Understanding the Law
February 7, 2014
Your role in a civil court trial

You have brought a claim against another party in court. Since you are the claimant you have a duty to be present every day of the trial because you need to be there to present your case. If you are not there your case could be dismissed for want of prosecution.{{more}} Your lawyer would notify you as to the date of the hearing as a list of the matters is normally circulated via e-mail to the lawyers. In fact, you would have been in court for case management and pre-trial hearing so you should know the date, because the date of trial is usually decided in the case management conference that you would have attended. If for some reason the trial were adjourned to another day your lawyer would inform you.

The location

Some civil matters are heard in the top floor of the courthouse building. This floor serves a dual purpose and when the House of Assembly is not meeting it serves as a courtroom for open court matters. Fixed date hearings are heard in the court office in the Corea’s building where one of the rooms is constituted as a court.

The day of the trial

You are required to be present by 9 a.m. In an open court the officers of the court would be there in full regalia. The judge and lawyers would be wearing their black robes and white bans. The bailiff of the court would be similarly dressed minus the bans. You and the defendant are required to be dressed modestly in sober colours.

Procedure

All the witnesses are examined and your lawyer does the examination in chief while the lawyer on the other side does the cross-examination. Witnesses on the other side are cross-examined by your lawyer. All witnesses are required to answer truthfully. It would be fatal to your case if you give a different version to that you would have sworn to. If you are lying then the other side might be able to bring this out under cross-examination. You cannot contradict another witness on the stand by blurting out information. You could get the attention of your lawyer and inform him about any contradiction. Your conduct is of utmost importance.

At the end of it when the judge gives her judgment she would say whether she believes you or the defendant. Very often it is the person whom the judge believes who would succeed. A simple matter could last one day while a complicated matter could last for weeks. The possible length of time would have been decided at the case management conference.

The end of the trial

The judge could ask the lawyers on both sides to provide written submissions by a particular date. In this submission each lawyer would produce his or her side of the story incorporating the evidence that was given in court. He or she would use past cases (as precedents) to support his or her views. An oral judgment could be given, but sometimes you have to wait for some time to obtain a written judgment. Your lawyer would inform you when the judgment would be delivered on receipt of the information from the court. If you disagree with the judgment you could appeal it but in the case of a final judgment the notice of appeal must be filed within 42 days of the date when judgment was delivered.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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