It is important to understand what to expect of the court Judge and what will happen on the day of the trial.
Will The Trial Even Go Ahead?
First of all, be prepared that your matter may not be dealt with on the trial date. The court lists more trials for a day than it knows it can get through. This is because many claims settle before the trial itself or in some cases the parties simply don’t turn up. It is hugely disappointing to turn up on the day, only for there to be more cases than Judges to get through and yours is one of those that isn’t dealt with and is listed again for another date.
However, you absolutely must prepare on the basis that your matter will be dealt with. Fail to prepare = prepare to fail.
Practical Tips for the Day
Get there early. There is every chance that on the day of the hearing, you will be able to reach terms with your opponent. There is no harm in speaking to them beforehand to see if a last minute deal can be done.
Most courts don’t have parking for people attending, so you will have to research in advance how far away the nearest parking is and how long it will take you to reach the court building.
All courts are different in their layout. You will need to head to the District Judges’ waiting room or desk and let the clerk of the court know you have arrived. The clerk will ask what matter you are there for and who you represent. Tell the clerk, who will book you in. You should ask if the Judges have decided whether your claim will be dealt with that day. The clerk might not have an answer for you but there is no harm in asking and letting the clerk know it is important for you that the matter is dealt with today if possible. A little charm might help.
Don’t stray in the court building. There might be plenty of sitting about and waiting, so it is tempting to have a walk round. Don’t go too far from the waiting room – you don’t want the clerk to be unable to find you if the Judge calls the matter in. If the hearing goes ahead without you, your options in trying to change the decision are very limited and you will likely be stuck with the decision made.
The Trial Hearing Itself
The clerk will show the parties into the court room. The court Judge is likely to be in the room already with the papers before him. Hopefully, it will have had time to read the papers before you go in, so it should know what the case is about and be familiar with the documents and witness evidence.
The Judge will have a limited amount of time to get through the evidence and to decide the outcome of the case. You can expect 2-3 hours for your trial, to include time for the Judge to read the papers beforehand and to prepare its judgment after considering the evidence. That being the case, it will keep a firm grip on what it is prepared to allow the parties to say. It will want to stick to the core issues and avoid distractions. The trial hearing will be fairly informal.
You should have the opportunity to ask questions of the other side’s witnesses during the hearing, so before the day of the trial you should put together a list of questions you may wish to ask them before the court Judge.
The Judge will keep the hearing moving along and keep it structured.
Court Etiquette And Addressing The Judge
The Judge accepts that sometimes the relationship between the claimant and defendant will be strained. However, you must show your opponent’s witnesses respect and you should refrain from interrupting them when speaking. Try to keep your cool even if the witnesses are lying or showing you disrespect. Poor etiquette is unlikely to do you any favours with the Judge.
You must also ensure you show the Judge proper respect. Again, do not interrupt it when speaking. The likelihood is that the Judge will either be a District Judge (a full time County Court Judge) or a Deputy District Judge (a part time County Court Judge who will act as a Judge a few days a month – the rest of the time he will usually be practising as a solicitor). Generally speaking, when you address a male District Judge (or Deputy) you should call him “Sir” and if female address her as “Madam”.
The Decision (Judgment)
After hearing the evidence, the Judge will likely send you and your opponent out to allow it to consider what decision to make and to prepare its judgment. It might be half an hour or so before the clerk of the court calls you back in. Again, do not stray from the waiting room as if you aren’t there when the Judge calls you back in to deliver the judgment, it won’t wait for you.
The Judge will read out its judgment which will set out what order it is making (who needs to pay who what, if anything, and when) and the reasoning for its decision. This is not an opportunity to argue with the court Judge or to try to get it to change its mind. Interrupting it during its judgment will likely result in you being removed from the court room and could result in you being found in contempt of court.
If you are unhappy with the outcome, you can ask the Judge for permission to appeal and your reasons why. The court office or perhaps the Judge itself might give you some information on how to appeal. If you want to appeal, you need to do so quickly as the time limits involved are very short. If you fail to file the papers quickly enough, the chance to appeal will be lost.
“The court Judge will control the hearing and the parties at trial. Be polite and courteous to both the Judge and your opponent.”