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Court etiquette


In a courtroom a certain standard of conduct is required so that justice is administered in an atmosphere that is open and fair.You would notice that the lawyers are very polite to one another and matters are conducted in an orderly manner in the courtroom. There is no doubt as to who conducts the case on both sides. In a criminal matter, after the court clerk calls the case number and the name of the accused, the crier echoes the call so that the accused would take his or her place in the dock.{{more}} The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) addresses the judge and informs him that he represents the Crown and gives the name of his assistant, if he has one with him. The lawyer for the accused also informs the court that he/she is representing the accused. In a civil matter the leading lawyer on each side informs the court in the similar manner.

It is not good manners for two persons to be on the floor at the same time, just as it is not good manners for two persons to be speaking at the same time; so the lawyer on his feet must give way to the lawyer on the other side when he rises to speak.

It is not necessary for lawyers to be hostile to one another. Some clients are not satisfied if their lawyer does not shout and gesticulate in court. It is not necessary for a lawyer to put on a performance in court; all that is necessary is to put forward sound legal arguments in relation to the case in hand. Some clients often wrongfully conclude that there is a sell-out between the lawyer whenever there is polite conversation between lawyer, but a lawyers must at times confer with the other in the interest of the client. Lawyers, as a matter of courtroom courtesy, address the other as “My friend” or “My learned Friend” when addressing counsel. They are learned in the law and it is a way of showing respect. The polite approach does not mean that they do not pursue their client’s case vigorously and fairly.

Lawyers also speak in a particular way when they address the court and you may often hear: “May it please the court” or “Your Honour, the court’s attention is invited” on this matter.

The lawyers are officers of the court and they are required to set a standard so that matters could be conducted in an atmosphere of fairness and respect for all. If they behave inappropriately the judge would rebuke them.

It is also the duty of all others in court, including witnesses, to comply with certain unwritten rules of decorum (good behaviour). Witnesses are judged not only by what they say, but also by their demeanour (behaviour).

Even though he is being questioned by counsel, he she must answer to the judge. So his/her eyes must focus on the judge. He or she must stand or sit upright and must answer questions clearly so that the judge and the jury could hear.

There is no need to become angry during intense cross-examination by the lawyer on the other side. If a witness becomes agitated it could affect his evidence adversely. A witness must be truthful at all times as he is sworn to tell the truth. If he does not, he could be guilty of perjury. If he has forgotten his evidence, he could ask to refresh his memory. A witness must be polite to all court staff, including the bailiff. A bailiff could be addressed as “Mister Bailiff.”


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

E-mail address is: [email protected]