Going to court can be a stressful experience, made all the more so by unfamiliarity with the surroundings and what is expected of you, so here are a few tips to help you on the day.
What to bring with you
- Your summons or charge sheet, whichever you were given.
- Your driving licence (both the paper licence and the photocard if you have one).
- Any documents given or sent to you by the police, such as photos or print-outs.
- Any documents that you want to refer to in court.
- A completed income and expenditure form (sent to you if you receive a summons), so the court can assess an appropriate fine if you are convicted.
- Your cheque book, or enough cash to immediately pay at least some part of any fine that is ordered to be paid.
Get there early
- Arrive at court at least half an hour before the time stated on your summons or charge sheet.
- The court will decide the case running order (of which cases to hear when) on the day. Yours could be heard first.
- Don’t assume that you will be able to park a car at the court.
- If you are at risk of being disqualified from driving, any disqualification will take effect immediately. So don’t drive yourself to court.
- Generally, the smarter the better. It makes a good impression and demonstrates your respect for the court.
Where to wait
- When you arrive at court, tell the ‘usher’ your name and the time of your hearing. The usher calls on cases when they are ready to be heard. They are usually near the entrance and often hold a clipboard.
- If you are represented by a lawyer (barrister, solicitor or legal executive), they will already have told the court of their arrival and the usher will point you towards them or they will find you. Agree a plan for the day with the lawyer.
- Initially wait in the waiting room. But if your case is not first on, you can go into the public gallery of the court room where your case will be heard. This allows you to get used to the court and its proceedings.
What to do when your case is called
- When your case is called on to be heard, you will be shown into the court room and where to stand.
- If the magistrates are already in the court room, stay standing until you are invited to sit down. If the magistrates are not yet in the court room, you can sit down until they enter and then you should stand up.
- There are usually between one and three magistrates and they are assisted by a court clerk, who usually sits in front of them. The clerk will ask you to confirm your name and address and then read out the offences with which you are charged.
- If the case is ready to go ahead, you will be asked whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty. Your lawyer (or other representative) will already have discussed this with you.
- You will then be invited to sit down and if you are represented by a lawyer, you will be guided through the hearing form this point onwards.
- Whenever you are asked a question, you should address your answer to the chairman of the magistrates (usually the one in the middle if there are three) and call him ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ as appropriate. No one minds if you get any of this wrong, but if you can remember to do these things it just helps with creating a good impression.
- Remain calm and answer any questions slowly and clearly.
By Martin Langan, the founder of Road Traffic Representation, an online tool that allows you work out how serious your offence is, what the likely outcome is, and whether you need legal representation or not.