A court usher’s tasks include making sure everyone involved with the court case is present and aware of their responsibilities.
As such, a court usher will possess strong communication skills, the ability to deal with stressed people in difficult situations, calmness under pressure and a clear voice.
Specific tasks include preparing the courtroom and administrative duties, such as inputting data to the computer system, filing and photocopying.
Soft skills (being personal attributes enabling someone to interact harmoniously and effectively with other people) are important for meeting and greeting court users and visitors, as well as keeping people informed of changes to hearing times and maintaining order in public areas of the courtroom.
Having checked the required witnesses, defendants and lawyers are present, a court usher will also call defendants and witnesses into court and direct the taking of oaths. (Taking the oath is the practice of swearing to tell the truth on the holy book of your religion. If you prefer, you can ‘affirm’, which means promising to tell the truth in a formal, non-religious declaration.)
Other responsibilities of a court usher might include labelling evidence and passing that evidence to the judge and jury. Court ushers can also pass messages between lawyers and legal advisers. Handling so much confidential information, discretion is critical for a court usher.
Court ushers wear dark clothes and calf-length black gowns.
When promoted, court ushers can become supervising ushers, overseeing a team.
The duties of a court usher vary depending on specific circumstances. In Crown Court cases, for example, a ‘sworn usher’ swears on oath to stop any unauthorised parties from approaching the jury. (The Crown Court is where serious criminal matters are ‘committed’ (or sent), such as murder, rape and robbery.) Extra duties of a sworn usher, compared to a ‘regular’ court usher, therefore include:
- escorting the jury to and from the courtroom;
- being on duty outside the jury room as the jury deliberates;
- taking messages between the jury and the judge, and;
- organising overnight hotel accommodation if the jurors need to return to the courtroom the next day. When acting as jury escort, sworn ushers therefore sometimes spend nights away from home.
Court ushers may not have the high profile of judges, or be central characters in television dramas, but they play an essential role in the English legal system. They sometimes need to react quickly and professionally to unexpected events and often need to deal sensitively but firmly with vulnerable and emotional people. If a court user does not understand or welcome court procedures, the usher may well need to control the situation. Should you ever find yourself in a courtroom, listen to the court usher with respect.
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