Who's who in the courts

Contributed by StephenShaw and current to 27 July 2018

All Courts have a basically similar makeup. If you enter a court, you will find that the judge or magistrate is raised above all other people in the room. Many matters that are heard in courts are heard before a single judge, but appeals from a single judge are usually heard in the same court before three or more judges. The High Court can sit with as many as seven judges on one matter.

In front of the judge or magistrate there will be an associate, who keeps track of documents and acts as an administrative assistant. There will be court clerks and orderlies, and often security staff. These people are all part of the court staff.

Directly in front of the associate you will see the people who are involved in the dispute and, if they have them, their lawyers. In higher courts there may be barristers, wearing robes and, if the matter is criminal, wigs. Barristers are specialist lawyers who do mainly court work and are considered to be experts in representation at trial. Other lawyers, known as solicitors, do much of the background work before the matter and give their preparation to the barristers in the form of a brief, or file, that contains the evidence that will be put before the court. Usually the solicitors sit behind the barristers at a separate table.

In a civil matter the plaintiff, or the person who is bringing the matter to court, sits at the right hand side of the court. If it is a criminal trial the accused and the accused’s solicitors sit at the left hand side, as the prosecution is the party bringing the matter to court.

Criminal matters may also have a jury, and that group of twelve people will sit off to one side of the court in a position where they can see and here any witnesses.

Witnesses, who can be either party in the dispute or other people who have information that one of the disputants wants to put before the court, are called up to a special stand known as the witness stand; they give their evidence and are cross-examined from there. A witness cannot attend at a trial before they are called to give their own evidence, as if they did so there is a strong risk that their evidence may become tainted by new information that they gain through listening to the trial.

The back of the court has a public gallery. The public is usually allowed to attend at trials even if they have no personal interest in the outcome. The public and transparent nature of court hearings in Australia is another important aspect of our legal system, whereby justice should be seen to be done (and be done). However, if you do attend, there are certain rules of etiquette that apply. When you enter or leave a court that is in session, you should always face the magistrate or judge and give a small bow. You should never talk above a whisper, and avoid doing even that. Always make sure mobile phones or pagers are turned off. It is strictly forbidden for the public to make recordings or take pictures in a court.

This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding AustLII Communities? Send feedback
This website is using cookies. More info. That's Fine