An experience that can never be forgotten. It is very fascinating in equal measure.
For anybody who has developed an interest in seeing the law in practice, but has has not attended before it will likely be slightly daunting.
I remember very well thinking that the multitude of formalities felt nothing short of alien.
For example, you may not leave the courtroom when judgment is being handed down.
I have provided below a list of what I consider to be the most important rules to obey while viewing court proceedings.
The list is not intended to be exhaustive.
Please be informed that they all carry equal merit.
1. Dress conservatively
Officially we don’t have any specific dress code for visitors to English courts.
Please bear in mind that an element of discretion should be applied.
It cannot be stressed enough that t-shirts or other items of clothing carrying potentially offensive or inappropriate slogans should be avoided.
The same can be said for shorts or any other material deemed revealing.
On a more serious note, headwear should not be worn unless for religious reasons.
It is very important that you feel comfortable, both literally and in yourself.
Often unpredictable, the length of a sitting ranges from a mere five minutes to an entire day.
This should be factored in when considering what to wear. In my suggestion layers work well.
2. Turn off all electronic devices
Before entering court room, make sure all your electronic devices are turned off.
The Central Criminal Court, or “Old Bailey”, outright bans the use of mobile phones and other electronic equipment.
This is not an uncommon practice applied to members of the public.
It is regarded as an offence to use mobile phones or undertake any recording of court proceedings.
If found guilty of contempt “in the face of” court, the defendant risks either a custodial sentence or fine of varying amounts, depending on the Act under which they are charged.
3. Bow to the Magistrate or Judge
Whenever you are entering or exiting the courtroom it is the “done thing” to bow to the Magistrate(s) or Judge(s).
This custom has a curious origin, owing itself to the presence of the Royal Arms which sits behind the bench where the judges or magistrates sit.
As people enter the room, whether court officials, lawyers or members of the public, it is customary to “bow” to the Royal Coat of Arms—and indirectly those presiding over the case.
This is done in recognition of the fact that justice stems from the Monarch and that law courts are part of the Royal Court.
Apart from the foregoing, you must also stand up from your seat when the judge or magistrate enters the room, “all rise” will be declared, in another show of respect for them as representatives of the Crown.
4. Avoid Eating or Drinking
Like the abovementioned on the use of electronic devices, eating and drinking in court is firmly prohibited and could leave you being held in contempt of court if you flout this ban.
If maybe for medical reasons you want to eat, the best thing to do is to silently excuse yourself from the courtroom and sort yourself out before re-entering.
Interestingly, the rule usually even extends to water. So if in doubt, check.
In line with the principle of open justice, note-taking is permitted in most court hearings.
It is a good practice to request for the permission of the judge beforehand, either by asking the court clerk on the day or making an enquiry prior to the hearing.
This is a courtesy rather than legal requirement however.
For some cases it might be that the judge announces note-taking is prohibited, or requests the public to leave the gallery where the forthcoming proceedings are not to be reported.
Thank you very much for reading