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Practices associated with a court room

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Many of the practices of our court have been inherited from the English Court during the colonial era. For example, there is a mode of dressing and a way of addressing the court that have been in practice for ages.{{more}}

Dress

When one enters the High Court while it is in open session, one would immediately notice that all the court officers (with the exception of the police orderlies) are dressed in flowing black robes. These include the judge on the bench, the lawyers at the bar table, and the bailiffs of the court. The black robes of the judge and the lawyers are only relieved by white bands worn around the neck. The lawyers in St Vincent and the Grenadines are not required to wear the white wigs that are worn by their colleagues in England. Lawyers dress in business suits and carry their robes in a drawstring black or red bag made of fabric and they don their robes in a room which is specially provided for that purpose. Only Queen’s Counsel can wear silk robes. All others must have their robes made of other material such as linen or cotton.

Neither the judge nor the lawyer is required to wear robes in the Judge’s Chambers. They are required to wear business suits. Whereas seniors can wear varying shades of grey and navy blue suits, junior lawyers are expected to wear black suits. It is not uncommon for a judge to refuse to listen to a lawyer who is inappropriately dressed. The court takes on a sombre appearance and there is no doubt that the colour of the officers’ attire adds to this appearance. The layman is reminded of the gravity of the matters with which the court deals.

Litigants, defendants and ordinary members of the public are expected to be neatly dressed, preferably in sober colours. You do not have to wear your Sunday best, but you have to put in a good appearance as a mark of respect for the court. Do not expect to be admitted if you turn up in beach gear. The orderlies at door would not allow you to enter. Hats for women have fallen into disuse. Males are not allowed to wear caps.

Courtroom etiquette

The judge’s appearance in court is announced by the bailiff of the court. Everyone is expected to stand as the bailiff calls out “all rise” The judge enters and bows to all in the court. Everyone is expected to do likewise. This is the way in which the judge greets all in court. He does the same thing when he leaves the courtroom. If the judge is already seated in court, lawyers entering or leaving the court must bow in his direction. This is a way of showing respect to the court without interrupting the proceedings. It is done even though the judge is not looking in the direction of the entrant. Members of the public are not required to bow, but if anyone does so, the judge would not take offence. The same practices are observed in the Magistrate’s Courts.

Addressing the Judge/Magistrate

The judge of the High Court is the “Honourable Mister or Madam….” but in court the lawyers call him “My Lord” or “Your Honour”. The same is used for the Justices of the Appeal Court and the CCJ. A female judge is “My Lady.” Sometimes the lawyers speak so quickly that that you might hear “Melord” or “Melady.” In the Magistrate’s Court the magistrates are addressed as “Your Honour” and in the Family Court the president is addressed as “Madam President”. As a lay person, you can use the same words as the lawyers, but you would not be penalized if you say “Sir” or “Madam”.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: [email protected]

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