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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: country court proceedings: appearing in court: hearings in open court

Due to the nature of the proceedings the following hearings are likely to be conducted before a circuit judge, rather than a district judge:

  • judgment summonses or cases where committal to prison is a possible outcome
  • cases where the judgment debtor has been ordered to appear following service of form N69 (DMBM668230)
  • complex defences
  • appeals.

Cases that the court has allocated to a case management track (DMBM665800) may also be held in open court though usually they will be heard before a district judge.

The proceedings will be conducted on a formal basis in open court. It is customary to stand and bow when the judge enters the court. You should also bow to the judge when you enter or leave the witness box.

Presenting your case

When your case is called, you will be required to:

  • enter the claimants’ (or witness) box at the front of the court
  • swear (or affirm) an oath to tell the truth
  • introduce yourself by stating your full name, and then adding ‘an officer of Revenue and Customs’
  • present the facts of the case honestly and in a clear, concise manner (you will find it helpful to make notes of the key points beforehand and speak from these)
  • produce evidence, when necessary, such as certificates of debt, to prove or support your application for the type of order being sought
  • listen carefully to points made by the judge, the defendant or their representative and calmly explain your reasons for countering them, if and when appropriate
  • answer or clarify, to the satisfaction of the court, any relevant matters raised in the proceedings.

When presenting your case do not try to ‘act the advocate’ or impress the court with your eloquence. The court is more likely to be impressed by the method and orderliness with which you present the case.

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Addressing the judge

During the hearing all comments must be directed to the presiding judge who is always addressed as ‘Your Honour’. This style of address should:

  • precede your opening submission for example “Your Honour, Mr Brown was self employed ………”
  • be added to any reply made to a question from the judge; for example “Yes, your Honour”
  • be substituted for the word “you” in any comments made to the Judge, for example “Your Honour will see …”.

You will notice that members of the legal profession are extremely deferential and polite when addressing the judge. You should adopt a similar approach. It would be regarded as disrespectful, for example, if you turned your back to the judge in order to retrieve some papers.

As a rule you should regard the judge as always being right on procedural matters. You will gain nothing from arguing with a judge. When, on very rare occasions, you find it necessary to draw the judge’s attention to an obvious mistake or oversight, begin by saying “With respect” or “With the greatest respect, your Honour”. The judge will not object to this line of approach if the point you are making is a valid one.

Occasionally, you may receive criticism or adverse comment from the judge that you feel is unjustified. If this does happen, accept the judge’s remarks gracefully, and continue to present the case “With the greatest respect”. A judge will respect anyone who politely stands their ground and succeeds in making their point.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing, once the judge has made his or her decision, it is customary to say “Thank you, your Honour” and, on reaching the door before leaving the court, to bow towards the judge.

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Report of hearings

As soon as you are able you should make a report of the hearing on form C20C including a precise note of the decision or order given (DMBM666240).