Before prison: The criminal court process

Going to court

How do I get to the courts from prison?

Usually you’ll be driven to the courts, either in a police vehicle if you’re on remand in prison, or in a prison vehicle if you’re a sentenced prisoner appearing in court on other charges.

Sometimes you won’t leave the prison, and instead you’ll go to a room in the prison and be connected with the courtroom by video (called an “audio-visual link”, or “AVL”). You’ll see the courtroom on a TV screen and they’ll see you on a TV screen in the court.

What happens when I arrive at the courts?

When you arrive at the courts you’ll go first to the court cells. Later when you’re brought into the court, you’ll enter through a back door and you’ll first have to stand at the side of the courtroom.

When it’s your turn to appear in front of the judge, you’ll be told where to stand. If you’ll only be in court for a short time, you’ll stay standing the whole time. If your appearance is a long one, or if it’s a trial, you’ll be told to sit down. Usually people will stay standing unless they’re told by the judge to sit.

If you have a lawyer, they’ll do most of the talking. If you’re asked to speak but you don’t understand the question or what you’re supposed to say, tell the judge or your lawyer that you don’t understand and ask for assistance or clarification.

Can my family come to the court?

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 196, 197, 199

Yes, the courts are usually open to the public, and your friends and family can come and sit at the back of the courtroom in the space for the public (the public gallery). But sometimes the court will be closed to the public – for example, if the charges involve sexual offending, the court will be closed while the alleged victim is giving their evidence.

There are rules about how people must behave while they’re in the public gallery: they must be quiet, and they can’t eat or drink, and can’t take notes or photos. They must make sure their cellphones are completely turned off. If they have questions about what they can and can’t do, they should ask the court staff or one of the volunteer helpers at the courts, like Mātua Whāngai or Salvation Army support workers. You will usually see them sitting at tables at the side of the courtroom with a name plate on the table so you know who they are.

Can I get name suppression?

Criminal procedure Act 2011, s 200

Name suppression means that the judge orders that the news media aren’t allowed to report your name or identifying details in relation to your case.

Often it’s possible to get temporary (“interim”) name suppression when you first appear in court, particularly if the charges are serious, to give you the chance to tell your family what’s happening. But it’s often very difficult to get name suppression permanently or for a long period.

You should discuss the issue of applying for name suppression carefully with the duty lawyer at the courts or with your own lawyer.

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Before prison: The criminal court process

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