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A Beginner’s Guide to Courtroom Etiquette

Inside of courtroom of high court of Australia

If you’re planning on becoming a lawyer, it’s best to get acquainted with the court system early. Going to court is highly beneficial for law students; I can’t recommend it enough. It’s especially helpful if you're studying evidence or advocacy subjects, or if you want to try mooting or witness examination competitions at uni.

Depending on the court you attend, you will be able to see both criminal and civil matters. Check the court lists the day before your court visit to see what matters are on. The Law and Justice Foundation website contains a page of links that you can use to access court lists for courts and tribunals around the country.

When you arrive at court, you’ll pass through a security check. Keep in mind that it is an offense to bring items that are deemed dangerous in to the courts. Dangerous items may include scissors, knives and laser torches. These are just examples and not an exhaustive list. If you’re unsure check with court security BEFORE you go through the checkpoint. If you do have items that are considered dangerous with you, turn them over to security.

Before you enter the courtroom, turn your phone off. Even if your phone is on silent, phone vibration is still audible in the courtroom and the last thing you want is to have your phone confiscated by the court – I’ve seen it happen before!

When entering and exiting a courtroom, don’t forget to bow to the bench. This is a sign of respect to the judge as well as to the court. If the judge enters or leaves the court while you’re in the courtroom, you will be asked to stand by the bailiff.

You shouldn’t talk in the courtroom, but if you absolutely must, whisper and be discrete. Also don’t read any books, magazines or newspapers in the courtroom – there’s a time and a place and this ain’t it! Also, you should not take photographs or make recordings in the courtroom, nor should you eat in the courtroom.

Don’t feel that you must stay in the court for the entire time it is in session. Feel free to leave but be discreet when doing so and don’t forget to bow to the bench as you exit. You should also be mindful of leaving when a particularly sensitive part of the case (such as witness examination) is happening, as you don’t want to disrupt the proceedings. Also, be respectful, as victims or relatives and loved ones of the parties may be in the courtroom.

There you have it! Basically, just use your common sense, act with discretion, and if in doubt, ask the court staff or a nearby lawyer.

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