How To Behave In A Courtroom If You Are Representing Yourself. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Amanda Hamilton. Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP). Amanda will be sharing How To Behave In A Courtroom If You Are Representing Yourself. There are times when taking someone (or being taken by someone) to court is unavoidable. With solicitor and barrister fees now so high, many people represent themselves as a ‘litigant in person. So how should you behave in court?
How To Behave In A Courtroom If You Are Representing Yourself
Taking someone to court should be avoided at all costs. It’s not an easy route, nor is it a cheap one. And you must be able to show you’ve tried everything else first. Litigation should always be a last resort.
In April 1999, the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (CPR) came into force. Its overriding objective was to encourage parties involved in a dispute not to prosecute. It provided measures and advice, such as the requirement to enter into mediation. Or some other type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Failure to consider ADR could incur a sanction regarding costs once the case gets to court. However, what the CPR also did, was to make the process more user friendly and less time consuming if the parties felt that there was no other alternative.
Contact The Other Party
The first most crucial rule where there is a dispute is to contact the other party to resolve it face to face. Or at least negotiate a compromise acceptable to both parties. Failure to reach such an agreement may mean litigation is on the horizon.
Nevertheless, let’s be frank about this. It is very costly to take someone to court to defend an action if someone has instigated proceedings against you. It can also be used as a threat by one party to encourage the other party to comply with their wishes – this method of ‘persuasion’ is used more often than you would imagine. Whether by legal professionals or individuals with knowledge and experience of the process.
It puts most of us in a precarious position since instructing a solicitor is exceptionally costly and financially draining. Most solicitors charge £300-£600 per hour in the region, and there is no legal funding to assist.
There are other alternatives: if you are a litigant in person (i.e. you have not instructed a solicitor), you can order a paralegal to assist you through the process. Although many are qualified through those prescribed routes, a paralegal is not a practising solicitor or barrister. Alternatively, they could be career paralegals qualified via specialist paralegal qualifications or have a requisite number of years’ relevant legal experience. Most paralegals will charge around £30-£80 per hour for their services.
While paralegals do not have a Right of Audience—that is to say. They have no automatic right to speak on your behalf in court (unless it is a small claim or before a Tribunal)—they may be granted this right at the discretion of the Judge. This requires the paralegal to notify the court and request permission. It may not be presented, so the next best alternative is to instruct a barrister on a Direct Access basis, i.e. you can go directly to a barrister bypassing the need to go to a solicitor first. Barristers may charge £200-£400 per hour for their services, but you only pay for the work they do: e.g., consider the merits of the case, draft documents and present your case to the court.
Of course, instructing a barrister may also be outside your financial remit, in which case, you can represent yourself in court as a Litigant in Person. This will be a nerve-racking process for someone without experience of ever being in a courtroom before. Questions such as ‘Where do I sit?’, ‘Who starts talking first?’ and ‘How do I address the Judge?’ spring to mind. If you have a paralegal working with you, they will advise you on such matters.
Addressing The Judge
Generally, when you face the bench where the Judge sits, the Claimant or their legal representative (the party bringing the action to court) sits on the left, and the defendant or their representative sits on the right. If you have a paralegal assisting you, that paralegal can sit behind you. When the Clerk introduces the case, the Judge comes into the courtroom, and the parties (and their representatives) rise and nod their heads to acknowledge the Judge. The case commences with the Claimant outlining their case and introducing any witnesses.
You address a Circuit Judge as ‘Your Honour’. However, in a small claims case, you will be before a District Judge whom you should address as ‘Sir‘ or ‘Madam‘.
You would have already received the case statements: the claim form and particulars outlining the Claimant’s case. The defendant would have submitted a Defence outlining their case. There would have been a scheduled timetable to follow, usually issued by the court through an Order. This would mean that by a specific date and time, both parties would need to:
- Disclose all the evidence they intend to use to prove their case to the other party.
- Produce and exchange witness statements.
- Produce and exchange any expert witness statements (if required).
The Full Hearing
By the time the case arrives in court for the entire hearing, you would know all there is to know about the case. And what the witnesses will say. The most challenging part of the process is to cross-examine witnesses who are called to give testimony in the witness box. This is a skill that is not easy. In a civil action (the one we are describing, as opposed to criminal activity), a claimant has to prove their case ‘on a balance of ‘probabilities’. This means that the Judge has to weigh up the evidence of both parties to ascertain which carries more persuasive weight than the other. The cross-examination of a witness is all about casting doubt on their testimony – perhaps discrediting them. This is where the skill of an advocate, such as a barrister, would come in useful.
This author’s mother was a barrister and very skilled at cross-examination. ‘You should never ask a question in cross-examination that do not already know the answer to‘ is what she always said to me. I once saw her cross-examine an expert witness in a fraud case, and by the time she finished with him. His testimony had been torn apart, and he left the witness box having been discredited.
In conclusion, the best way to deal with a dispute of any kind is to come to an amicable resolution if you can. However, both parties must want to do this, and it may prove not easy if one party decides not to enter into such discussions. The next step is to suggest ADR – mediation. Again, both parties must want to enter into this process willingly. The final alternative is to prosecute but ensure this is thoroughly thought through beforehand, particularly regarding the costs. Remember, a paralegal can offer you plenty of advice and assistance if you need it.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professionals. Paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.