Appearing in court - what you need to know

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If you choose to represent yourself, it helps to have a good understanding of the law and court practices. It is important to abide by the rules of the court and carry out any directions given by the Court. If you are unclear of anything, it is important to tell the court and ask for assistance as soon as possible.

This section provides information on representing yourself in the High Court on the day of your court appearance(s).

Before court

What to bring with you on the day

When representing yourself in court, it is important to take everything you may wish to speak to on the day of your appearance, and something to take notes with on the day. For example, you should take:

  • any relevant documents. For example, on the day of your trial you should take your bundle of documents, which includes your witness statements, any written submissions you have prepared, and any letters or emails from the court;
  • a pen and some paper to keep track of what is being said throughout the trial; and
  • highlighter pens or post-it notes to keep track of documents that are being discussed, and to mark important points made.

Note: you may wish to consider packing everything in a small suitcase before your appearance so you can more easily transport it to and from the court – lawyers sometimes do this.  

Arranging to bring a support person to court

McKenzie Friend

You may wish to consider bringing a support person with you to court on the day of your appearance, for example a friend or relative.

A support person in court is commonly referred to as a McKenzie Friend. This person can help to keep you calm, confident and organised throughout your appearance. A McKenzie friend may, with the permission of the court, be able to sit with you in court, take notes on your behalf, and quietly offer suggestions and advice. A McKenzie friend cannot speak for you in court, and has no right to address the judge, or the jury.

If you decide to bring a support person with you on the day of your appearance, you should contact the court as soon as possible. Whether or not your support person is permitted to sit with you in court is up to the judge.

Amicus Curiae

An amicus curiae, or “friend of the court”, is another type of support person. An amicus is not a party to an action, but a person appointed by the court to assist the court. Assistance is provided by offering information and submissions about a particular area of law, or by advancing legal arguments on behalf of an unrepresented party.

An amicus may, with the permission of the court, be able to sit next to you in court, and can offer assistance by providing you with advice, making submissions on your behalf and cross-examining Crown witnesses, among other things.

The appointment of an amicus, and the extent to which he or she may file documents and present arguments, are at the discretion of the court. The appointment of an amicus does not require the consent of the parties to the proceeding.

Dress tidily

Everyone appearing in court should wear appropriate clothing. You should dress as smartly and tidily as you can for court.

Visit the court

If you would like to familiarise yourself with the courthouse and courtroom before your appearance, you may be able to visit the courthouse before your appearance.

New Zealand courts are open to the public so you can visit the courthouse on any day during the registry’s opening hours. If the courtroom isn’t being used for another trial on that day, you may also be able to look inside the courtroom to get a feel for where your case will be heard. You should speak to reception about this on the day of your visit.

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When you arrive at court

Arrive early

If possible, be at least an hour early for court.

When you arrive

Check the daily list to see which courtroom your hearing is in. The daily list is usually clearly visible as you walk through the main doors of the courthouse. If you cannot see or find the list, ask reception. Alternatively, daily hearing lists are available on the Courts of New Zealand website.

Daily hearing lists (external link)

On the day of your trial, if you have witnesses who support your case, ensure they also arrive early and find them when you arrive at court. If you know they are going to be late, contact the court as soon as possible.

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During your hearing

Introducing yourself

At the beginning of your hearing, the Registrar will announce the Queen’s judge and all present will be asked to stand as the judge enters. When your case is called, you should introduce yourself, after the prosecutor has done so.

Speaking in court

It is important that you speak loudly, slowly and clearly in court. You want people to be able to easily hear and understand what you are saying.

You are not expected to know legal terms so use simple, non-legal language as much as possible. It’s also a good idea to keep your sentences as short as possible.  If you do not understand a term used in court you may ask the judge to explain the term when it is your turn to speak.

Acceptable language is expected in court at all times. It is important not to swear or use offensive language in court.

You can speak English or Māori in court. If you would like to speak Māori during your proceeding you have to complete a Notice of Intention to Speak Māori and file it with the court at least 10 working days before the scheduled hearing.

Notice of Intention to Speak Māori

If you will need an interpreter for your hearing, you must tell the court as soon as possible and at least 10 working days before you appear in court. More information about interpreter services is provided below.

Behaviour

Timeliness is crucial to the smooth running of the court. Please arrive at court on time, and be sure to return from court breaks on time.

It is important to behave politely at all times, including to the prosecutor and prosecution witnesses.

Do not interrupt when other parties are speaking, unless (on legal grounds) you object to a question being asked or the way a question is asked of a witness. If you wish to object, quietly stand to indicate this objection. Note that you will have an opportunity to respond after the other party is finished speaking.

You should stand whenever you are speaking, or being spoken to, in court.

Only one person should be standing at a time.

All people in court are expected to show respect for court processes. This includes not eating or drinking in court. There are also limits on the use of electronic devices in courts. Please check with the court taker about the use of texting and emailing.

It is important not to:

  • insult a judicial officer, registrar, officer of the court (including the prosecutor), juror or any witness;
  • interrupt proceedings of a court;
  • otherwise misbehave in court; or
  • disobey any order or direction of the court during your case.

Any of these behaviours can be referred to as contempt of court and there can be serious penalties for these types of actions.

Tips for interacting with judges

You will be required to stand whenever the judge enters or leaves the courtroom.

