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Magistrate, Judge or Justice? Who am I appearing before?

One of the most confusing things for people appearing in court for the first time is whether they’re appearing before a judge or magistrate. Also, knowing what to call...

Justin Wong

One of the most confusing things for people appearing in court for the first time is whether they’re appearing before a judge or magistrate. Also, knowing what to call the judge or magistrate.

In NSW, it depends on which court you’re appearing before. If you’re appearing in the Local Court then you are appearing before a magistrate. If in the District or Supreme Court, you’re appearing before a judge. Judges in the Supreme Court are also referred to as Justices.

Regardless of which court you and your lawyer are appearing before, you will hear them address the judge or magistrate as “Your Honour”. It used to be the practice in NSW that magistrates were addressed as “Your Worship”, but that is no longer the case.

This also applies to written material like references and letters of apology. If in the Local Court, the reference should be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate”, not judge and should start off as “Your Honour”. Similarly, references in the District Court are addressed to “The Presiding Judge”.

If you’re representing yourself, it is never good practice to refer to the magistrate or judge as “sir”, “mam”. Courts are formal places, and you should be aware of the etiquette before attending, even if you have a lawyer representing you.

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