Myth #8 – Only loud and aggressive litigants capture the attention of the court.
Picture the scene: It’s Monday morning; you’ve had a terrible weekend; one of your children is flunking out of school; you’ve had an argument with your significant other and your bike ran out of gas on the way to work. In those circumstances, it’s pretty reasonable to expect that you would arrive at work in a bad mood, and that bad mood may affect your performance at work and your interaction with others
Judges and magistrates are human beings and like everybody else, they have good and bad days. So, what can you do if you are appearing (whether represented by a lawyer or not) in front of a judge or a magistrate in order to provide them with the best impression of you and minimise the chances of them either forming a bad opinion of you or, worse yet, actually losing their patience with you.
1. Be On Time
Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, infuriates a judge or magistrate more than someone who has so little respect for the court that they cannot manage to be there on time. Plan to arrive at the court at least 10 minutes early so you can ask which room you are supposed to be in, and be there ready and waiting for the court to begin, rather than charging through the doors late, slick with perspiration and apologising profusely because you couldn’t find a parking spot. Be late and you start off with one strike against you.
2. Be Prepared
Whether you are defending yourself in relation to a charge of driving without due care and attention, or suing your neighbour because the smoke from their bonfire next door blew into your house and damaged your furniture, you need to understand who is doing what. In the due care case, while it is the prosecution’s job to prove your guilt, you will still have to give evidence in some form in order to defend yourself.
If your defence is that the prosecution case is nonsense based on some feature of the roadway, you might need to provide photocopies of the ordinance survey map of that area of the road. Don’t bring just one copy! You need one, the Judge needs one, the prosecution needs one and the witness needs one. The same rule of thumb applies in the smoke damage example. If it cost you $2,000 to have all your furniture cleaned and the inside of the house repainted, bring sufficient copies of the relevant bills to court. It will only irritate the magistrate if you bring the original and everyone has to pass it around the court.
3. Be Respectful
Judges and magistrates have a job to do. It is not necessarily an easy job and very often they will have heard the same reason/excuse before. If you appear in front of the court late poorly prepared, badly dressed and fail to address the court in a respectful manner, it will not be surprising if the court will not have respect for you. I am not suggesting grovelling (although sometimes that has its benefits!), but, stand up when the judge or magistrate speaks to you. Speak clearly so that he or she can understand you. In the case of a Magistrate, address them as either ‘Your Worship’ or ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Supreme Court judges should be addressed either as ‘My Lord’ or ‘My Lady’. When a judge enters or leaves the room, you should remain standing until the judge has sat down or has left the room in the latter case.
I am the first to concede how difficult it might be to try to remain civil and avoid some form of angry response when faced with an irritated judge or magistrate on a cold wet Monday morning, who has possibly experienced the type of scenario I described at the opening of this article.
But perhaps it is best to remember the old proverb “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” and whilst this will not always work, in the case of the courts, it certainly cannot hurt.
Mark Diel is a director of Marshall Diel & Myers Limited and Member of the Litigation & Advice Team at Marshall Diel & Myers Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-7105
This column is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice.