Your first day at court
If you are new to the court, finding your way around the courthouse can take some time. Make sure you arrive at court early so you can find where to go and prepare for your case.
What to wear
Court proceedings are serious and people attending court are expected to dress appropriately. You do not have to wear a suit or tie, just aim to be neat and tidy. You may be at the court for several hours, so wear clothes that will be comfortable.
Many courts have airport style security. You and your belongings may be scanned and prohibited items such as knives will not be permitted in the court building.
Find out more about court security.
Find the right courtroom
When you arrive, you need to check which courtroom your case will be heard in, as many courthouses have more than one courtroom.
Find the printed court list, which should be displayed in the foyer. The court list will show the name of the case and the courtroom. If you cannot find your case, go to the court office and ask for assistance.
Contact a court officer
Go to the courtroom where your case is listed and let the court officer know that you have arrived. Court officers are officials who assists in court.
They will usually wear a red badge or a uniform and will be going in and out of the courtroom calling names and checking who is there.
The court officer will tell you where to wait, usually inside the courtroom or just outside the courtroom.
They will ask you some questions about your case so they can let the judge, magistrate or other judicial officer know the status of the case. For example they need to know if people intend pleading guilty or need an adjournment.
Be sure to tell the court officer if you are leaving the area at any time so your case is not heard without you.
If a lawyer is representing you, find your lawyer and work out where to wait until your case is called.
Special waiting areas and safe rooms
If you are at court for an apprehended violence application, you may be able to wait in a safe room. Check with the court officer if there is a safe room or court support service staff who can assist you.
Find out more at Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services.
When will your case be heard?
The magistrate, judge or other judicial officer decides the order of cases. If you have a lawyer, he or she will sit at the table in the courtroom (called the bar table) and wait for the judicial officer to ask which case they are appearing in.
If you are representing yourself, the court officer will let the judicial officer know that you are there. The court officer will call the name of your case when it is your turn to speak to the judicial officer.
What will you see in the courtroom?
Courtrooms vary greatly in appearance depending on which court or tribunal you are attending. You may enter a very modern courtroom or you may enter a more traditional wood panelled courtroom.
Judges wear red, purple or black robes and traditional wigs. Magistrates wear black robes but no wigs.
In criminal trials in the Supreme or District Court there will often be a jury, but in the Local Court hearings are held without a jury.
One way to prepare for a major court case is to visit a courtroom a few weeks before and watch what happens in a case. The public are allowed to attend most court hearings, excluding family matters or hearings in the children's court.
See Who's who in court at the Courts and Tribunal Services website.
How to behave in court
Courts operate with some formalities such as bowing and standing to speak. You will see that many people bow when they enter and leave the courtroom. This is to show respect to the court. Bowing is not compulsory. You can choose to bow or not to bow.
In court you should:
- turn off your mobile phone
- not eat or drink
- sit quietly
- not interrupt proceedings
- not take photographs
- not make audio recordings of proceedings
- not speak to or approach any member of the jury.
You may want to SMS or tweet, but if a judicial officer thinks you are doing something illegal, such as recording or photographing, you could be asked to leave court or be arrested. It is an offence to record or photograph proceeding without permission of the court.
When your case is called and the judge, magistrate or other judicial officer is speaking to you, it is usual to stand up whenever you speak. You will be asked to stand at a microphone or to sit at the table which is called the bar table.
Call judges or magistrates 'your honour' when you address them.