New Protocol for Judicial Feedback on Inappropriate Conduct in Court

With effect from 1 September 2016, a new protocol for providing judicial feedback on the inappropriate conduct of lawyers in Court will come into place.
Arising from the recommendations of the Study Committee on Professional Standards and Etiquette in Court that were accepted by the Chief Justice, the new protocol will aim to rehabilitate, rather than sanction, inappropriate conduct of lawyers in Court. Practical steps such as training, education and/or counselling may be recommended by the Council to the practitioner after taking into account the practitioner’s past record of similar type(s) of inappropriate conduct in Court. This new protocol, which is voluntary, will run in parallel with the existing formal complaint procedure under the Legal Profession Act so that a practitioner who has chosen not to accept the recommendation(s) could still possibly face a formal complaint under the existing procedure under the Act instead.
Details of this protocol were set out in the President's Message in the Law Gazette for the month of July, and members may also raise clarifications and address queries regarding the new protocol to [email protected].
That said, prevention is always the better option so we have taken the liberty of sharing with you a short Q&A list which could help with refreshing everyone’s memory on the basics of appropriate etiquette in Court.
Court Etiquette – In Open Court/Chambers
1. How should Counsel enter the Courtroom while Court is in session?
Counsel should walk around the back while avoiding the area between the Bench and the Bar while Court is in session.
2. What is the proper action for Counsel to take when being introduced in Open Court?
The appropriate Court etiquette is to rise and bow to the Court when introduced in Open Court. Failure to do so is considered disrespectful.
3. What is the appropriate form of address for a sitting Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal?
“Your Honour” would be the appropriate form of address.
4. What is considered inappropriate behaviour in any hearing before the Court?
There are numerous forms of inappropriate behaviour that Counsel should not engage in. Actions such as loudly whispering, vigorous page-turning, rolling one’s eyes during an opponent’s submission and the checking of one’s mobile phone are but a few that are considered inappropriate behaviour during a hearing.
5. Must decorum be maintained during other proceedings such as mediation sessions?
Yes. Most of the rules of etiquette applicable in Open Court apply to other Court proceedings as well, hence decorum must be maintained at all times.
6. What is the proper code of conduct to be adhered to for a hearing in chambers?
Most of the rules of etiquette applicable in Open Court apply in chambers. This means that standing is only permitted when the Judge enters or departs, and the Court’s permission is required for anyone who is not a Singapore-qualified lawyer to be present in chambers.
7. What is the appropriate action to take when questioned by the Court on filings in a matter?
Counsel should take responsibility by being adequately prepared beforehand (even if the documents in question were prepared by someone else in the firm) and address the Court when questioned.
8. What kind of preparatory research must be done while readying for a hearing before the Court?
Reading up on the background law relating to the matter including relevant legislation, latest Singapore and foreign case law applicable to the matter, applicable precedents, the Rules of Court and Practice Directions must be done while preparing for a hearing. Counsel must also ensure that he/she is able to provide the Court with all case authorities cited.
9. What is the proper protocol for the citing of case law?
Counsel has to be familiar with the ratio decidendi and the factual matrix of each judgment cited, and checks have to be done to see if the judgment was appealed against in order for the citation to be made appropriately. The citing of foreign cases and legislation should also be done in the absence of a Singapore equivalent of the same.
10. What should be done when cross-examining a witness?
Each question should be formulated precisely and put to the witness clearly. The witness must be given the opportunity to answer the question before another is put to him.
11. Is mentioning an application on substantive issues before a Duty Registrar acceptable even though the matter is designated to be heard before another Judge?
No. It is not appropriate Court etiquette and doing so could amount to professional misconduct.
12. What is the appropriate method to write to the Judge if you wish to seek clarification on a part heard matter?
You should write to the Registrar and request for the letter to be placed before the PS (Personal Secretary) to the Judge.
13. Is copying Judicial Officers in on all e-mail correspondence with the parties to a matter acceptable?
No, the Court should not be marked on correspondence between the parties.
14. What is the appropriate response to instances when an Order is made by the Court in your favour?
Counsel should say “As your Honour pleases”.
15. How should Counsel react in cases where judgment has been delivered against your client?
Counsel has to maintain decorum at all times. Actions such as threatening the Court with appeals, attempting to approach another Judicial Officer to hear the application, continuing to argue with the Court when the decision has been made and making derogatory remarks about the ruling in a raised voice outside the Court for all to hear is inappropriate conduct and can amount to professional misconduct.
Conduct Between Fellow Lawyers and Responsibilities of the Duty Lawyer
16. Is there a need to inform Opposing Counsel of correspondence between yourself and the Court that pertains to the matter at hand?
Yes, Opposing Counsel needs to be informed of such correspondence. Failure to do so can amount to professional misconduct.
17. What is considered appropriate behaviour while Opposing Counsel is conducting an Examination-in-Chief?
Counsel should sit in Court and pay attention to your opponent’s Examination-in-Chief.
18. What is considered appropriate behaviour when you are being introduced to the Court by opposing counsel?
Acknowledge the introduction, and stand up and bow to the Court if in Open Court.
19. What are the obligations of a duty lawyer?
A duty lawyer should familiarise him/herself with the matter and attend the Court armed with all relevant information even if that is the first and only time he/she will be handling that matter.
20. What should you do when you are holding a watching brief?
You should inform the Court of your attendance in Court, who your client is and be prepared to inform the Court of your client’s interest in the matter.
Court Attire and Punctuality
21. What is the dress code for lawyers appearing in Court?
A long sleeved white shirt/blouse, a dark jacket and matching trousers/skirt with black or plain-coloured shoes. A sober tie should be worn by the gentlemen while the ladies should be dressed modestly without conspicuous jewellery. A neat and clean appearance is important, hence attire such as crumpled clothes, unfastened ties and slip-on sandals are not permitted.
22. Is casual attire such as t-shirts and short skirts permitted on Fridays?
No, it is not.
23. What is the proper protocol to follow in a situation where you are due for a hearing but are feeling unwell?
You will need to get a fellow lawyer to mention on your behalf to say that you are unwell and will produce a medical certificate in due course.
24. What is the rule with regard to punctuality before the Court?
Judicial time is important and lawyers should attend Court on time. You should further take the effort to be early.
25. What is the proper protocol to follow should you be unable to attend Court on time?
You must inform your opponent and the Court as soon as possible. You should also offer an explanation and apology to the Court and your opponent at the earliest opportunity when you attend.
26. Is the borrowing of material from the Court such as the Rules of Court permitted during a hearing?
No, borrowing from the Court in the middle of a hearing is not permitted.
Representation and Law Reform Department
The Law Society of Singapore