Court is a formal place. This page outlines the etiquette required and some tips on how to prepare for attending the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) in person.
Etiquette and tips for online hearings can be found on the electronic hearings page.
Key words in a court proceeding
- Parties: a person, business or other individual who is involved in a case. The person who initiates (or brings) the legal action is generally called the Applicant and the party or parties they are bringing the legal action against are generally called the Respondent.
- Filing: the procedure of lodging a document for placing on the Court file.
- Subpoena: a document issued by a court, at the request of a party, requiring a person to produce documents and/or give evidence to the Court.
- Witness: people who give evidence about the legal dispute. They may prepare statements, attend court, or both.
For more information on key words used in court see Legal words used in court.
Judicial officers, registrars and court staff
The judge is the judicial officer who will decide your case. They may make orders or determine interlocutory issues, and will decide the case if it requires a final hearing (a trial). In a courtroom, the Judge sits at the front of the Court and will be robed. See the Judges page for a list of FCFCOA judges.
A registrar is a judicial officer who has some of the powers of a Judge delegated to them. Registrars have particular skills in case management, dispute resolution, and interlocutory hearings. Registrars have the power to give directions and make interlocutory orders. Registrar managed events are aimed at preparing your case for dispute resolution, and if unsuccessful, a trial if a judicial decision is required. Additional information on the delegation of powers to registrars can be found at Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 – Chapter 14.
Judge’s associate or court officer
The judge’s associate helps the judge with the proceedings of the Court. They will also help the judge keep a record of what happens during each matter. In a courtroom, the judge’s associate sits in front of the judge.
Court Child Expert
Court Child Expert is the umbrella title for all employees appointed by the Court Children’s Service. A Court Child Expert may undertake the functions of a family counsellor (under s10C of the Family Law Act 1975), family consultant (under s11B of the Family Law Act 1975) or Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (under s10G of the Family Law Act 1975).
If you have a family violence order (including an interim order), you must tell the Court about the order before you attend.
See Safety at court for more information on personal safety.
How do I prepare for court?
Be ready to present your case on the day of your court hearing. Do as much research as possible and gather all the information for your case.
Find out what kind of hearing is scheduled. In most matters, the first court date is not the final hearing. If you are unsure, contact the Court.
Some people find it helpful to sit in a courtroom before the hearing if they have never been in a court before. Most court hearings are heard in open court, so you can do this any time when in- person hearings are held.
When observing a hearing, sit quietly in the public gallery at the back. Please note some hearings will not be open to the public to observe. You should ask the Court if you are unsure whether a hearing is open to the public.
What should I bring to court?
You should bring:
- All of the documents relevant to your matter, noting which ones have already been filed with the Court. Including:
- all of the documents you wish to show the judge or registrar. Any photocopies to be provided should include three copies: one set for you, one set for the other party and another set for the judge or registrar, and
- all documents the Court or the other party has given to you.
- A pen and paper to take notes.
What do I wear to court?
Although there are no rules about what to wear in court, the Court is a formal place and you should dress accordingly to demonstrate your respect for the Court system. This includes removing sunglasses, hats or caps prior to entering the courtroom.
Can I bring my children to court?
Courts are not appropriate places for children. Children under the age of 18 cannot go into the courtroom. Please make other arrangements for your child’s care when you come to court.
When should I arrive at court?
You should arrive at least 45 minutes before the time of your hearing to give yourself plenty of time to go through security, find the courtroom and allow for any last minute changes. If you have any problems finding the right courtroom, ask court staff.
What do I do if I can’t get to court on time?
If you cannot be at court at the time set for a hearing or other court event, contact the Court as soon as possible. If you are not at court at the time of your hearing and you don’t have a good explanation, the case could go ahead without you, and your application will probably be dismissed. Or, if you are the respondent, the case may be decided in favour of the other party and orders made against you, including orders to pay costs.
If you have a good reason for not attending, such as a serious illness, phone the Court and let them know. Make sure you get a medical certificate or other documentation to explain why you could not attend.
