The benefits of attending the courts on a Rule of Law Institute Law Day Out are the presence of a facilitator to guide students in their understanding and the provision of a speaker; a legal professional or a judge.
If you are unsuccessful in booking a Law Day Out with the Institute, you may choose to run your own excursion to the courts. The below guide is intended to assist you in doing so and can be utilised for any court in NSW.
How do I book my school in with the courts?
It is essential to pre-book your excursion – this must be done no less than two weeks in advance. The Sheriff’s office can be contacted on 1300 679 272 during business hours – you will need to provide to them the following information.
- The name of school and number of students
- The location of the court you wish to visit, and the date
- A contact name and number
They may ask you to send this in an email, the address to which they will supply to you.
What else do I need to do to prepare?
The court lists for the District court and Supreme court have been linked below. The lists are posted at 3:30 pm the day before they apply, because the case assignments can fluctuate. They can be difficult to read, but will tell you several key things;
- The location (court-room and, where applicable, building) of the case in question and the intended time of running.
- The names of the people involved (which can be researched in recent news reports to obtain more information about the case)
- The judge presiding over the case.
Unfortunately the nature of cases is not always publicly available information, it is advisable to go through the list thoroughly the day before your excursion and ‘Google’ the accused names as this can assist in determining interesting cases for the students to observe. You can also ask information desk attendants for guidance, on the day.
The District Court list can be found at http://www.courtlist.justice.nsw.gov.au/courtlists/nswdc_lists.nsf/courtlists1
The Supreme Court lost can be found at http://www.courtlist.justice.nsw.gov.au/courtlists/nswsc_lists.nsf/Web+Version+Courtlist
Getting into the court building.
Many court buildings have full security measures in place, others have no screening. Please follow all screening requirements as instructed by the court security staff.
Students also need to be aware of certain security measures.
It is an offense to use a mobile phone inside a courtroom or to take photos anywhere in the building. The penalties are severe, even for minors. They must be switched off.
No sharps – including scissors, nail clippers, geometry sets, metal rulers and key-ring knives – are permitted. Neither are glass drinking bottles and aerosols.
If students accidentally bring them, they can be checked in at the security desk and retrieved upon leaving. Please encourage students to pack light to minimise in-court disturbances when entering and leaving. Epipens and inhalers are perfectly fine.
It is courteous to allow members of the general public to go through security first.
When going through security, everything in pockets must go into a tray. All digital items must also go into a tray.
If you are confused or overwhelmed by the security considerations, you can ask a court officer or security guard to explain to yourself and the students what is and is not permitted. Please encourage the students to dress appropriately.
What should we do once in the building?
On any given day there will be a multitude of cases being undertaken. Some of these will not be appropriate for students, or will have a sign on the door denoting “Closed Court”. The latter are simply not open to the public. It is worth asking at the front desk or registry which cases are not appropriate for students – namely, sexual assault and cases involving minors. Aside from that, all active courtrooms are fair game, though some cases will be more engaging than others. For this reason, criminal cases are typically advisable over civil.
In the Downing Centre,Court 3.1 on Level 3 hosts Short Matters every day of the week and is always informative, though there is not always enough room for a whole class. In the Supreme Court, Bail runs on Mondays to Thursdays and is also a safe bet. The location varies week to week and sometimes it is only possible to have 7-10 students in the court at a time.
Court runs 10:00 – 4:00 daily, with recess at roughly 11:30 – 12:00 and lunch 1:00 – 2:00 pm. Schools visiting the Downing Centre will be allocated an entry time when booking. The recess times may vary slightly depending on the individual case. Occasionally a judge will call and early recess or adjourn the case for a period of time, this is impossible to predict ahead of time, it’s best to have planned a number of cases to visit should this occur.
What court etiquette do I need to know about?
If the judge is present when entering or leaving a courtroom, everyone must bow to His/Her Honour. A simple bend at the waist will suffice.
If the judge is not present, no bow is required, but when the judge enters or leaves the court officer will clearly say “Silence, all stand”. Bow when the judge is at the chair, standing or leaving. Students should not speak in court.
School groups may be asked to leave a courtroom by the Judge or Court Officer for a variety of reasons, most of them not at the fault of the students – if this is the case, please comply quietly and find a different courtroom.
It is acceptable to quietly pass notes unless there is a suppression order in place, which will be posted on the door.
Students should be discouraged from walking in and out of courtroom constantly. It is very disruptive for court proceedings. As a rule of thumb leaving after 30 minutes is acceptable.
How do I adequately supervise my students in the court buildings?
We recommend bring 1 teacher per 20 Year 11 and/or Year 12 students and 1 teacher per 15 students in Year 10. We do not recommend having Year 9 students attend the court as they may be exposed to inappropriate court material and they often do not have the maturity to behave appropriately and get the most out of the visit.
Supervision can be tricky when there are numerous small groups of students in different court matters. We recommend keeping as many small groups as possible on the same floor of the court building so that a single teacher can travel between courts to supervise the students.
What about risk assessments?
Obtaining a risk assessment that covers all of the courts can be difficult. Some factors to take into consideration when preparing your risk assessment include:
- Courts are very secure buildings with comprehensive security, evacuation and first aid protocols in place.
- Any evacuation, threat or other disruption will be dealt with promptly by the court staff in accordance with their existing procedures – which are very rigorous.
- Often courts have numerous police officers present and therefore students will be adequately protected should there be any type of incident.
- Always include risk assessment for moving the students around the city by walking and/or public transport.