Mastery of courtroom etiquette is a critical component of effective advocacy.

For those of us with a healthy streak of irreverence, observing proper court etiquette is not about being obsequious or servile – nor does it exist for the pleasure of judges to chastise or embarrass counsel who violate protocol mistakenly.  Rather, proper court decorum promotes the solemnity of the proceeding and facilitates the just and orderly resolution of cases in often highly contentious and emotional matters. Courtroom etiquette reflects a joint commitment by all parties to show respect for the process.

Repeated missteps may be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and may generate ill will - it is unhelpful to alienate other counsel or the judge you are trying to persuade to make a decision on your client’s behalf.

The following tips may be helpful to junior counsel in their efforts to learn the “dos” and “don’ts” of criminal court:

1) Be on time;

2) Dress appropriately;

3) Refrain from placing your bag on counsel table;

4) Refrain from using counsel table as a chair;

5) Refrain from using the bar as a coat stand;

6) Respect the seniority of other lawyers at counsel table when seating is limited;

7) Respect the seniority of other lawyers with respect to the order in which matters on the docket are called. If you have a pressing engagement and your matter is brief, please ask more senior counsel for permission to have your matter called first;

8) Rise when the judge is entering or exiting the courtroom;

9) While the judge is sitting, bow to the judge when you cross the bar or enter or leave the courtroom;

10) Refrain from turning your back to the judge;

11) Use the proper form of address for the judge, depending on the level of court;

12) Use the proper form of address for other counsel - for example, ‘my friend’ or ‘my learned friend’ if the lawyer has a Queen’s Counsel designation;

13) Stand when addressing the judge;

14) Recognize that only one counsel is permitted to stand to address the judge at a given time. Counsel should never be talking over one another. For example, if opposing counsel stands to make an objection during your examination of a witness you must sit down; and

15) Refrain from engaging in any behaviour that may distract the judge, such as talking loudly with other counsel while waiting for your matter to be called.

Other considerations:

When in doubt as to local courtroom etiquette, it is helpful to make advance inquiries of other counsel or court staff. 

It is also critical to appreciate the role of the criminal court clerk:


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