Preparing for Court

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.


Below is the information to help get to know what to expect and how to be prepared. Click on each of the links below to take you to more info on that topic.

- 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

- Explaining Court to Children
- Sentencing

There is a wealth of information about Court here


HOW DO I GET A LAWYER ↑ Back to top


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:

  • First, whether the charge is serious or your case is a particularly complicated one. Even if it isn’t a very serious charge you might still get legal aid if there are some quite difficult factual or legal issues that you’ll need help with.
  • Second, whether you can afford to pay a lawyer privately. In general, if you’re on a benefit you’ll qualify for legal aid.
To apply for Legal Aid and review details about Legal Aid, see here

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.

Can I choose my Legal Aid?

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

  • How long have you practised law?
  • What type of cases do you generally handle? What percentage of your practice is devoted to (the practice area in question)?
  • Who is your typical client?
  • How many cases have you represented that were similar to mine?
  • Other than a law degree, what kind of special training or knowledge do you have that might apply in my situation?
  • What are your fees and costs, and how are they billed? Will a portion or all of my case be handled by other lawyers or legal staff? If so, ask about reduced costs.
  • What is your approach or philosophy to winning or representing a case? It's always good to be ‘in-tune’ with your lawyer's approach.
  • Are there other ways for solving my legal problem?
  • How will you let me know what's happening with my case?
  • What is the likely outcome in my case? (Take this with caution. A lawyer may think they have it and it goes the other way. Remember they aren't the only ones with power in the room. The jury have a big say and the judge has the ultimate say on a lot of things in the courtroom.)

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: 

  • you or someone you know has been charged with an offence, or will be giving evidence as a witness, and
  • may need help to understand what is happening in court, respond to questions or give evidence.

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

At most courts, everyone goes through a security check much like the one you get at an airport. This is so the court is safe and secure.
In all courts people won’t be allowed in if they’re wearing gang symbols, hats or sunglasses.

People aren’t allowed to bring in anything that could be used as a weapon. This includes any items similar to the following:
  • small pocket knives including key ring size
  • pen knives
  • ceremonial daggers or swords
  • scissors
  • knitting needles
  • steel forks to eat your lunch with (including if you’re a juror)
  • alcohol or illegal drugs (prescription or auto-injectors are fine)
  • other items at the discretion of court security.
All of these items could be confiscated and given to the police for destruction.
You may also not bring in any recording devices to the courtroom.


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.


COURT DAY FAQ's ↑ Back to top


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.

Sometimes you'll need to explain to the kids whats going on, sometimes they might need to be involved, sometimes you might just want them there - whatever your reason, here is some helpful info for kids around Courts.
Click here to visit the JustUs website for kids and head to the drop down menu for the Court info.

It should be noted that sometimes Judges will not allow children in the Court. Ensure that you speak with your lawyer if it's appropriate for your children to attend court in support of you or the person you are supporting.
If they are there to give evidence, then they will definitely be permitted.

SENTENCING ↑ Back to top

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 references

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