Criminal Courtroom Layout

Criminal Courtroom Layout


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Historic courtroom still in use in Brockville , Canada

A courtroom is the enclosed space in which courts of law are held in front of a judge . A number of courtrooms, which may also be known as “courts”, may be housed in a courthouse .


  • 1 By country
    • 1.1 United States
    • 1.2 United Kingdom
      • 1.2.1 England and Wales
      • 1.2.2 Scotland
  • 2 References

By country[ edit ]

United States[ edit ]

A courtroom at the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts at Worcester, Massachusetts

The judge generally sits behind a raised desk, known as the bench . Behind the judge are the great seal of the jurisdiction and the flags of the appropriate federal and state governments. Judges usually wear a plain black robe (a requirement in many jurisdictions). An exception was the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist , who broke tradition by adorning his robe with four gold stripes on each sleeve. (Rehnquist reportedly said that he had been inspired to add the stripes by his having seen such stripes worn by the character of the judge, in a local production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operatic spoof of British jurisprudence, ” Trial by Jury .”)

Adjacent to the bench are the witness stand and the desks where the court clerk and the court reporter sit. The courtroom is divided into two parts by a barrier known as the bar . The bar may be an actual railing , or an imaginary barrier. The bailiff stands (or sits) against one wall and keeps order in the courtroom.

On one side is the judge’s bench, the tables for the plaintiff, the defendant, and their respective counsel, and a separate group of seats known as the jury box where the jury sits (in jurisdictions that allow for jury trials). Apart from the parties to the case and any witnesses, only the lawyers can literally pass the bar (court personnel and jury members usually enter through separate doors), and this is the reason why the term “the bar” has come to refer to the legal profession as a whole (see bar association ). There is usually a podium or lectern between the two tables where the lawyers may stand when they argue their case before the judge. Although American courtrooms traditionally had docks for the accused, like Commonwealth courtrooms, these gradually fell out of use. Defendants argued that they were prejudicial and interfered with the accused’s right to counsel . [1]

There is usually an open space between the bench and the counsel tables, because of the court clerk and court reporter’s tables in front of the bench and the jury box on the side. This space is called the well. It is extremely disrespectful to the court for persons who are not court employees to directly “traverse the well” without permission—that is, to walk directly towards the bench across the well—and some courts have rules expressly forbidding this. [2] Instead, if documents need to be given to or taken from the judge, attorneys are normally expected to approach the court clerk or bailiff, who acts as an intermediary. During trials, attorneys will ask the court’s permission to traverse the well or “approach the bench” for “sidebar” conferences with the judge.

On the other side of the bar is the gallery, with benches and chairs for general public. In some cases the gallery is separated from the rest of the room by bulletproof glass .

All of the above applies only to trial courts. Appellate courts in the United States are not finders of fact, so they do not use juries or receive evidence into the record; that is the trial court’s job. [3] Therefore, in an appellate court, there is neither a witness stand nor a jury box, and the bench is much larger to accommodate multiple judges or justices.

The walls are often partially or completely wood-paneled. This is a matter of style and tradition, but some jurisdictions have elected to construct courtrooms with a more “modern” appearance. Some courtroom settings are little more than a closed circuit television camera transmitting the proceedings to a correctional facility elsewhere in order to protect the court from violent defendants who view the proceedings on television within a jail conference room and are allowed duplex communications with the judge and other officers of the court. Many courtrooms are equipped with a speaker system where the judge can toggle a switch to generate white noise during sidebar conversations with the attorneys so that the jury and spectators cannot hear what is being discussed off-record.

Multiple courtrooms may be housed in a courthouse . The schedule of official court proceedings is called a docket .

United Kingdom[ edit ]

England and Wales[ edit ]

A historic courtroom in Nottingham , United Kingdom

Courts vary considerably in their layout, which depends a great deal on the history of the building and the practicalities of its use. While some courts are wood panelled, most are not. Depending on the layout of the room, a claimant may sit on either the right or left in a civil court, just as the prosecution may sit on either side (usually the opposite side to the jury) in a criminal court.

