The court is a busy place and there are many court personnel who work hard to ensure that matters move efficiently through the court system. If you have never been to court before, you may find it hard to work out who is who in the courtroom. Identifying court personnel will become easy once you know who to look for.
Below are descriptions of court personnel you will likely see when you attend court.
A Judge is a judicial officer who presides over NSW District and Supreme Court matters. Judges wear a robe and wig and sit at the bench at the front of the courtroom. A Judge’s role includes sentencing guilty persons, ensuring a trial runs fairly, determining matters of law (including the admissibility of evidence) and directing the jury. In judge alone trials (with no jury), a Judge will determine whether a person is guilty or not guilty.
A Magistrate is a judicial officer who presides over NSW Local Court. Magistrates wear a robe (but no wig) and sit at the bench at the front of the courtroom. A Magistrate’s role includes determining whether a person is guilty or not guilty, sentencing guilty persons and determining matters of law (including the admissibility of evidence).
A prosecutor is a lawyer who represents the state and the community as a whole. Prosecutors appear in the NSW Local Court on behalf of police, and are also known as police prosecutors. In the District and Supreme Court (and occasionally the Local Court), the prosecutor acts on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The prosecutor sits at the bar table and usually has a large number of files for the matters they will appear in that day. In the Local Court, the Magistrate may refer to the Prosecutor as ‘Sergeant’. In the District or Supreme Court, the Judge may refer to the Prosecutor as ‘the Crown’.
A defence lawyer is the legal representative for an accused person. They sit at the bar table on the opposite side to the prosecutor. A defence lawyer’s job is to act in their client’s best interests. A defence lawyer will protect their client’s interests by ensuring due process is followed, giving a voice to their client’s story and making legal arguments to assist their client’s case.
A Judge’s associate assists a Judge with their duties. They may mark evidence exhibits, liaise with lawyers on the Judge’s behalf or conduct research to assist the Judge. They sit at the front of the courtroom, usually next to or in front of the Judge.
A court reporter records what is said in court. They wear a headset and can be seen typing during a court matter.
A court officer assists with the smooth running of a courtroom. You will see them speaking with lawyers, checking that people have arrived for their matters and organising paperwork.
The registry is the administrative office of the court. Registry staff can assist you to pay court fees, work out where your matter is listed or to sign a court order.
You can expect all court personnel to act with integrity, fairness, compassion and in the public interest although they cannot give legal advice about a person should run their case.
If you have any questions when you attend court, you should ask your lawyer. If you arrive before your lawyer and you need assistance, you should speak to someone at the registry.
Meg Connell, Lawyer