Show decorum in the courtroom, says judge

Two Cairns judicial officers delivered a stern warning to practitioners about etiquette during a webinar on Wednesday.

Judge Dean Morzone KC and Magistrate Michael Dalton provided more than 50 tips when they delivered the third and final session of the Cairns Judiciary CPD Series 2023/2024, Courtroom Etiquette: All for one and one for all, at the Cairns Courthouse.

Judge Morzone said the aim was to net poor behaviour that seemed to be “leaching into the higher courts” in a cyclical way.

He said every five or so years, there was a need to remove “procedural ghosts” which had made their way through.

“They’re more than ghosts because they involve poor etiquette, mannerisms, codes of dress, use of electronic devices for reasons other than court use – it’s just shoddy professionalism,” he said.

“I thought, as we were preparing this, there are a lot of ‘dis’ words that are associated with that – disrespect, disengaged, disorganised, distracted.”


He reminded the audience of more than 35 people that the duty to the administration of justice demanded lawyers exercised the highest of standards.

Judge Morzone KC

“If you can’t do it in the High Court, don’t do it in the Magistrates Court – simple as that,” he said.

The pair spoke of the importance of preparation, no matter the case, the court, or the judicial officer.

“You will have judicial officers, dare I say, that are tortoises, that will only stick their head out when they really want to see you … or you’ll have the rhino – the rhino needs to know everything, now,” Judge Morzone said.

“If you’re not ready for each type of those judicial officers, you need to go back and ask your colleagues about what each of the idiosyncrasies are.”

Judge Morzone said preparation included knowing proper procedure, having appropriate instructions, and knowing when to request or refuse a brief.


It also included avoiding diary conflicts, and he was clear in his take on lawyers who organised to be in two courts at once.

“The first thing that comes to mind is how stupid. Are they moronic – do they not care about their practice? Are they suicidal in respect of their practice?” he said.

“Their reputation gets around, and don’t forget judges and magistrates talk – we know who you are. Don’t do it – it’s not worth it.”

Judge Morzone said he also had no tolerance for tardiness and being made to wait.

“If I’m sitting outside that courtroom door – only a metre away, mind you – tapping my feet, it’s not pretty when I walk in,” he said.

He said when it came to dress code, a key word was distraction.


“The courtroom is not an opportunity to demonstrate your individualism, it’s less appreciated,” he said.

“Just like in any conservative setting, multiple coloured hair, eccentric make-up, bizarre piercings, exposed offensive tattoos, and the like are best covered.

“Dress conservatively, generally restrained. Drop the outlandish, garish colours or patterned attire that would otherwise be worn to the races.

“Why? Putting aside the formality again, it’s a distraction. It’s not about you – get it? That’s why barristers are dressed in black and white – plain, boring, same.

“If you want to express your individualism and take the attention away from your client… I don’t know whether that’s good advocacy.

“Avoid the distractions. Distractions lead to poor advocacy and poor persuasion.”

Magistrate Dalton

Magistrate Dalton spoke of etiquette at the bar table, including seating by seniority, posture and file placement. But he said all participants in the court process should observe courteous and orderly behaviour.

“In particular, don’t show any overt reaction to anything said or done in the courtroom. Facial expressions and body language must be kept in check. That’s really a must for your client in trial, particularly before a jury and also in sentencing,” he said.

He said lawyers should never provide commentary during an opponent’s submissions: “it’s rude, it’s disrespectful and it is unprofessional”.

Judge Morzone concluded etiquette was about ethical behaviour.

“We call it etiquette because it is simply being polite and courteous, If you undertake your career and professional life ethically, then you ride a very easy road,” he said.

“Be uncompromisingly ethical. Be competent and diligent and exercise complete candour. Be exemplary in that regard. With your opponents you will be respected.”


In summing up, Magistrate Dalton said proper etiquette made a matter more palatable for a judicial officer or a jury.

“Good etiquette is in itself, good advocacy because if you are being polite, courteous and respectful, following all of those rules, your submission is subtly wrapped up in that etiquette,” he said.

“If you’re doing things that upset the decision-maker, you’re immediately on the back foot when it comes to whether your submission will be accepted, and sometimes there are fine margins in submissions as to who gets the nod and who doesn’t.”

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