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Understanding and good preparation for court is key to the best outcome. The whole process can seem daunting and overwhelming though as obviously it’s not something everyone goes through every day.
- How do I get a Lawyer?
- How do I apply for legal aid?
- What should I be asking my lawyer/legal aid?
- Interpreters, Language or disability assistance & Communication Assistants
- Documents and Affidavits
- What happens when I arrive at court?
- Court day FAQs
- What should I wear?
- Text reminders of Court dates
There is a wealth of information about Court here
Finding the perfect lawyer isn’t easy. If you can get referrals or recommendations, that's definitely the best way to start.
There are a few websites to visit for more help finding lawyers in your area or local to your residence. Click below for more details.
To assist you in choosing a lawyer best suited to your needs, financial ability and case, see here for How to Choose a Lawyer.
This includes what you can expect, how much it will cost, how to get the best value from your lawyer and what to do if you are not happy with your lawyer.
We have also compiled a list of questions you could ask a potential lawyer to gain better understanding on how they run their cases and their expertise for your situation. Click here
Legal aid is an important part of New Zealand's justice system. It helps people to resolve legal problems that may go to court and makes sure that people are not denied justice because they can't afford a lawyer.
Generally getting legal aid depends on two things:
The Public Defence Service (PDS) is an independent criminal law practice providing excellent service to our clients for a just New Zealand.
They provide advice and representation to defendants who have legal aid in criminal cases. We also oversee the duty lawyer services in the courts where we operate.
Whether or not you can choose your Legal Aid lawyer will depend on the charge you face. If you are facing charges where the maximum penalty is 14 years or more, you can nominate a lawyer (choose one). If it's less than that, they generally assign the next lawyer on the roster, unless you can justify why another lawyer should be assigned (e.g. - they know your case, have acted for you before or currently acting for you, they gave you preliminary advice at the police station etc).
They will also be able to have files re-assigned to another lawyer, if there's a conflict of interest or breakdown in relationship etc.
So there is sometimes an option to ask for another lawyer but only if you can justify why.
Legal aid will help pay for your lawyer’s fees if you qualify for it. It will help cover all the necessary fees and expenses of your court case. You sometimes have to pay legal aid back.
In some cases, you may be required to pay back some or all of your legal aid - see more here
For more info on Legal Aid, see here
Initially, when choosing a lawyer or legal aid*, you may want to ask the following:
*See Choosing Legal Aid
Once you have found a lawyer or Legal Aid, questions you may ask are:
Do you have or can you get a copy of the entire police file?
What legal risks am I facing?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
What documents do I need to support my case?
Do I need statements from witnesses?
How long will it take before my case goes to trial?
What is the court likely to order?
How is it best to contact the lawyer, and how soon can I expect a reply?
What do you expect from me?
What can I expect from you?
How much will it cost to handle my case?
Do you bill on an hourly rate (if so what) or on a fixed fee basis?
What can I do to keep the costs down in my case?
When will I receive bills from the lawyer, and when am I expected to pay? How much do I have to pay in advance? (if anything)
How can I reduce the cost? Can I handle some of the legal work myself?
Do I have payment options?
Do you have to be instructed through an instructing solicitor*?
*This is only for private lawyers. Not Legal Aid.
If your lawyer is a Barrister, they cannot accept direct instructions from a client. They need to be instructed through an instructing solicitor.
Should the person you are supporting need an interpreter or assistance with language or have a disability which may affect your ability to speak in court or hear/read/understand court proceeding or documents, (including the need for braille or sign language) you can request this assistance through your lawyer.
It is advised to raise this with your lawyer with plenty of time prior to your court date. Being able to understand what is happening in court and communicate well in the court hearing is vitally important.
See here for forms and more info
Additionally, Communication assistance may be provided for yourself and witnesses.
Additionally, Communication assistance may be provided the person you are supporting and their witnesses.
Communication assistance may be available if:
See more info here (scroll down to Communication Assistance heading)
There is further info available here
For all info on filing or serving documents prior to your court hearing, and information on affidavits, please see more info here.
As a family member, when you first arrive at court, you should expect to go through court security.
Once you’re inside the court, ask the staff for help if you’re unsure about what to do or where to go. They’ll be wearing name badges.
For more on supporting someone see here
If the accused is having a Judge only trial, they will also go through security as you do. They should check the computer for which courtroom they are in and ensure they are there on time.
If the accused is having a Jury trial, when you arrive at the courts they’ll be taken to the court cells. When the trial starts, they will be brought into the court through a back door and then taken to where they can 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 the accused is asked to speak but they don’t understand the question or what they’re supposed to say, they should tell the judge or their lawyer that they don’t understand and ask for assistance or clarification.
What should I wear?
Everyone appearing in court should wear appropriate clothing. You should dress as smartly and tidily as you can for court.
Can I visit the court prior to my hearing?
If you would like to familiarise yourself with the courthouse and courtroom before your appearance, you may be able to visit the courthouse before your appearance.
New Zealand courts are open to the public so you can visit the courthouse on any day during the registry’s opening hours. If the courtroom isn’t being used for another trial on that day, you may also be able to look inside the courtroom to get a feel for where your case will be heard. You should speak to reception about this on the day of your visit or call prior.
Text Message Reminders are for those going to the District Court for a Criminal Case or Disputes Tribunal case.
Should the person you are supporting be convicted, they will be sentenced either then or at a later date.
There is a lot the family can do to help with leading up to the sentencing of someone they're supporting.
This includes but not limited to:
Gathering letters to the judge from family and friends about the character of the person you're supporting
Your lawyer may ask more more details to add to their submissions.
See here and here for more on Sentencing
Should you experience issues when following our guidance above or a procedure that an organisation has stipulated has not been followed, please get in touch with us here. We aim to have the best and most up to date information on our website and believe in accountability for those providing care to our loved ones.
See our full policies here