Helpful tips when dealing with a county court hearing
For any county court hearing, be it a standard hearing or a full trial, the best rule to follow is to always be prepared. This will help you avoid any last minute panics.
Be familiar with your claim, what you have said in your claim / defence and witness statements. Make sure you have copies of all papers you want to rely on. If you are not legally represented we would recommend that you instruct a barrister to assist you and this is something we can help you with. If you are going to be speaking to the judge without the assistance of a barrister, then you should practice what you want to say beforehand.
We have set out below some practical steps to consider when attending court for a hearing. These are written on the basis of actual attendance at court, although you should be aware that these days, many hearings take place online and you need to be able to react accordingly to the new way things are commonly done.
1. Check which county court you are in
You should check the name and address of the county court where your hearing is taking place and work out how you are going to get there if you need to attend in person. There is not always parking at the county courts, so you should ensure that you have enough time to get from the car park or station. If the hearing is online – make sure you understand how and when to log in.
2. Arrive in plenty of time
You will normally receive an order form the county court confirming the date and time of your hearing or trial. You should ensure that you arrive in plenty of time for your hearing – at least 15 minutes before the hearing is due to start. Again, if the hearing is online – don’t leave logging in to the last minute. Check that everything is working and give yourself plenty of time to sort out any connection issues.
3. Find out which court you are in
When you arrive at court, ask to see the “daily cause list”. This is a list of the cases that are taking place in the court on that day. The list should be displayed as you come into the court, but if not, ask one of the security guards or the court staff.
- the “cause list” will list each of the different courtrooms in the courthouse and the judge sitting in each room. Under this, there should be a list of the cases which that judge is hearing;
- it is quite common for a judge to hear a number of cases in one particular day. For example, with county court possession claims, a judge may hear up to twenty cases in any one morning.
The county court day normally lasts from 10.30am to 1.00pm and then again from 2.00pm to 4.00pm. Occasionally, for more urgent cases, some hearings will take place at 10.00am and they can go past the 4.00pm afternoon deadline.
4. Wait outside your court
If you are attending the court in person – once you have found out which court your county court hearing is in, you should wait in the waiting area outside that court. There will normally be a court usher sitting outside the court and you should report to him or her to let them know that you have arrived for your hearing.
The usher will normally ask whether you are there for the claimant or defendant and whether you have a legal representative attending with you. They will also let you know whether your opponent has already arrived, in case you wish to discuss any matter with your opponent before the start of the hearing.
You should not wander around the court building. When the judge is ready to hear your case, the usher will call the parties in to the courtroom. If you are not there, then the judge may proceed without you.
5. Dress smartly and address the court politely and correctly
Although there is no formal dress code in court for claimants or defendants, it is always better to dress smartly when attending any hearing (in person or online). However, you should ensure that you are comfortable too. You may have to stand up to address the court and you want to be able to do so without feeling uncomfortable in what you are wearing. Legal representatives will be dressed in suits and ties and sometimes formal wigs.
If you are in doubt, check with the usher beforehand as to how you should address the judge.
The likelihood is that your county court hearing will be conducted by a district judge or deputy district judge. If they are a male judge, you should address them as “sir”. If they are a female judge, you should address them as “madam”.
Be as polite and courteous as you can be. Listen to what the judge says and do not interrupt them. Although there may be times when you want to interrupt what your opponent is saying (because you do not agree with it), do not interrupt them. The judge will give you your opportunity to speak. Again, try not to get upset or frustrated and try not to swear. judges do not like disrespectful behaviour or inappropriate language.
Each party will be given an opportunity to put their case forward. Normally, the claimant makes their opening statements first, setting out the nature of their claim. The defendant will then be given an opportunity to respond.
- you should try to listen carefully to any submissions put forward by your opponent and if you wish, make notes on any points you disagree with, so you can respond to them when you make your own submissions;
- it is likely that there will be points made by your opponent that you disagree with. However, try to remain calm and do not interrupt them as the judges do not like this.
7. Help the judge with any questions they have
Although the judge should have a copy of all the papers from your case in front of him/her, they may not have had an opportunity to read all of them before your county court hearing.
Unfortunately, there are times when papers go missing from the county court file, so if you have a spare copy of the papers, it is always a good idea to take them with you to the hearing.
The judge is likely to ask both sides questions throughout the county court hearing, so that he/she can get a better understanding of each sides’ respective positions. Again, try to remain calm when answering the judge and try to be as helpful as you can.
8. The judgment
At the end of the county court hearing, the judge will normally make their decision. If the case is complex or has lasted a long time, then the judge may ask the parties to go outside whilst he/she considers their judgment. However, for much more straightforward matters, the judge will tell the parties his/her decision straightaway.
You should listen carefully to what the judge says in his/her judgment and must not interrupt them. The judge will read out his/her decision and the reasons behind that decision. By this time, the judge will not change their mind, so remain quiet during the judgment.
If you do not agree with the judgment, you can ask the judge for permission to appeal and give your reasons why.
If you are given permission to appeal, you must do so quickly afterwards as there are strict time limits which you will need to comply with.
Our expert team of county court solicitors at Francis Wilks & Jones are here to help you with any type of county court enquiry or question. Contact one of our team of expert friendly lawyers now for help.