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

Courts and tribunals remain open during national lockdowns and local restrictions. If you are asked to attend a court or tribunal to participate in legal proceedings, this counts as an essential reason for travel.

Keeping courts and tribunals safe, secure and clean

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

You can help by:

  • keeping 2 metres apart from others
  • following our restrictions on numbers of people who can use toilets at any one time
  • leaving empty seats next to you in waiting rooms
  • wearing a face covering
  • washing (or sanitising) hands regularly and thoroughly
  • following instructions on entry and exit from courtrooms and throughout the building
  • leaving the court or tribunal once your hearing finishes

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
  • your doctor has told you that you need to shield as you are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus
  • you have been told to self-isolate by the NHS
  • you have returned from a country that is not in the coronavirus travel corridor

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.

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.

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 of 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

Support available

Who can come with you

You may want to bring someone with you for support, such as a friend or family member. They may not be able to go into the hearing room with you.

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

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 should wear a face covering at all times in public and communal parts of a court or tribunal building unless:

  • you have a disability or health issue that makes it difficult
  • wearing one will cause you severe distress
  • a deaf person you support needs to read your lips
  • you are eating, drinking or taking medicine
  • you are under the age of 11 in England and Wales or under the age of 5 in Scotland

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 we recommend carrying an exemption card.

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 – the officer will be closer than 2 metres but they won’t touch you.

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 fixed Perspex (or equivalent) 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.

Published 30 January 2020
Last updated 13 November 2020 + show all updates
  1. New Welsh version added.

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

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

  4. Add link to coronavirus guidance.

  5. Added translation

  6. First published.