Before entering the courtroom (in person)
Before entering the courtroom, you should:
- turn off electronic equipment, including mobile phones, and
- remove hats and sunglasses, unless you wear them for medical or religious reasons.
Do not bring any food or drink into the courtroom.
What do I do when I go inside the courtroom?
Give your name to the person assisting the judge (the associate or court officer). If you are representing yourself, let the associate or court officer know. If you are unsure, ask them where you need to sit.
You may have to wait for your case to be called as there may be other cases listed on the same day. If you are waiting for your case to be called, you should avoid talking or making any distracting noises in the courtroom.
You must stand each time the Court commences or takes a break (called an ‘adjournment’). The judge’s associate or court officer will announce this by saying ‘All rise’ or ‘Please stand’.
When your case is called, stand up and the associate or court officer will direct you to the bar table. Do not walk in front of the bar table or approach the judge on the bench. Do not place your bag on the bar table.
How should I behave in court?
It is important to be polite and observe court formalities, remembering to:
- turn off your mobile phone or electronic devices
- nod to the judge or registrar as you leave and enter the room
- stand when you speak to the judge or when the judge is speaking to you
- speak clearly and don’t interrupt when others are talking, you will be given the opportunity to respond
- be polite to the judge or registrar and other parties, and
- take notes and keep track of what others say and any points you would like to say when it is your turn to speak.
Things to avoid when in court:
When in court it is important to avoid:
- talking to other people in the courtroom
- raising your voice or shouting
- pointing or using abusive/derogatory language, and
- interrupting the other party, unless it is about a matter of law. If you do have an objection on a matter of law you may stand up and tell the judge or registrar about your objection.
How do I speak to the judge or registrar?
You should address a judge as ‘Your Honour’ and a registrar as ‘Registrar’.
At the bar table, you should stand when you are speaking to the judge or registrar, or when the judge or judicial registrar is speaking to you. Do not:
- address other people in the courtroom
- point or use abusive language
- raise your voice or shout/interrupt when the other party/lawyer or the judge is talking, even if you disagree with what they are saying. The judge will give you an opportunity to respond.
Can I bring a support person or friend?
During a court hearing, parties who are not legally represented can bring a support person or friend with them. Unless approved by the judge or registrar, your support person cannot sit with you at the bar table or speak on your behalf and will be required to sit at the back of the courtroom. The extent of the support person’s involvement in the hearing will be at the discretion of the judge or registrar.
If you are not legally represented, you may also have a friend or support person (who is over the age of 18 years) attend a court conference or other court appointment with you. The extent of a support person's involvement in the conference/appointment will be at the discretion of the registrar or Court Child Expert conducting the conference/appointment.
Can I use a phone or tablet, or a camera or other recording device in the courtroom?
Audio and video recording and transmissions and the use of cameras, mobile phones, tablets or other equipment to take photographs is prohibited on court premises without express approval.
You must comply with any direction from the judge or court staff about using your phone or other recording device in the courtroom.
If you take photos or record any part of the hearing, the photos or recordings could be deleted. And your device might be confiscated while you are on court premises.
For more information, see rule 6.11 of the Federal Court Rules 2011, (applied by Schedule 2 to the Federal Circuit and Family Court (Division 2)(General Federal Law) Rules 2021, section 15.23 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 or section 17 of the Court Security Act 2013 (Cth)).
What do I do when orders are made?
When the judge or registrar announces their decision, listen carefully to the reasons given and write down the orders made. Ask for the orders to be repeated if you missed any. If you do not understand any of the orders, ask the judge or registrar to explain them once they have finished speaking. Once finalised, your orders will be signed and sealed electronically and you can download them from the Commonwealth Courts Portal.
Sometimes, at a final hearing, the decision may be ‘reserved’ or held over for another time or date. The Court will let you know when the decision has been made and you must attend court when the decision is handed down.
What do I do when my case is finished?
At the end of your hearing, the associate might announce that the Court is adjourned. You should stand and wait for the judge or registrar to leave the courtroom. After that, you are free to leave.
If the judge or registrar stays to hear another case, you can leave but you should nod to the judge at the door as you leave.