By Rebecca Hennessy – Consultant Solicitor
Going to Trial can seem a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never been to court before. Your legal representative should explain to you beforehand what will happen and answer any of your questions. If they haven’t, here’s what will happen:
In most cases, your Solicitor won’t be at the Trial with you, but they will have instructed a Barrister to attend with you and put your case forward. Ideally, the Barrister will be someone that your Solicitor has used before with a good reputation. The Barrister will be fully briefed on your case beforehand.
Generally, Barristers will be dressed in a business suit, but sometimes they will be wearing a wig and a gown as well. You should aim to meet your Barrister at least 30-45 minutes before the start of the Trial. They will spend that time reiterating what will happen and clarifying any points they have with you.
When you are called into the Courtroom, it will usually be a relatively large room with a “bench” at the front where the Judge will sit, a box (called the “stand”) to the side where the person giving evidence will stand, and then tables and chairs where the “Claimant” and “Defendant” sides will sit, separately.
The Defendant will be there, along with their Barrister and possibly their Solicitor. You (the Claimant) will be there with your Barrister and possibly their Solicitor.
The Judge will come into the Courtroom and everyone will stand. You will then be asked to sit down.
Your Barrister will then give an “opening speech” where they explain the facts of your case and what they intend to prove (i.e. that the Defendant was negligent and that it caused your injuries).
The Defendant’s Barrister will then give their “opening speech” where they will explain why they think they weren’t negligent.
Next, you (the Claimant) will be asked to “take the stand” and head towards the box at the side. Your Barrister will ask you to confirm if your witness statement is correct and then run through any important parts if necessary. The Defendant’s Barrister will then ask you some questions about your statement and what happened. A lot of Claimants worry that the Defendant’s Barrister will try to “trip them up”; the key is to remain calm, listen to the question and take a breath before answering honestly. If you don’t understand, then you should just say so and they will reword the question. Ultimately, their job is to try to show that there was another reason for the accident to have happened and that the Defendant hasn’t been negligent, or that you in some way contributed to it yourself. If the Defendant’s Barrister has raised new points, your Barrister will come back up and ask you questions to deal with the new points.
It will then be your witnesses turns to “take the stand” in the same way as you will just have done.
At some point, you will stop for lunch when you can stretch your legs and get some food.
After your witnesses have finished, the Defendant and then their witnesses will “take the stand”. Your Barrister will then get the opportunity to quiz them and try to show that their evidence is inconsistent or incorrect, and that they were negligent.
Once they have finished, it will be the “final submissions”; the Defendant’s Barrister will summarise why the Defendant hasn’t been negligent, and your Barrister will then summarise why the Defendant has been negligent.
There may then be a brief break where the Judge goes away to consider all the evidence and what they have heard today. The Judge will then give their Judgment, summarising the case, then explaining who has won the case and why.
The case will then be over and, hopefully, you will have been successful!