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Court Etiquette

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In a courtroom a certain standard of conduct is maintained 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. In a criminal matter, after the court clerk calls the case number and the name of the matter, the Court Crier (a police officer), echoes the call so that the accused would take his or her place in the dock. The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) addresses the judge and informs him that he represents the Crown and must also give the name of his assistant, if one accompanies 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 a 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 stands up to speak.

It is not necessary for lawyers to be hostile to one another. Some clients are impressed when their lawyers shout and gesticulate in court. It is not necessary for a lawyer to put on a performance in court; all that is required is to put forward sound legal arguments in relation to the case at hand. A lawyer can present in a robust manner without being intimidating and hostile. Some clients wrongfully conclude that there is a sell out between lawyers whenever there is polite conversation between them, but lawyers must, at times, confer with the other in the interest of the client.

Lawyers, as a matter of courtroom courtesy, address the other counsel as “My friend” or “My learned friend”. They are learned in the law and this is a way of showing respect to one another. The polite approach does not mean that they are not pursuing 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 could rebuke them.

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

Even though counsel is questioning a witness, 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 for a witness to become angry during intense cross-examination by the lawyer on the other side. If a witness becomes distressed it could affect his ability to testify. A witness must be truthful at all times, as he is sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If he is not truthful, he could be guilty of perjury (lying under oath). 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 who could be addressed as “Mister Bailiff.”

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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