if you need to nip to the loo or to get some fresh air.
Being polite goes a long way, courts can be very busy places that are difficult to manage and organise, court staff are usually very happy to help if they can.
Don’t bring children with you to Court, unless you have been told specifically to do so. Hearings can go on for longer than planned; make arrangements for children to be cared for safely with plenty of time either side of your hearing.
Preparing for court
If you have a solicitor, it is likely that you will have spent time together discuss the points that you wish to make in court and the paperwork to support these. If you are representing yourself, here are some tips to help you prepare.
Be prepared, as this will help you to remain calm and explain yourself better. Plan to make key points and try to keep them focused on what is best for your child and for your safety. Arrange your paperwork in folders so that it is easy to find information that you plan to refer to. The last thing you want is to be rustling crumpled papers in the bottom of your bag as this will make you feel flustered.
Practice what you want to say and bring a paper and pen so that you can make notes. A McKenzie Friend may be able to help with this too.
Watch this video about representing yourself in court.
Speaking in court
It can be nerve wracking speaking in court. The Judge will want to hear from you and will listen carefully to what you have to say. It can really help to practise what you are going to say so that it is easier to make your point rather than talking about things that aren’t so important for the case. The Judge may stop you and refocus you if you talk about things that they don’t think are relevant. Try to be patient and calm.
Here are some tips for speaking in court:
- It is best to refer to a Judge as ‘Your Honour’, ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.
- Try to remain calm, speak clearly
- Speak in the way you would normally, slowly and clearly.Put your points to the judge rather than to the other party.
- It’s best not to try to use legal jargon or language that is not familiar as this may confuse your points.
- Try to answer the questions as clearly and quickly as you can, stick to the point and stay focused on what is best for your child and your safety.
- If you do not understand a question or a point you can ask for it to be explained again.
- There may be periods of silence while notes are taken, and people gather their thoughts.
- Allow time for the judge to write their notes.
- If you want to speak, raise your hand, don’t interrupt.
Someone with you in court
If you do not have a Solicitor, you may be allowed to have someone to help you in court by taking notes and giving advice, but they cannot:
- speak for you
- interfere with proceedings
- sign documents on your behalf
This person is known as a ‘McKenzie friend’.
The judge will decide whether you can have a McKenzie friend with you in court.
You can still get legal advice to help you with your case, even if you choose to represent yourself in court.