Hearings in chambers or in open court

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

This content applies to England & Wales


Proceedings may take place either in open court, which means that the general public can attend, or in private, where the public is not allowed to sit in on the hearing. Hearings in private are often held in chambers instead of a traditional court room.

Most hearings are in public.[1] The court can only hold a hearing in private if:[2]

  • publicity would defeat the object of the hearing

  • it involves matters of national security

  • it involves confidential information (including financial information)

  • they need to protect a child or protected party

  • it is necessary for the administration of justice

An application without notice can be listed to be heard in private if a public hearing would be unjust to the respondent to have a public hearing, where they might not have chance to attend.

Judge's 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.

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, the court usher can 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: 22 March 2022


  • [1]

    r.39.2(1) Civil Procedure Rules.

  • [2]

    r.39.2(3) Civil Procedure Rules.