At some stage during your civil dispute, you may have to attend a hearing at a county court.
Here are six areas to be aware of when you attend court for the first time.
1) When should you attend court?
The court will write to you detailing the date, time, court and court address.
The number of times you will have to attend court will vary, depending on the complexity of your case.
When you receive your court dates, if for any reason you can not attend, let the court know as soon as possible, to reduce the amount of time you have to wait for a new court date.
2) What happens when you arrive at the court?
When you arrive at the court, you will have to go through security checks, like the ones used at airports.
The checks will involve security staff looking inside your bags and scanning you using a metal detector. Some courts have a scanning doorway that they will ask you to walk through.
Security checks are standard practice and everyone, including your legal representative or McKenzie Friend, will be checked every time they enter the court building.
Once inside the building, go to the information or usher’s desk to let them know you have arrived and to find out where your case will be heard.
You can also check the court boards to view the hearings listings. Look for your name on the list.
Within each court there are numbered courtrooms where a judge sits, and cases are allocated to each individual courtroom.
If your surname is Smith and you are taking A. Another Company Ltd to court, your case will be listed as Smith v A. Another Company Ltd. If it is the company that is taking you to court, the name order will be in reverse: A. Another Company Ltd v Smith.
You should also find out where your courtroom is located. It may be on the ground floor, upstairs or in a separate building. Once you have found it, wait in the waiting area near to that courtroom.
The court usher will call out your name when it is your turn. If you are waiting in the wrong place, you may not hear your name being called and you could miss your slot.
3) Court hearing dates and times
It is the day of your hearing. You are at the right county court, and you have arrived with plenty of time to spare before your hearing start time of 10am.
You are near the courtroom where your hearing will take place and you know that at least some parts of your dispute will be dealt with.
Courts are busy places and there many cases are scheduled to be heard. Court hearings are expensive to run, and each courtroom is often used to (beyond) its maximum capacity.
Although your hearing may be listed for 10am, look more closely at the court listings for your courtroom and you may notice that as well as your hearing at 10am, there may also be one or more others booked into that same slot.
Your case may be the first of the 10am cases to be chosen but if it is not, you may have to wait until the earlier case has finished before your case can be heard.
If your hearing is later in the day, your case may not be heard because an earlier case has overrun and there is no time left that day.
If your hearing can not be heard on the day, the court will agree a new hearing date with you and the other party.
4) Will the judge know all about your case?
I would say, assume not.
A judge will often hear one case after another, with little or no time between each one.
Given the volume of paperwork that can be generated, in even the most ‘straightforward’ civil dispute, don’t expect (or assume) that the judge has had the time to read, absorb or remember every single detail in your documentation.
Assume the judge has not read any of your documents. And if you mention anything that the judge already knows about, he or she will let you know.
As an extra safeguard, take two extra copies of all your documents with you, as well as a copy for yourself.
Paperwork can go missing, which means the judge may not have received all the documents that have posted or hand delivered to the court.
5) Can you go to court without a solicitor?
Yes, you can.
As the cost of legal fees remains high and sources of help (such as legal aid) evaporate, there is a growing number of people who represent themselves in court, and you can too.
Those who go to court without a legal representative, such as a solicitor or barrister are known as litigants in person (LiPs) or self-represented litigants.
Judges are becoming used to dealing with LiPs during hearings and, in my experience, if you are a LiP, judges are likely to help as much as possible by explaining what is happening and what a ruling means, if time allows.
6) What happens during and after the hearing?
When the judge is ready to hear your case, the court usher will call you by name. You and the other party (A. Another Company Ltd) will follow the usher into the courtroom, through the same door.
There is no jury in a civil hearing. Only you, the other side, the judge plus any legal representatives or McKenzie Friends will be in the courtroom.
There will be one or more long tables with a long bench to sit on. You will sit at one end of that bench and the other party will sit at the other end of the bench. If you have a solicitor or McKenzie Friend, they will sit next to you.
You will all face the judge who will be seated at a large desk on a raised platform at the front of the courtroom.
The judge will ask you and the other party questions and you must respond to the judge direct.
If you have a solicitor with you, the judge will tend to address your solicitor rather than you. If you have a McKenzie Friend with you, the judge will speak to you. In some circumstances, the judge will give your McKenzie Friend permission to speak on your behalf.
After the judge has finished asking all of his or her questions, and heard both sides, he or she may have a break (adjourn) for a time (if needed) and then return to deliver a ruling.
During a judge’s ruling (which is recorded), no-one else is allowed to speak or interrupt.
If further court appearances are required, the judge will say so and may ask both parties to agree on the date of the next hearing there and then.
After the ruling has been given, you must all leave the courtroom through the same door.
A typed version of the ruling, including details of any orders issued by the judge, is given to both parties on the day or sent by post by the court. The dates of any further hearings or instructions will included.
Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas
Portrait by: Antonia Kavaš