By Venisha Shah
in Family Law
Category on February 14th, 2018
Here I am waiting, doing my 2 weeks of jury service and thoroughly not enjoying it! I have had the privilege of being selected on a jury. However, despite that, there is so much waiting around that it makes you want to watch paint dry.
How to spend your free time at Court?
As I am sitting here, thinking of all the ways I could be using my time more effectively, it dawns on me. While I am used to waiting around in Court buildings as a family lawyer, most people are not. For the other jurors, this must be a surreal experience. Complete strangers sitting around, talking about nothing in particular to try and pass the time.
It occurred to me that what I take for granted may actually be a strange experience for most people who don’t spend time in Court buildings. So I thought I would put my time to good use and do a blog about Courts! My life could not get more exciting…
What actually happens at Court
This is a mainly for family law clients who have the rare experience of attending a Court hearing:
- If the hearing is listed for 10am, it very rarely starts at 10am. Assume that the hearing will start at least 30 minutes later than listed and often, longer than an hour. The Court listing office hedges its bets. It lists about 4-5 matters all at 10am. It hopes that some will settle before the hearing and some will be very quick. I can understand that they don’t to waste precious Court time and taxpayers’ money. However, if you are required to wait for hours (more often than you think), efficiency and saving taxpayers’ money is not on the top of the list.
- Hearings usually take place between 10.30am and 4.30pm. Judges do work longer than these hours even though it may feel that they do not. However, hearings are often intensive and require a lot of concentration. For this reason, I think the time is limited to 6 hours with an hour’s break. Most people would not be able to function for longer than 5 hours with the same degree of concentration. I do not attend Court everyday, unlike barristers, and I feel very tired at the end of a day when I have been to Court.
- Most clients understandably have a reverence for Judges. They assume that the Judge will have read the relevant papers and will be familiar with their matter. Sadly, this is often not the case. Whether it is lack of time or something far more sinister, many Judges do not read the papers before a hearing. Instead, they rely on the legal representatives to give them a summary of the matter and they are often guided to look at relevant documents by those same legal representatives. Please don’t be disappointed. Judges are usually quite good at absorbing important information quickly. While there may be good reasons why Judges do not always read the papers, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth of clients. Perception is much more important than reality and Judges sometimes forget this!
- Family lawyers do no wear gowns or wigs as they do in TV programmes. As family law is such a personal area of the law, wigs and gowns are only worn for the much higher Courts in the hierarchy. In the same vein, Judges do not wear gowns or wigs but just wear business attire. It can almost feel like you are attending a meeting with several attendees.
- The layout of a Court room will differ from building to building. Some Court buildings are new and have modern facilities whilst others do not. Your Court room could look like a Court room you may see on TV but it is more likely to look like a large office. A desk in the middle of the office – the Judge sits at one end and the parties sit on either side.
- For every hearing, there will be a hearing bundle. This is a bundle of documents which are relevant to that hearing. The bundles are prepared in advance and during some hearings, especially final hearings, the barristers will often refer to documents in the bundle.
- For most hearings where there are legal representatives, they prepare a document for the Judge which gives the Judge a summary of the background and the case details to date. This is called the Position Statement or Note for the Hearing. This is a good opportunity to set out your stall in the most advantageous way possible.
- Finally, if you are attending a settlement hearing, bring a friend. The discussions before the hearing are intensive and as you may have to make decisions quite quickly, it is always good to have a helping hand. You will find that the legal representatives talk to each other about your matter and then come and speak to you. The idea behind this is to try and narrow the issues between you, get clarity on something or try and agree terms. It is a good opportunity to really get stuck into progressing matters.
You will not be disappointed if you manage your expectations. Come to Court prepared. Bring some food and water with you. Maybe even bring something to read if there are long waiting times. Before the hearing, try and go through the most important documents, such as the financial statement or your witness statement. Expect to be called to the hearing later than you thought. And finally, please be ready for a frenzy of discussions between the legal representatives.
At The Law House, we deal with all aspects of family law. Please contact me, Venisha Shah, on 020 3150 2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your situation.