I had a road traffic accident a while ago and I have brought a claim against the other car driver. My solicitor advises me that my case will get a court hearing shortly and I am worried what will happen in court on the day of the hearing.
It’s normal to feel anxious before a Court date but if you know in advance what to expect it can make the experience easier to deal with. Usually your solicitor will talk you through how your case will be presented, who your witnesses will be, the likely case against you and the roles of everyone involved in the process, before the actual hearing date. Your solicitor will arrange a time for you to meet with him/her and your barrister for a pre-hearing consultation either shortly before the hearing date or on the morning of the hearing.
It can be helpful to actually see the Court Room before any Court business commences and you should ask your solicitor to bring you into the Court room before the room fills up and before Court begins to show you where the Judge and Court registrar sits, where your solicitor and barrister will be and where the other sides legal team will sit. You should know where the witness box is (where you and your witnesses will go during the case to give evidence) and where you should sit before and after you give your evidence.
When the Court starts, the first thing that the Judge will do is have a “call over” of all cases listed for that day. The Registrar calls out the names of all cases listed to be heard on the day to ascertain whether any cases have settled and how long each case is expected to take. There is no particular start time allocated to each case but instead all cases are expected to be ready for hearing on the morning of Court and the Judge will usually take each case in the order it appears in the list. Sometimes, short matters or applications are taken first. Sometimes a witness involved in a particular case may be unavailable until the afternoon and if the Judge agrees that case is “put back” until later and the next case in the list will be heard before it. Accordingly, even if your case appears as, say, the fourth case in the list, if the cases ahead of you settle or adjourn, your case may end up being first on. Your solicitor should be in a better position to advise you of when your case will be heard after the Judge has finished the call over.
When your case is called and is ready to be heard, usually your barrister will “open” your case by telling the Judge in general terms a little bit about your case. In your proceedings you are known as “the Plaintiff” and the Plaintiff puts their case forward first. You, as Plaintiff, are usually the first person to give evidence. You will go to the witness box, you will be asked to state your name and to take the oath. You will stand in the witness box and the court registrar will hand you a Bible, which you must hold. The registrar will then ask you to repeat the following oath after him/her, “I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. If you wish to make the affirmation (suitable for those who are not Christians), then you must tell the registrar. The words of the affirmation are “I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence that I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. You then sit down and can continue to give your evidence sitting down. There is a microphone so you should be heard. You should address all of your evidence up to the Judge and make sure that s/he hears what you say. You can call the Judge, “Judge” or “Your Honor”. Your barrister will guide you through your evidence- your story of what happened to you- but he/she can not give the evidence for you or ask you leading questions. The information must come from you so it is important to tell your whole story and to tell it clearly. Your barrister will ask you questions about your accident and your injuries, and these questions are to guide and help you give your account of what happened. When your barrister is finished the barrister for the defendant will cross examine you with further questions. This barrister is allowed to ask you leading questions or can put alternative versions of the event to you or challenge what you have said. The Judge may sometimes ask questions to clarify some issue. If you do not hear the question or don’t understand the question, (whether put to you by your own barrister, the defendants barrister or the Judge)you can ask that the question be repeated or explained. You should carefully consider your answers and answer truthfully. If you do not know the answer, then say that you don’t known. Your barrister can not tell you what the answer should be. If you barrister feels that some issue should be further explained after you have been cross examined, then they have an opportunity to re-visit it again with you.
When your evidence is finished you will leave the witness box and go back to where you were sitting to hear the rest of the evidence. Now, your other witnesses such as doctors or engineers will give their evidence- they will be taken through it by your barrister and then the defendants barrister will cross examine them. When your witnesses have finished your barrister will confirm to the Judge that the evidence that has been heard constitutes your case and then the defendant has their opportunity to put their case in a similar way. Sometimes legal and technical points of law can arise whilst evidence is being given by either side and these matters are argued before the Judge- your barrister will put forward his/her view of the law on the point and the defendants barrister will do likewise and the Judge will decide on the point as he/she sees fit.
When both sides have presented all their evidence, each barrister may “sum up”- they may give a short synopsis of what happened and why the defendant is or is not responsible. It is then for the Judge to make his/her decision-the Judge may give his/her judgment on your case on the day but sometimes the Judge may wish to consider matters further and so will “reserve” their judgment and this means the Judge will give their decision on a later date and you will have to come back another day to hear the outcome.
Dress smartly and comfortably on the day and it is advisable to bring a book/newspaper to keep you occupied whilst you are waiting for your case to be called. It can also be helpful to have a family member or friend with you for company and support. It is permissible for you to sit in the Court and watch other cases (except if the case is to be heard “in-camera”, which means in private, such as a family law case).
Attending Court is stressful, but if you discuss your concerns in advance with your solicitor, and have some understanding of how the system works and what to expect , you will be better able to deal with the stress and be a calmer and more confident witness.
Sarah Breslin is a Senior Solicitor with many years experience in Litigation matters with Stone Solicitors, a law firm practicing from The Bull Ring, Wexford. Stone Solicitors is a Gold standard Q6000 law firm assessed under an independent risk management review by The Institute of Legal Research and Standards. Stone Solicitors can be contacted on 053 9146144 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Visit our website at www.stonesolicitors.ie