Hearings in chambers or in open court

Proceedings may take place in open court with general public allowed to attend or in private in judge’s chambers, depending on sensitivity of a case.

This content applies to England & Wales


Proceedings may take place either in public, which means that the general public will be admitted and this will usually be in open court, or in private (formally known as chambers), where the public is not allowed to sit in on the hearing. Where proceedings take place will depend on the circumstances of the case.

The general rule is that a hearing is to be in public.[1] However, a hearing, or any part of it, may be heard in private, and the decision of whether to hold a hearing in public or in private must be made by the judge conducting the hearing, having regard to any representations by the parties. If one of the parties particularly wants the hearing to be in private or in public, and the other party does not object, this can usually be accommodated if the court has prior notice. The clerk at the court will be able to give information as to where the proceedings are to be held.

The rules require the court to list certain cases as private hearings in the first instance, including:

  • a possession claim by a mortgage lender 

  • a possession claim by a landlord on the basis of rent arrears

  • an application to suspend a warrant of possession or to stay execution where the court is being asked to consider the ability of a party to make payments to another.[2]

Judge's office (Chambers)

Cases heard in 'chambers' are often held in one of the court's offices rather than in a courtroom. The judge sits behind a desk, and chairs are available for legal representatives in front of the judge. There may be other chairs available in the room for the client and any observers.

No one may enter the judge's room without the permission of the judge. If someone wishes to accompany the client, as a McKenzie friend or lay advocate, it is necessary to ask the usher to get permission from the judge before the hearing begins. Permission is rarely refused, but the other side does have a right to object, in which case permission may be denied. Proceedings held in the judge's room are usually private and members of the public, including the media, are not allowed to attend.

Parties to the proceedings must wait in a waiting room until the usher calls their case. The usher will then take the parties into the room and it is good practice to say good morning or good afternoon to the judge on entering the room.

Open court

Cases heard in open court are held in a courtroom where the judge sits behind a desk on a raised platform. There are designated seats for advocates, solicitors, witnesses, clients and members of the public, as well as for the media. Private hearings may also be held in a courtroom. 

Parties for the other cases on the list can go into the court while the list is being heard. When the judge enters and leaves the room everyone is expected to stand up. If anyone leaves the room during the hearing, they are expected to bow to the judge as they go out of the door. When a case is due to be heard, the usher will call out the name of the case and the hearing will begin.

Last updated: 18 January 2021


  • [1]

    Civil Procedure Rules, rule 39.2.

  • [2]

    Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 39.1.5.