Right of audience is the legal right to appear before a court and speak. This right is extended to the parties in a case, as they must be able to communicate regarding the case, and by extension, their representatives also have the right of audience. When a defense attorney speaks in court on behalf of a client, for example, the attorney is exercising the right of audience to provide representation.
Access to this right varies by nation. In some countries, all attorneys have the right of audience in any court, from a simple district court to the highest court in the land. As long as the attorney is representing a party in a case and is a member of the bar in good standing, that person can speak. In England, distinctions are made between barristers and solicitors. Barristers have the right of audience everywhere, while solicitors can only represent people in certain courts. In the 1990s, some changes were made to this policy to give solicitors more rights in court.
While many people take the right of audience for granted, it was not always a legal right. Historically, some people were not allowed to speak for themselves in court, and courts could hear cases and make decisions without actually hearing from one of the subjects in a case. Some countries denied the right of audience to people like slaves and noncitizens, for example. This practice was deemed prejudicial and discriminatory in many nations and abolished, with access to the court system being considered a human rights issue.
There are some limitations on the right of audience. People must be involved in a case and they must observe the protocol and etiquette of the court when appearing. If someone uses profanity or fails to follow procedure, that person can be fined or otherwise penalized. Attorneys are expected to be familiar with the behavioral expectations in court and can advise their clients on how to conduct themselves in court to avoid problems with a case.
People who feel this right has been violated can file complaints. Depending on the nation and the situation, the complaint may be filed with the court, with an agency overseeing human rights issues, or with an organization like a bar association. Complaints should include clear, detailed information including a discussion of the legal matter, a description of what happened in court, and details about who was present at the time.