In a criminal court, where the defendant was previously held in custody, the defendant will usually be escorted by members of the security firm that has the contract to serve that court. In rare circumstances in civil trials a bailiff or someone else charged to keep order may be present (for example if a tenant who is due to be evicted for violent behaviour arrives in court drunk).

Advocates usually speak standing up, but from where they were seated. There is rarely any space for them to move in any case.

All appellate courts are capable of hearing evidence (and also to be finders of fact), for example where there is an allegation of bias in the lower court, or where fresh evidence is adduced to persuade the court to allow a retrial. In those cases witness evidence may be necessary and many appellate courts have witness stands.

Flags are rarely seen in English courts. It is most common for the Royal Coat of Arms to be placed above and behind the judge, or presiding magistrate, although there are exceptions to this. For example, in the City of London magistrates’ court a sword stands vertically behind the judge which is flanked by the arms of the City and the Crown.

Scotland[ edit ]

As in other countries, the judge or sheriff sits on the bench . Directly below the bench is the clerk’s station which usually has a computer to allow the clerk to get on with Court Disposal work during proceedings.

Directly in front of the clerk is the well of court which has a
semi-circular table at which all the advocates sit during proceedings. The Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Depute always sits in the seat at the right of the clerk during criminal proceedings.

Behind the well of the court is the dock in which the accused will sit during proceedings. Dependent on the style of the courtroom, the jury box will either be on the right or left hand side of the well of the court. Scotland is unique[ citation needed ] in the western world in that it has 15 jurors.

Usually to the right or left of the bench (again dependent on style and always directly opposite the jury) slightly raised and facing forward is the stand where any witness who is called will give evidence. The stand is designed so that any solicitor examining a witness as well as the judge/sheriff may get a good view of the testimony. At the far side of the courtroom directly opposite the jury box and behind the stand are seats for journalists who are attached to the court and the court social worker. Seats for members of the public are the back of the courtroom.

Courtroom in Kazakhstan

Courtroom in Kyoto District Court , Japan

There is no court reporter in Scotland, normal summary cases are simply minuted by the clerk indicating the disposal. If the case is a solemn (more serious) case involving a jury or if the case has a sexual element then proceedings will be tape recorded which is done under the supervision of the clerk.

References[ edit ]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Courtrooms .
  1. ^ Young v. Callahan, 700 F.2d 32 (1st Cir. 1983).
  2. ^ See “Traversing ‘Well’,” Local Rule 3.94 of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
  3. ^ In re Zeth S. , 31 Cal. 4th 396, 2 Cal. Rptr. 3d 683, 73 P.3d 541 (2003).

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      • What is the layout of a Court?
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      What is the layout of a Court?

      A typical courtroom layout
      A typical courtroom layout

      Bench:The Judge/Judicial Registrar sits on the bench facing the Court.
      Associate Table:This table is in front of the bench also facing the Court. It is occupied by the Associate to the Judge or a staff member assisting a Judicial Registrar. They sit facing the Court.
      Bar Table:The bar table is in front of the bench. It is occupied by the counsel, solicitors or self-represented litigants.
      Court Officer area:The Court Officer may either sit at a small table in the courtroom near the Bar Table, or on the Associate’s Table next to the Associate.
      Witness box:There will be a witness box in the courtroom in such a position so that the witness can be seen by the person sitting on the bench and by those at the bar table who will ‘examine’ the witness.
      Transcript area:Many of the Court’s hearings are recorded. There is a space in the courtroom for the person recording the hearing to sit.
      Public gallery:All Federal Court hearings are open to the general public and there is seating for that purpose.

      How do I address a Judge or a Judicial Registrar in Court?

      You should stand up when you are speaking to the Judge or Judicial Registrar. You should also stand up when the Judge or Judicial Registrar is speaking to you.

      When Guideline Example
      How to address the Chief Justice and a Federal Court Judge
      Addressing a Judge in open Court In Court, parties/legal practitioners refer to the Judge as ‘Your Honour’. ‘Yes, your Honour.’
      How to address a Judicial Registrar
      Addressing a Judicial Registrar in Court, a case management conference or mediationA Judicial Registrar should be addressed as ‘Registrar’ unless they advise otherwise‘Yes, Registrar’

      Further information on how to communicate with the Court .

