Here are a few tips about what to do and how to do it if you're representing yourself (you don't have a lawyer) at trial in Supreme Court.
How to behave in court
If you want to make a good impression during your trial, follow the rules and standards of courtroom behaviour. Here are some tips on courtroom etiquette (manners):
- Arrive at the courtroom at least 15 minutes before your trial time. If you have any witnesses or support people coming with you, tell them to arrive 15 minutes early as well.
- Always be respectful and polite to everyone in the courtroom, including the other person (the law calls them the other party), even if you don't feel like being polite to them.
- If the judge is a woman, call her My Lady or Your Ladyship. If the judge is a man, call him My Lord or Your Lordship.
- Stand up:
- when a judge enters or leaves the courtroom, and
- when you're speaking to the judge.
- When you're speaking to a witness, call them Mr., Ms., or Dr. Don't use their first names. For example, say Mr. Smith, not Joe.
- Be back in court on time after any breaks.
- Take notes during court. That way, you can talk about any issues the other person talked about when it's your turn to speak to the judge.
- You can't audio-record or video your trial yourself unless the judge has said it's okay.
- If you have any questions about court procedure during your trial (for example, what happens next, or what you should do), ask the judge.
When and how to speak up
You can't just speak when you feel like it in court. If you follow these rules, you'll come across as credible (reliable) to the court and the judge:
- When you want to speak during the trial, talk to the judge. Don't speak directly to the other person.
- Don't interrupt. Only one person can speak at a time.
- If you disagree with something the other person tells the judge, write it down. Don't speak to the other person and tell them that you disagree. The judge will give you time to disagree when it's your turn to speak.
- If you object to a question the other person asks your witnesses, don't interrupt. Instead:
- Write down your objection right away.
- Stand up. This tells the judge that you have something to say. You can then explain why you're objecting to the question the other person asked your witness.
- Do not stand up if you disagree with someone's answer to a question, or if you think that someone's lying. Just write it down so that you can talk about it later.
- If you can't hear what someone's saying, let the judge know. Stand up and politely tell the judge you didn't hear what they said.
How to swear an oath or affirm the truth
When you or your witnesses take the stand, you'll be asked to either swear an oath or affirm that you'll be telling the truth.
An oath is a spoken promise to tell the truth. People often hold the Bible, the New Testament, or the Old Testament when they make an oath. But you can choose to:
- swear an oath on another religious text, or
- not use a religious text at all.
If you're in court, the oath you'll take will probably be like this: "I swear [or promise] by Almighty God [or a god appropriate to your religion] that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
You can also choose to make an affirmation instead of an oath. It's a non-religious option and it has the same effect as an oath.
If you're in court, an affirmation will probably be like this: "I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
At the beginning of your trial, the judge will usually order all the witnesses to stay outside the courtroom (this is called excluding them) until they're called to come into the courtroom and give their evidence.
You and the other person can also ask to exclude witnesses. You'd do this to make sure that a witness doesn't change their testimony (evidence) after they hear what another witness says.
Let your witnesses know that they'll probably have to sit outside until they're called to give evidence. If a judge orders that the witnesses be excluded from the courtroom, don't speak to the witnesses about any of the evidence you've already heard before they testify.
You don't have to leave the courtroom when other witnesses testify, even if you'll be testifying yourself.
This material was adapted, with permission, from the National Self-represented Litigants Project's publication Coping with the Courtroom: Essential tips and information for self-represented litigants.