How to Prepare and Appear for a Webex Hearing at the Magistrates’ Court
The article How to Prepare and Appear for a Webex Hearing at the Magistrates’ Court is written by Josie Giarrusso, Lawyer, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.
Josie Giarrusso was admitted to legal practice in November 2020 after completing a Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne. She was a Judge’s Associate at the County Court of Victoria for two years before she became a lawyer of Doogue + George.
Whilst an Associate, Josie worked exclusively in the field of criminal law, dealing with matters such as pleas, jury trials, and appeals. She also volunteered for the Human Rights Law Network (India), Victoria Legal Aid, Refugee Legal, and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Magistrates’ Court has been conducting court hearings remotely using Webex. With the easing of restrictions, there has been an increase in some face to face hearings, however it is still entirely possible that your hearing will be conducted remotely depending on the nature of the case.
The aim of this article is to provide a guide on how to best prepare for your webex hearing.
Prepare yourself before the hearing
Before your hearing it’s a good idea to:
- Download the Webex application and do a practice run. It is a good idea to check important features such as the microphone and video function are working before the hearing. This will save you the stress of trying to fix any technical issues during the hearing and prevent court from being delayed. A webex user guide can be found here.
- Use a computer or a tablet with a camera function during the hearing and avoid using your phone. If you have to use your phone for your appearance make sure you turn off notifications, sound and turn off the vibrate function.
- Think about where you are going to appear from. Discuss this with your lawyer who might suggest that you can appear from their office. If not, turn your mind to an appropriate area at home. You should ensure it is somewhere that is quiet, has a strong internet connection, and gives you privacy. If you’re appearing from work or somewhere with other people around, put a note on your door that says ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘Court Hearing in Session’.
- Give the Court your contact details. Make sure the court can contact you in case your internet drops out or you are having difficulty connecting.
During the hearing – Dos and Don’ts
It is worth remembering that while the mode of appearing in court has changed, it is still expected that you maintain proper court etiquette. That being said, there are some differences. For example, if you are appearing remotely you do not need to stand and bow when the Magistrate comes onto the bench. If you are appearing for a Sentencing Hearing it is generally not expected that you stand when being sentenced.
Our experience conducting Webex hearings over the past year has taught us some important lessons.
- Dress your best. Just because you might be appearing from home does not mean it is appropriate to wear pyjamas or activewear. Formal attire should always be worn during court. This will show the Magistrate that you are taking the proceedings seriously. It can also help to mentally prepare you for court and get you into the right mindset, despite not physically being present.
- Use a headset and have a charger handy. If you know there is going to be some background noise during the hearing use a headset which will help block out background noise and ensure you can hearing the proceedings. Ensure your device is charged and have a charger on standby.
- Keep yourself on mute. During the hearing keep yourself on mute unless you are spoken to directly by the Magistrate. Microphones can be very sensitive so even heavy breathing will come through the court system.
- Set up your camera so it is at eye level. Your head and shoulders should be visible. Avoid a camera angle that means you are looking down at the Magistrate.
- Have documents ready in case you are required to share your screen. If you think you might need to share your screen shut down notifications, any instant messaging applications and email on your computer.
- Don’t use a silly filter. Ideally you should have a blank wall in the background. Do not use any other filters particularly one that could be perceived as you making fun of the proceedings. This is not a Friday night Zoom drinks with your friends.
- Avoid giving or taking instructions over Webex. Talk to your lawyer beforehand about how to communicate with them during the hearing. Avoid giving instructions over Webex as court proceedings are often recorded.
- Don’t move around during the hearing. It is very obvious if you are using a handheld device and moving around during the proceedings. Sit in the same spot the entire time as it is very distracting for other participants and could be perceived that you are not listening. If you do need to move for some reason, turn off your camera.
- Avoid having any pets in the room. The last thing you want is your cat jumping across the desk or your dog barking at you. Make arrangements for your pets to be out of the room or have someone else look after them during the court hearing.
Whether it is over Webex or in person, attending court can be stressful. However, as outlined above, there are things you can do to prepare and alleviate unnecessary stress during the proceedings. The last thing you want is to be scrambling to fix a dodgy internet connection or your computer dying half way through. Putting in this preparation will help you and the court to get things running along smoothly.