The Who’s Who Guide to the Courtroom
When you bring a personal injury claim * against someone who has caused you injury and loss, people often think of they will end up in court. In reality, the majority of personal injuries cases will settle prior to having the case heard by a judge (often referred to settling outside of court) and can happen in a couple of different ways:
- Settle early on with the insurance company directly
- Through an assessment process by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board;
- Settle at talks arranged prior to the hearing;
- Settle on the day scheduled for the hearing of the matter, without the need for you to ever enter a courtroom.
Nonetheless, the prospect of a day in court can often be a daunting one for someone who is not familiar with the process or someone who may never have been in the courts before.
Part of overcoming this fear is knowing what to expect – your solicitor will bring you through this. But part of it is also knowing who the relevant parties are and what role they each play in the court’s system.
The judge hearing the case sits at the top of the courtroom. The judge is in charge of the running of the proceedings, keeping order in the courtroom and in a personal injury case *, the judge will decide the outcome of the matter based on the evidence put before him or her.
The Registrar’s function is to call out each case in turn so that the relevant people can identify themselves to the court. For example, when a witness is called to the stand the registration hands the witness the bible and reads out the oath for the witness to repeat. The registrar also hands the judge court documents as needed and takes note of any court orders made and after a day in court drafts the orders. Basically, their function is to ensure the smooth running of the court. The registrar sits in front of the judge.
A judge has another assistant known as their tipstaff. This person announces the entry and exit of the judge to and from the courtroom. The tipstaff acts not only as a personal assistant but also aids in the running of the courts by communicating with other tipstaffs and keeping the judge and registrar informed of the management of the court lists.
Your Personal Injury Solicitor
Your own legal team will be made up of a solicitor and a barrister or barristers. The first half your legal team is your solicitor. Your solicitor sits on the first bench in front of the registrar facing the body of the court, facing in the same direction as the judge and registrar. The other side’s solicitor will sit at the opposite end of the same bench to your solicitor.
The barrister is the other half of your legal team. The barrister’s role is to represent you in court, speak on your behalf and argue your case before a judge. In situations where a case is settled outside of court, it is the barrister who negotiated the settlement of your case. on your legal team and the other side’s barrister sit in the two benches directly facing their side’s respective solicitors. Senior Counsel (if the matter is listed for hearing in the High Court) sit on the first bench and Junior Counsel sits behind them.
Witnesses are people who have been called to give evidence in court. When a witness is called, they will sit next to the registrar, having first been sworn into evidence by the registrar. A witness will be asked questions by the barristers, and sometimes by the judge. The witness will face sideways to that he or she can hear and answer questions.
There is audio recording of all matters in the courts, however if a transcript of the proceedings is required, it is open to either the plaintiff or the defendant to engage a stenographer to keep a note of the proceedings (usually in case the matter is likely to be appealed) and if such a person is required, they will usually sit to the left or right of the registrar, being the opposite side to the witness box.
The remainder of the rows may be filled with witnesses, interested parties, family and friends who attend with you for support.
Are Court Hearings Open To The Public?
With the exception of some types of matters, cases are heard in public. This means that members of the public are allowed to sit in the body of the court while the matter is being heard by the judge. It also means that members of the press are entitled to also sit in and report the evidence in the media.
On the morning of your hearing, arrive early and go into a courtroom to see the layout. If you are waiting around for your case to be heard, you can sit in the body of another court and listen to the various parties so you can see how your case might play out.
Remember that you will be accompanied by your solicitor to court, you will never have to do this alone – if you have any questions or concerns about going to court, feel free to call Tracey Solicitors on 01 649 9900 for a confidential discussion.