      What happens when I go to Court?

      When you enter or leave a courtroom and a Judge or Judicial Registrar is in the courtroom, you should bow your head as you enter or leave.

      When you hear your case called in Court you should walk to the Bar Table at the front of the courtroom and tell the Judge or Judicial Registrar your name.

      The Judge or Judicial Registrar will usually ask you about the type of claim you are making and after discussion with both parties, may set a timetable for the next steps in the matter such as preparation and filing of evidence and pleadings.

      The Judge or Judicial Registrar will also set a date for the next case management hearing. You may wish to contact the solicitor or if they are unrepresented, the other party to discuss a timetable prior to the first case management hearing date. Rule 5.04 of the Rules sets out the types of orders that a Judge may make.

      Can I use communication devices in Court?

      Please refer to the Court’s policy regarding the Use of Communication Devices in a courtroom .



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      1. Home
      2. Legal Topics
      3. Criminal Law
      4. Steps in a Criminal Case- Arrest to Appeal
      5. Early Stages of a Criminal Case
      6. Going to Court

      Criminal Courtroom Layout

      Learn what’s what in the courtroom.

      By Paul Bergman , UCLA Law School Professor

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      Just about everything that happens in a courtroom can seem confusing to someone who hasn’t experienced the justice system firsthand. Even the courtroom itself can be confounding. This overview, however, will help orient you to the typical criminal court.

      The Gallery

      Most courtrooms have a spectator area in the back, often separated by a “bar” or partition from the rest of the courtroom. Members of the public, including those who come to court to support a family member or friend, sit in this area.

      Defendants who are free on bail (or OR ) usually sit in the spectator area of the courtroom until their cases are called by the courtroom clerk , bailiff , or judge. In-custody defendants wait in holding cells and are escorted into the courtroom by a bailiff.

      Sit or Stand?

      Defendants. Typically, once a judge calls a case, the defendant and his or her attorney move out of the gallery, past the bar. Defendants should sit or stand as directed by their attorneys (if they have counsel) or by the judge, courtroom clerk, or bailiff. The custom is different in different proceedings and different courtrooms. For example, during arraignment , defendants typically stand, facing the judge. However, at trial or a hearing on a motion, they may sit at counsel table.

      Lawyers. Whether lawyers stand, and where they do so, depends again on the proceeding. In pretrial hearings, lawyers may stand at counsel table or right in front of the judge, or they may sit. In trials, lawyers usually sit or stand at counsel table, with the prosecutor usually on the side closest to the jury box. (Most defense lawyers stand when addressing the judge or questioning witnesses.)

      The Jury Box

      Jurors sit in the rows of seats near the judge, called the jury box, during trial. The jury box may remain empty during nonjury proceedings (or when a jury is deliberating), or the judge may use it to seat lawyers or in-custody defendants during pretrial hearings (including arraignments and motions).

      The Bench

      The judge’s bench is the raised wooden desk or podium at the front of the courtroom where the judge sits. Attorneys and defendants alike shouldn’t go near the bench unless they ask for and receive the judge’s permission to do so. Forbidden territory includes the “well,” which is the space between counsel table and the bench, where the courtroom clerk and the court reporter may sit. (Courtroom clerks may alternatively sit on the side of the judge’s bench opposite the witness box.)


      Judges usually have private offices called chambers that are located in a room adjacent to or behind the courtroom. A judge and the attorneys may have a conference in chambers during a trial or other proceeding, especially if they want to go “off the record” and have a quiet place to confer. Also, some judges prefer to hold plea bargain negotiations in chambers.

      Attorneys may request that in-chambers conferences be put “on the record” if they want to document what either the lawyers or judges are saying. This is a request that the conference be recorded word for word by a court reporter and preserved as part of the case for possible later review. (See Appeals in Criminal Cases and Writs in Criminal Cases .)

      For all kinds of related information about the court experience, see Going to Court .

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