My late grandfather and founder of our law firm always insisted that we do our best to follow the well-known maxim that “the worst settlement is always better than the best judgment.” Over the years we’ve all done our best to follow his words of wisdom and for that reason we tried to avoid spending time in court.

On those occasions when it’s impossible to actually settle the case, we spend a fair bit of time preparing our clients and witnesses as to what they should expect when they get to court and how they should behave when they get there. Courts are ruled by judges who decide cases based not only on the testimony they hear but their overall impression of the witness. It is up to the judge to decide whether or not the witness is telling the truth and how much weight to give his or her testimony.

In Canada, lawyers in most trials are obliged to wear gowns that serve as our uniforms and more easily differentiate between the lawyers and their clients. Judges are similarly attired but the color of their robes may differ depending on the court. Courts are filled with a sort of pomp and circumstance of their own, but Judges are just people with their own life experience, mindsets and prejudices.

The court that most people end up in is the one reserved for contesting traffic violations. In most cases, these are not criminal cases but are penal violations that lead to sanctions in the form of fines, demerit points and loss of driving privileges. In most of these cases the accused tend to represent themselves without hiring a lawyer.

I wandered into traffic court last week and looked around. The judge was sitting on the bench raised a meter or so above the courtroom before his fancy desk and with his clerks arrayed in front of him. He was dressed in his legal gown as was the prosecuting attorney. The accused however were mostly unrepresented by counsel and clearly had not been briefed on how to appear in court.

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