A judge of the High Court must be addressed as Your Honour, Sir (male) or Ma’am (female). Associate judges must be called Sir (male) or Ma’am (female).

If you want to refer to another judge:

  • a judge of the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court is referred to as Justice [Surname]
  • a judge of the District Court is referred to as Judge [Surname]

Anyone addressing a judge, or being spoken to by a judge, should stand up.

Don’t interrupt when the judge is speaking.

It is recommended that you write down any instructions given to you by a judge.

Tips for interacting with the jury

You should stand to show respect for the members of the jury when they enter or leave the courtroom.

Refer to the Jury as “The Jury” or, when addressing them, as “Members of the Jury”.

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Publication of your name

It is possible that your name may be published by the media.

However, where publication of your name might lead to undue hardship for yourself, or another person, the court can grant you either interim (temporary) or permanent name suppression. This prevents anybody publishing your name and any personal details that may identify you, or the victim.

You can make an application for name suppression by completing a Notice of Application. Information about name suppression is also available in the Act (external link)

Notice of Application [PDF, 851 KB]

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A look inside a courtroom – who else might be there

Open justice is a key principle of New Zealand’s legal system. As a result of this importance, the hearing of all criminal proceedings in all courts is generally open to the public. This means that members of the public, including media, can attend your hearing.

An image of a typical High Court courtroom and some of the people who may be there on the day of your trial is shown below:

High Court courtroom

1. Judge – The person in charge of the court. There are two kinds of criminal court trials: judge-alone and jury. In a judge-alone trial, a judge decides if the defendant is guilty.

2. Registrar – The person who makes sure court processes are followed and helps a judge.

3. Jury – There are two kinds of criminal court trials: judge-alone and jury. In a jury trial, the 12-member jury decides if the defendant is guilty.

4. Prosecutor – The lawyer or police officer who is trying to prove the defendant is guilty.

5. Media – The journalists who report on the case.

6. Defence lawyer – The defendant's lawyer.

7. Defendant – The person charged with an offence.

8. Prisoner’s escort – The person who escorts the defendant at court.

9. Public gallery – Seating for members of the public, including the victim's and defendant's families and whānau. Victims and witnesses can also sit here after they have given evidence.

10. Court victim advisor – A court staff member who helps the victim understand the court process.

11. Witness’ support person – A person who the judge has agreed can support a witness in court.

12. Witness – A person who gives evidence in court on what happened or what they know about the case.

Note that as an unrepresented litigant, you may not necessarily sit in the dock (as pictured) for the duration of your trial.  You may be seated in the dock, at counsel’s table, or a combination of both throughout your trial. For example, you will typically stand in the dock while you plead, but will sit at counsel’s table while you make submissions. The decision of where you sit at different stages of your trial is a decision of the court, usually made on a case-by-case basis.

If you bring a support person with you, and the court gives you permission, they may also sit with you. If you require an interpreter, they will also sit near you so they can easily translate proceedings.

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Interpreter services

Foreign languages

If you will need an interpreter for a foreign language, you should tell the court at least 10 working days before you appear in court. If you fail to give enough notice, there may be a delay or cost.

You and the prosecutor should provide the interpreter with all documentation relevant to your case.

The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (external link) has an online directory which provides contact details, working languages and specialities of each member and affiliate member. An alternative source of interpreters is local language schools.

New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (external link)

Māori

If you would like to speak Māori during criminal proceedings in the High Court, you must comply with rule 1.9 Criminal Procedure Rules 2012. Please complete a Notice of Intention to Speak Maori and file this with the court.  You must also serve a copy of this notice on all other parties in the proceeding. You must do this at least 10 working days before the proceeding. If you don’t give enough notice, there may be a delay or cost.

Rule 1.9 Criminal Procedure Rules 2012 (external link)

Notice of Intention to Speak Maori [PDF, 233 KB]

You and the prosecutor should provide the interpreter with all documentation relevant to your case.

The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters directory includes some speakers of Maori. An alternative source is the national translators register of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission.

Sign language

If you need the services of a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter you must comply with rule 1.9 Criminal Procedure Rules 2012. You must tell the court and other parties to the proceedings that you will need sign language services at least 10 working days before the proceedings. You can do this by completing a Request for an Interpreter form. If you don’t give enough notice, there may be a delay or cost.

Rule 1.9 Criminal Procedure Rules 2012 (external link)

Request for an Interpreter form [PDF, 161 KB]

You and the prosecutor should provide the interpreter with all documentation relevant to your case.

A list of appropriately qualified and experienced New Zealand Sign Language interpreters can be found on the Office of Disability Issues website.

Office of Disability Issues (external link)

Complaints about interpreters

Interpreters are sourced and appointed by the court. If, during your appearance, you are unhappy with the court-appointed interpreter, you should raise this issue with the judge as soon as practicable.

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Video conferences

Video conferencing allows people to participate remotely in court proceedings.

Video conferencing is available to be used in a wide range of court proceedings, by a range of participants in the court process. Examples of situations where video conferencing may be used in the High Court include:

  • by a witness giving evidence;
  • by a participant to appear before the court; or
  • by an interpreter to provide interpreter services.

Proceedings conducted by video conference generally use normal courtroom protocols and procedures.

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