Federal Court Observations

For the last few months, Mantra Group have been involved in a court case against a number of different businesses and individuals which revolved around trade mark infringement and breaches of the Trade Practices Act by off site letting agents –¬†specifically¬†those relating to Circle on Cavill.

Due to my familiarity with what was going on, I was asked if I would be willing to provide an affidavit for the court case – which I was more than happy to do. That also meant that it was possible that I might be needed when the trial date arrived, however at the time of submitting the affidavit – that wasn’t really on my radar.

A few days before the court case was to go before the Federal Court judge in Brisbane, I was notified that I would in fact be needed during the case as a witness and would be cross examined by the party Mantra Group were up against. I’m not the sort of person that tends to get too nervous but as soon as I found out, I had butterflies in my stomach and was excited and scared by the proposition of giving evidence in a court case of this magnitude.

I arrived in Brisbane much earlier than I needed to, not that it was my intention – I simply allowed enough time in case I got hit by poor traffic from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. Just in case, I took along Always Be Testing to pass the time – turned out to be a good decision. By about 9:30AM all of the official parties started to arrive and there was lots of preparation happening within the court room – making sure the literal volumes of evidence were in order and accounted for. Legal teams have bookcases on wheels to move all of their evidence and paper work around, which they appear to prefer over builders wheelbarrow – though they carry considerably less. The first session went from around 10:00AM until 1:00PM, at which point we broke for lunch and returned just after 2:00PM. Our barrister finished off his opening statement (4.5 hours, not a bad effort) and then the opposition questioned our witness list in about an ¬†hour and the judge called it a day. I was expecting the questioning to be quite lengthy and rigorous, attempting to disarm or discredit the evidence we had submitted against them but that didn’t appear to be their strategy on that particular day.

There were a number of things that I thought were quite interesting about the whole experience:

  • The Federal Court building in Brisbane is very nice
  • Apparently silence or near enough to it is a virtue, you could hear a pin drop most of the time even outside of the court room
  • Barristers and other legal staff bow when entering and leaving the court room
  • You can now give an oath or an affirmation to swear that you’re telling the truth. An oath can be performed over a Catholic bible, Qur’an and many others.
  • Not knowing the line of questioning from a barrister is unsettling.
  • Knowing the line of questioning can be unsettling as well, as you wonder why they might pursue that line of questioning in the first place and what they hope to achieve out of it further down the road.
  • Court reporters can apparently hear nearly everything that happens within the court room, regardless of how softly it might be spoken. While they can record the conversation taking place are break neck pace, you still need to slow down slightly to allow them to take it down accurately.
  • Instead of a barrister referring to other barristers as Mr Smith or Smith, they are referred to as ‘my learned friend’
  • There are a lot of terms for various elements of a court case, evidence and processes. Due to their respective significance, barristers always use the correct name for each element to avoid confusion. However, it makes their speech patterns very different from everyday life.
  • Barristers need to stand before addressing the court. When there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between each party and the judge, watching the barristers stand and sit is humorous.
  • Only the barristers are permitted to address the court, other legal staff are not – regardless of how qualified they might be. I think even if the judge requires clarification, that will go from the other legal staff to the barrister to relay to the judge
  • Barristers cannot provide documents to the judge directly, they must go through a court assistant and subsequently through an assistant for the judge.
  • I think an assistant for a judge might be the most qualified personal assistant on the planet, having at least a legal degree under their belt.
  • The pace of a court case can vary dramatically, from watching paint dry boring to short, sharp and quite snappy.
  • Respect for one another and courtesy appear to be a requirement and highly regarded
  • Judges appear to be very patient people

The whole experience has been a real eye opener for what is involved in a court case and doing a great job. While I think everyone appreciates what legal teams generally need to do – the effort they expend attempting to be as thorough and complete as possible is quite remarkable. Aspects of this case, which I was involved in were related to internet marketing. A colleague at Mantra Group and I were concerned we weren’t going to be able to adequately explain the intricacies of it to the legal folk, as it is a specialist field and quite in depth, such that they could explain it to a judge. Despite that, the ability for our senior counsel to comprehend what was going on and apply it to a different circumstance was quite impressive, especially given it isn’t something they deal in regularly or at all.

Now we just need to wait for the judge to deliver his ruling, pretty exciting!