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Legal Dictionary

courtroom

Definition of courtroom

Etymology

Noun

courtroom (plural courtrooms)

  1. The room where a judge presides over hearings and trials, sometimes with a jury.

Further reading

A courtroom is the actual enclosed space in which a judge regularly holds court.

The schedule of official court proceedings is called a docket; the term is also synonymous with a court's caseload as a whole.

Courtroom design

* England and Wales

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.

* United States

The judge generally sits behind a raised desk, known as the bench. Benches in U.S. federal courtrooms and some state courtrooms are usually bullet-resistant to protect judges from courtroom shootouts. 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.

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.

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. 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.

The other side of the bar is open to the general public and there are usually seats for curious spectators. This area is the gallery. Seating for the gallery can either be pew style benches or theater seats. In certain urban criminal courtrooms (e.g., Philadelphia and Chicago), the gallery is separated from the rest of the room by a partition of bulletproof glass to prevent injury to spectators (and vice versa), or to control them from charging across the bar in tension-filled cases.

All of the above applies only to trial courts.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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