What to Expect in the Courtroom
In England and Wales the court system is part of the criminal justice system. The vast majority of cases will be handled by your local magistrates’ court that every major town and city has. If the case is more serious, then you may have to attend a Crown Court that usually has a jury. If you’re under 18 years old you may have to attend a youth court who have specially trained magistrates who deal with young people. However, if the crime is serious this will still go to the Crown Court no matter the age of the offender.
Going to CourtYou will be told which court you must attend by letter that is usually sent by the police who are dealing with the case. Don’t forget to take the letter to court with you, as the reception desk will ask to see it. You will be told which courtroom your case is in and where you can sit and wait.
If you are nervous about attending court, one of the best ways of reducing your anxiety is to visit the court you will be attending. Most courts have days when you can walk around the court. And if you want to see how the court works, you can usually sit in the visitors’ gallery and watch a courtroom in action.
Disabled PeopleThe letter you receive about which court you must attend will include its facilities for disabled people. If you have a disability that will cause you problems at the court get in touch as soon as you can. Most courts have a customer services officer. This will give the court time to make additional arrangements for you.
In the CourtroomYou will have been called to the courtroom to give evidence either as a victim, witness or as a defendant (someone that is accused of a crime). You may also have been called as a juror.
The Lawyers in the courtroom will ask you a number of questions. These can be quite detailed so don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question if you don’t understand it. Also, if you are in court for a long time, you can request a break. You will also have given a statement to the police. As the court case is likely to be sometime after this, you can ask to see your original statement when you come to court to refresh your memory.
Jury ServiceRoughly 450,000 people are randomly chosen to serve on a jury that try serious crimes ranging from theft to murder. Jury’s sit in the High Court and county court, but you could also be called as juror at a coroner’s court.
Note that if you receive a jury duty summons notice and have a disability that may require the court to make additional access available, it is important that you fill in the appropriate section of the form so the jury summoning bureau is aware of your disability.
A jury has to be chosen before it can sit. Even though you have been called for jury service, this doesn’t necessarily mean you will actually sit on a jury. Whether you actually sit on a jury depends on if you are picked when the jury for the trial is being assembled. If you are chosen you will then be sworn in. This means you will take an oath that you can read from a card or repeat from a court usher. You are now an official jury member.
When the trial begins makes sure you remember which court room you are using and the case you’re involved in as this information will be used by the court’s ushers to call you to the courtroom for each day of the trial.
Young People in CourtA courtroom can be a daunting place for young people. In many cases a young person’s written or video evidence will be enough. But with some cases the young person must attend court. In special cases that include some sexual offences and if the witness has a relationship with the defendant are called vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.
These people can give evidence by special means that can include: live video links or from the witness box that has a screen around it. When very young children are in court, lawyers and the judge may not wear their usual wigs and gowns.
You may feel that you know how a court operates from television or films. The reality can often be very different from what you’re expecting. The important thing to remember is that the courtroom is there to serve. Try and attend an open day at your local courtroom where you can try being a judge or lawyer for the day and experience a courtroom for yourself.