Law Society event hears some basic dos and don’ts for the courtroom.

‘Good advocacy assists justice, bad advocacy hinders justice,’ Law Society Council member Ian Kelcey told solicitor-advocates at an event organised by the Society’s advocacy section this month.

Kelcey, a solicitor and higher courts advocate, and also a member of the Advocacy Section Advisory Group, dispensed some helpful tips, as did His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC and District Judge Sunita Mason, on dos and don’ts in the courtroom.

What struck me, however, is how obvious some of their advice was, highlighted by some surprising anecdotes from Mason.

Behaviour: ‘Your preparation and advocacy starts the minute you walk into court,’ says Mason, who sits in West London. Mason, a former chair of the Society’s family law committee, sometimes enters the court building via the front doors instead of the judges’ entrance at the back, and is staggered at the rudeness she sees among advocates, trying to push her out of the way for instance. ‘I’m not going to be impressed when you come before me,’ she warns.

How you treat the usher is also important, she adds. ‘They will come and tell us if you’re rude to them. Judges talk to each other and your cards are totally marked. Our ushers work so hard and we expect courtesy.’

Emails: sending position statements to the judge days in advance can be difficult, so it is worth asking judges if they will accept direct emails where time is tight, advises Mason.

‘If you take the trouble to write it, I want to take the trouble to read it’, she says.

Advocates should avoid sending position statements to a generic email address. ‘Court staff simply don’t have the time to open them all, work out which case it is, which judge is doing it, print it and give it to us,’ she says.

While not all courts will be the same, ‘in the family courts we like to be emailed directly’, Mason says.

Etiquette: family courts can afford to be a little more relaxed, due to litigants-in-person – but advocates should not be too relaxed, Mason suggests.

‘I had a case where a poor mother in a care case, who was terribly traumatised, crying her eyes out, but delicately pouring water from a jug into her glass and drinking it, and an advocate, sitting on the front bench and just sipping out of the bottle. And I just thought “Really?”,’ she recalls.

‘Even if you try and be more relaxed, it doesn’t mean that it’s so relaxed it’s your front room,’ says Mason, who asked the advocate to use a glass.

For more advocacy advice and information, go to the Advocacy Section of the Law Society website.  

Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter