On the 23rd of July 2013, an article was published on page 5 of the Gold Coast Bulletin. The article talks about an accused ‘con man’ Steve Jones, hurling disrespect at a magistrate, resulting in the individual being ‘threatened’ with contempt of court.
All too often it is rare for the absurd courtroom stories to make it to the press. At Quinn & Scattini, we have delivered legal solutions since 1974 and over this time we have seen many unique and interesting situations take place in the courtroom.
Often, most of these unique and interesting situations occur whilst we are waiting for one of our matters to be heard. However, the recent Bulletin article has prompted us to write a brief “do’s and don’ts” list for those appearing in court.
Darrell Kake, an Accredited Specialist in Commercial Litigation at Quinn & Scattini, lists some of the behaviours he has witnessed and would advise any litigant NOT to do –
  • I have been in the Local Court at Blacktown in New South Wales and heard a fellow (who lost his licence for speeding) tell the Magistrate to “go and get …”, followed by him running out of the Courtroom, followed shortly thereafter by the sound of a car doing a burnout in the car park outside and speeding away;
  • It is also quite common for self-represented litigants (and sometimes solicitors) to call judges “Your Majesty”, “Your Highness” etc.; and
  • I have seen the ‘Magna Carta’ argument used, which is a favourite source of legal authority quoted by some self-represented litigants, who like to allege that the Australian system of government, Australian currency, taxation laws etcetera are unconstitutional and therefore do not need to be followed.
Brittany White, a Criminal and Traffic Law solicitor at Quinn & Scattini, describes her experience of seeing someone trying to use the ‘Magna Carta’ authority, which is NOT recommended –
  • Just recently I was waiting for my matter to get on in the Cleveland Magistrates Court before a magistrate. Two random people waiting in court stood up, referred to the Magna Carta, tried to dismiss their own friend’s charges and then attempted to arrest the Magistrate for “impersonating a public servant” before they themselves were arrested in the Courtroom.
Basil Karsas, a Criminal and Traffic Law solicitor at Quinn & Scattini, describes his experience of someone who should have stopped speaking. This situation is NOT recommended –
  • I was with a colleague when we witnessed a client who was appearing by video link in hand cuffs and in a cell. The Magistrate, who had already agreed that the individual would be released and was just checking something administrative when the following dialog proceeded:
Client:  “Your Honour I said I was pleading guilty.”
Magistrate: “Yes I know we are just checking something please just be patient.”
Client: “That’s easy for you to say. I am the one sitting in this corrugated sh*t hole.” (He then decided to drag the hand cuffs against the side wall and stand up on the table)
Magistrate: “Please just bear with us.”
Client: “In my opinion if you cannot make up your mind you should not have become a Judge.”
Magistrate: (Addressing his clerk) “Can you please see if you can put that on mute?”
Client: (His mouth continued to move but unfortunately he had been muted…)
Thomas Ashton, a Wills & Estates lawyer at Quinn & Scattini, describes the unique dress of some people. He also mentions one of the arguably most memorable dialogues that he along with many others in the legal fraternity have read about in recent times –
  • It also never ceases to amaze me the type of clothing I see individuals trying to wear in the court, I have seen outfits worn that are what you would see from a spectator at a sporting match or at a party; and
  • There was a situation I read about where a gentleman in the witness box used repeated language towards a Supreme Court Judge, which could only be described as highly ‘colourful’ and continued with a direction being given by the Judge that the man should be restrained if needed. The Judge, towards the end of the events, thanked the lawyers and concluded by saying he had been ‘called much worse things on the rugby paddock’.
Our advice for any client (especially solicitors in any firm) or for any self-represented litigant, would be to remember the following basic principles –
  • Whilst dressing appropriately might appear to contradict certain ‘principles’, it is what it is and the judge is the final arbiter. Exerting your right to wear what you want is fine, but we do not live in a perfect world and justice- whilst noble in theory, is administered within a system that ultimately reflects society with all its foibles. In short, life is not always fair. Plaintiffs and defendants should wear respectable clothing and take the advice of their lawyer who deals with the courts regularly and knows the ‘personality’ of the court. Taking a pragmatic approach to a court appearance, indicates respect to the judicial officer (the judge) towards the process. Otherwise it may end in tears!
  • Address the judge as ‘Your Honour’, or if you cannot remember this, refer to them as ‘judge’, ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ and ask in a respectful manner the appropriate way that they should be addressed.
  • If entering or exiting the courtroom and the judge is present, it is important to bow ones head in the direction of the judge as a sign of respect.
(The judge does NOT walk around the street with lawyers or the public repeatedly and reverently bowing their heads. However, in the courtroom a bow upon the judge’s entry and exit, is a sign of respect towards the judge’s role- administering justice and making decisions within the Judicial System in accordance with the Law.
  • Mobile phones should always be switched off or at the very least placed on silent with no telephone calls being made or received in the courtroom;
  • No person in the court should ever attempt to show physical intimidation to anyone, much less feel that some sort of Magna Carta justification warrants an arrest of anyone.
(Think about it…. Could this ever have gone down well? Ordinarily if the police were to charge a person, for intimidation and/or any other crazy swearing onslaught behaviour, this would happen in time. However, in a court doing such behaviour in front of a judge skips the ‘middle man’, and causes a whole world of unnecessary anguish as a judge does not tolerate this behaviour, especially since a judge spends long hours hearing matters and does not have the time for such disruptions.
  • Never interrupt a judge when they are speaking (if this is done accidentally, offer an apology at the first available opportunity after the judge has stopped speaking and the court allows opportunities to speak). Talking over each other in the court, aside from being considered a lack of respect, should not occur for a very practical reason- the court records all audio for transcript purposes and if there are people talking over each other, it makes it very difficult to transcribe the dialogue into a coherent transcript.
(Did anyone really win as a toddler by back-chatting to their parent? If you did, the judge isn’t your parent and it will only evoke a reaction of ‘I’m not going to reward bad behaviour!’. Remember the key is to have a judge feeling neutral and inclined to want to listen to your well thought out legal arguments. The more insightful and well-mannered the judge considers a person, the better your chances are in putting forward an argument against the opposing side. If you are respectful then there is a greater likelihood that your argument or reasoning will gain the respect of the Judge. This is true in life and the courts are a reflection of life with its many variables.
  • A lawyer or self-representing litigant who is meant to be presenting to the judge should never just walk out, without first requesting permission to do so from the judge. The court room is the Judge’s domain and he/she is in charge.
(A person might think that they are ‘top honcho’ in their own world, however in the court it is a whole different world. The man or woman who is sitting in that ‘judge’s seat’ is in control and his/her role is to make decisions with potential consequences such as jail and loss of freedom, bankruptcy, financial compensation etc. A judge never appreciates deliberately ignorant and/or obnoxious individuals. Remember when in doubt, ask ask ask!).
Our best advice when dealing with the courts is to have PATIENCE. Sometimes, like in any government organisation, it may feel as though the system is operating slower than you desire. A person appearing before a court has one goal. That is to obtain the best result given the circumstances. That is the role of Quinn & Scattini Lawyers if we are instructed in any matter. The circumstances necessarily guide the proceedings and we will do whatever is possible to either “win” the argument for you or minimise the damage if a “win” is not viable given those particular circumstances. You must work with and not against the system.