Attending Court can be a very daunting experience, whether or not you have legal representation. This article aims to answer some frequently asked questions about attending Court to help you feel better prepared.
What should I do when I arrive at Court?
Your case will have been given a unique case number, which appears on all the Court papers (e.g. FD13XXXX). You should check the Court list (usually in the entrance hall) and look for your case number. This will tell you in which Court the hearing will take place and the name of the Judge. A member of Court staff will be able to assist if necessary. It is always advisable to arrive in good time well in advance of your hearing. You should be prepared for a delayed start as Court listings often do not run according to time. If your application is urgent and you do not have a case number, you should speak to a member of Court staff. You may also need to pay a Court fee.
Who will be in the Courtroom?
In most family cases, the following people will be in the Courtroom: - The Judge; the Judge’s clerk; yourself; your legal representative (if any); the other party and their legal representative (if any).
You will sit on opposite sides of the courtroom to the other party.
In some hearings there may also be a CAFCASS officer or Guardian (children cases only); a media representative; a member of the public or a McKenzie friend (see below).
I am acting in person. Can I take someone with me?
You can take someone with you and it is a good idea to do so. There may also be a lot of waiting around so you may wish to have company and moral support [NB. permission will be required from the other side and the Judge first]. However, you will need to consider carefully whether that person should come into the Court room with you when the hearing takes place. If the person you chose to bring with you does come into Court, they will sit a few rows behind (save for a McKenzie friends – see below).
You should not bring someone with you if they are a witness in your case or if it is likely that they will be a witness in due course.
Will I have to speak to the Judge?
If you have legal representation (a solicitor or barrister) then they will address the Judge on your behalf. You will not have to speak unless it is a hearing in which you have to give evidence. Giving evidence means that you will have to stand in the witness box and the other party (or their legal representative) will ask you some questions. The Judge may also ask you a few questions directly. You should know in advance if you are required to give evidence.
If the other party has a legal representative and you do not, they will usually take the lead in addressing the Judge.
I am acting in person but have been told I can have a McKenzie friend.What is a McKenzie friend?
If you are acting in person you have a right to reasonable assistance from someone called a McKenzie friend. A McKenzie friend has no independent right to provide assistance; act as an advocate or carry out conduct of your case.
However, a McKenzie friend can:
- Provide moral support for you
- Take notes in court
- Help prepare the case papers
- Quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case
A McKenzie friend cannot:
- Act as your agent in relation to the proceedings
- Manage your case outside court
- Address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses
If you wish to exercise your right to have a McKenzie friend, you should inform the Court as soon as possible.
Will the media be present at my hearing?
If the hearing is taking place in open Court, then the general public (including media representatives) can attend as of right.
In the case of family proceedings which take place in private, media representatives can attend subject to the discretion of the Court to exclude their attendance on specified grounds.
Media representatives are expressly excluded from hearings conducted for the purposes of judicially assisted conciliation or negotiation. This includes the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing in financial cases and also the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment in children cases.
Some examples of cases where the Court might exclude media attendance are as follows:
- If there is a risk to a party which arises from the mere fact of the media presence
- If the reporting and disclosure restrictions do not provide sufficient protection to the parties
- If there is a particular physical or health risk against which the reporting restrictions are inadequate
- If there is a vulnerable adult or child who does not have legal representation, the Court may of its own motion take steps to protect the welfare of that adult or child
Media attendance can also be excluded where justice will be impeded or prejudiced, for example
- In financial hearings where the information includes price sensitive information (for example confidential information which might affect the share price of a public company)
- If a witness has a credible reason for not giving evidence in front of the media or will not give evidence in their presence.
What should I wear to Court?
There is no specific dress code for attending Court. You should wear something comfortable and smart. There is no need to wear a suit nor would we recommend that you wear jeans and trainers.
For more information about attending Court or other questions you may have, please contact a member of our specialist family law team. You can do so via our website, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone on +44 (0) 203 178 5668.