AskDefine | Define courtroom

Dictionary Definition

courtroom n : a room in which a law court sits; "television cameras were admitted in the courtroom" [syn: court]

User Contributed Dictionary



court + room


  1. The room where a judge presides over hearings and trials, sometimes with a jury.


room where a judge presides

Extensive Definition

A courtroom is the actual enclosed space in which a judge regularly holds court.
The schedule of official court proceedings is called a docket; the term is also synonymous with a court's caseload as a whole.
Criminal courtrooms are especially busy with a constant flow of arraignments and plea bargaining colloquies, and the bailiffs in such places are known to frequently shout to get people to quiet down and turn off their cell phones (although this would be very rare in England and Wales -- see below).

Courtroom design

United States

The judge generally sits behind a raised desk, known as the bench. Behind the judge are the great seal of the jurisdiction and the flags of the appropriate federal and state governments. Judges usually wear a plain black robe (a requirement in many jurisdictions). An exception was the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who broke tradition by adorning his robe with four gold stripes on each sleeve.
Adjacent to the bench are the witness stand and the desks where the court clerk and the court reporter sit. The courtroom is divided into two parts by a waist-high wooden barrier known as the bar. The bailiff stands against one wall and keeps order in the courtroom.
On one side is the judge's bench, the tables for the plaintiff, the defendant, and their respective counsel, and a separate group of seats known as the jury box where the jury sits (in jurisdictions that allow for jury trials). Apart from the parties to the case and any witnesses, only the lawyers can literally pass the bar (court personnel and jury members usually enter through separate doors), and this is the reason why the term "the bar" has come to refer to the legal profession as a whole (see bar association). There is usually a podium or lectern between the two tables where the lawyers may stand when they argue before the judge.
The other side of the bar is open to the general public and there are usually seats for curious spectators. This area is the gallery.
It should be noted that all of the above applies only to trial courts. Appellate courts in the United States are not finders of fact, so they do not use juries or hear evidence; that is the trial court's job. Therefore, in an appellate court, there is neither witness stand nor a jury box, and the bench is much larger to accommodate multiple judges or justices.
The walls are often partially or completely wood-paneled. This is a matter of style and tradition, but some jurisdictions have elected to construct courtrooms with a more "modern" appearance.
Multiple courtrooms may be housed in a courthouse.

England and Wales

In a criminal court, the defendant will usually be escorted by members of the security firm that has the contract to serve that court. In rare circumstances in civil trials a bailiff or someone else charged to keep order may be present (for example if a tenant who is due to be evicted for violent behaviour arrives in court drunk).
Courts vary considerably in their layout, which depends a great deal on the history of the building and the practicalities of its use. While some courts are wood panelled, most are not. Depending on the layout of the room, a claimant may sit on either the right or left in a civil court, just as the prosecution may sit on either side (usually the opposite side to the jury) in a criminal court.
It is almost invariable practice for advocates to speak standing up, but from where they were seated: they do not move from their place in order to do so. There is rarely if ever space for them to move in any case.
All appellate courts are capable of hearing evidence (and also to be finders of fact), for example where there is an allegation of bias in the lower court, or where fresh evidence is adduced in order to persuade the court to allow a retrial. In those cases witness evidence may be necessary and many appellate courts have witness stands.
Flags are rarely seen in English courts. It is most common for the Royal Coat of Arms to be placed above and behind the judge, or presiding magistrate, although there are exceptions to this. For example in the City of London magistrates' court a sword stands vertically behind the judge which is flanked by the arms of the City and the Crown.


The Judge or Sheriff sits on the bench as in other countries. Directly below the Bench is the Clerk's station which usually has a computer to allow the Clerk to get on with Court Disposal work during proceedings.
Directly in front of the Clerk is the well of Court which has a semi-circular table at which all the advocates sit during proceedings. The Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Depute always sits in the seat at the right of the Clerk during criminal proceedings.
Behind the well of the Court is the dock in which the accused will sit during proceedings. Dependent on the style of the Court room the Jury box will either be on the right or left hand side of the well of the Court. Scotland is unique in the western world in that it has 15 Jurors.
Usually to the right or left of the Bench (again dependent on style and always directly opposite the Jury) slightly raised and facing forward is the stand where any witness who is called will give evidence. The stand is designed so that any solicitor examining a witness as well as the Judge/Sheriff may get a good view of the testimony. At the far side of the Courtroom directly opposite the Jury Box and behind the stand are seats for Journalists who are attached to the Court and the Court Social Worker. Seats for members of the public are the back of the Courtroom.
There is no Court reporter in Scotland, normal summary cases are simply minuted by the Clerk indicating the disposal. If the case is a solemn (more serious) case involving a Jury or if the case has a sexual element then proceedings will be tape recorded which is done under the supervision of the Clerk.


External links

courtroom in Spanish: sala#en el ámbito de la justicia
courtroom in Chinese: 法庭
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