Guidance

What to expect coming to a court or tribunal

Find out what you should bring for a court or tribunal hearing, how you can get support, and what to expect on the day

If you are unwell or self-isolating

Do not come to a court or tribunal hearing if you:

  • have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, whether or not you have tested positive, or are waiting for a test result
  • have been told to self-isolate by the NHS
  • have returned from travel abroad and are in quarantine

If any of these apply to you, contact the court or tribunal immediately so they can consider alternative arrangements. This could include a telephone or video hearing.

If you develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 within 72 hours of visiting a court or tribunal building, please contact the court or tribunal as soon as possible.

Contact us if you have concerns about coming to one of our buildings.

Keeping courts and tribunals safe, secure and clean

Additional cleaning and social distancing measures are in place to keep you and our staff safe.

When you attend your hearing, keep yourself and others safe by:

  • wearing a face covering
  • keeping space from others
  • washing (or sanitising) hands regularly and thoroughly
  • leaving empty seats next to you in waiting rooms where you can
  • following any local instructions inside the building
  • leaving the court or tribunal once your hearing finishes

Getting tested

We encourage individuals to take a free, rapid lateral flow COVID-19 test before coming to a court or tribunal. These will be readily available in your local area, or you can order a test online to be sent to you.

Before your hearing

What to bring with you

If you are coming to a court or tribunal for a hearing, you should bring:

  • your hearing letter with your case number – the case number helps you find where you need to go in the building
  • any papers that you need for your hearing
  • a face covering (unless you are exempt from having to wear one)
  • hand sanitiser, if you have some
  • food and drink, including water – not all buildings have refreshments available

You cannot bring weapons, glass or liquids other than non-alcoholic drinks or hand sanitiser into the building.

What to wear

Apart from a face covering, you cannot wear anything on your head in a court or tribunal building unless it is for religious reasons.

There are no other rules about what you should wear, but dress smartly if you can.

When to arrive

You need to arrive 30 minutes before the time stated in your hearing letter. Do not arrive earlier as you may be turned away, particularly during busy times.

The time given in your letter is when the day’s cases start. Your case might not be first so be prepared to wait.

Make any arrangements you need to, for example childcare or taking time off work.

Your safety

We know that coming to a court or tribunal can feel overwhelming or frightening.

We have security at all our buildings.

You should contact the court or tribunal on your letter if you have any worries about your safety on the day.

There are other things we can do to help you feel safe, for example:

  • seat you in a different part of the building to others in your case while you wait
  • provide a screen in the hearing room so that the other party cannot see you

Who will be at your hearing

Find out who else might be at your hearing and what their roles will be.

Support available

Who can come with you

While social distancing measures apply, space will be limited in waiting areas and public galleries.

If you need support, only bring one person with you – such as a friend or family member.

If you come with more than one person, they may not be allowed to enter.

There are no childcare facilities and staff cannot look after your children while you are in the hearing room.

You can breastfeed or express milk in all court or tribunal buildings.

If you have a disability

You can get support in the court or tribunal building and during your case. This is sometimes called a ‘reasonable adjustment’.

Before your hearing date, contact the court or tribunal on your letter to let them know what you need.

For example, this could be:

  • ramps or accessible toilets
  • a hearing loop
  • forms in large print
  • guidance in audio or easy read formats

The day of your hearing

Wear a face covering

You must wear a face covering at all times in public and communal parts of a court or tribunal building unless you are exempt.

If you are presenting evidence in the courtroom, the judge or magistrate may also ask you to take your face covering off temporarily. If you need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound, they may ask you to take your face covering off.

If you cannot wear a face covering, you can help us by wearing one of our sunflower lanyards and exemption cards. We will offer these to you when you arrive if you are exempt.

When you enter the building

When you enter a courts or tribunals building, your bags and pockets will be checked like they would be at an airport. This may include:

  • handing over your bag for it to be checked
  • emptying your pockets into a tray
  • taking off your shoes, coat, gloves, hat or belt
  • walking through an archway detector
  • being checked with a handheld scanner

You may be asked to leave certain items with security staff – you’ll get them back when you leave.

If you have downloaded the NHS test and trace app onto your smartphone, you can ‘check in’ to the building by scanning the QR code from posters in the entrance area. In certain parts of the building you may be advised to turn off contact tracing temporarily – for example, where screens are in place to protect you.

A member of staff will call you into the hearing room and show you where to sit.

What to do during the hearing

You must silence all calls and notifications on mobile devices when you are in the hearing room.

You can take notes but you must not take photos or videos.

When a member of staff says ‘all rise’ you must stand up. This means the judge or magistrate is about to come into the room. They will tell you when you can sit down again.

You can ask a member of staff if you need to take a break at any point during your hearing.

What to say at the hearing

As part of the hearing, someone will explain who will speak and when.

You’ll be given time to ask questions and give evidence in your case. If you have a solicitor or barrister, they will ask questions for you.

If you are giving evidence during the hearing you will be asked to swear an oath or make a legally binding promise (known as an affirmation) that your evidence will be true.

The usher will read out the oath and ask you to repeat the words after them. The relevant holy book will be placed in front of you, but you will not need to touch the book. Affirmations are equally solemn, significant and come with the same responsibilities as a religious oath. If you prefer to affirm, the usher will read out the affirmation and ask you to repeat the words after them.

Speak clearly and politely to the judge or magistrate. It’s okay to call them ‘sir’ or ‘madam’. You may see some people bow to the judge or magistrate when they walk in or out of the hearing room. You don’t have to do this, but you can if you want to.

At the end of the hearing

The judge or magistrate may leave the room to think about their decision. They may make a decision on the day or send it to you by post later.

Leave the building straight away after your hearing, this helps limit the number of people inside at any one time.

Published 30 January 2020
Last updated 17 September 2021 + show all updates
  1. removed reference to clinically extremely vulnerable

  2. Updates to content following changes to the Covid restrictions from 19 July 2021

  3. Updated the Welsh version

  4. Several changes to reflect update in Covid restrictions

  5. Update to the guidance around COVID testing.

  6. Updated Welsh language translation to reflect changes made to English version about COVID-secure practices.

  7. Updated information throughout the page to highlight the need to follow COVID-secure practices.

  8. Added section called 'Getting tested'.

  9. Added translation

  10. Added the section 'Who will be at your hearing'.

  11. New Welsh version added.

  12. Changes to update information regrading to coronavirus and lockdown / local restrictions guidance.

  13. Changes to related links to provide information on courts opening and jury service

  14. Add link to coronavirus guidance.

  15. Added translation

  16. First published.