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Best Practices for Courtroom Layouts Promoting Visibility

by Ted Prestogeorge / June 1, 2023

Courtroom layouts are crucial in ensuring legal proceedings' proper and fair functioning and facilitating justice. A typical courtroom consists of a judge’s bench, an area for court staff, a witness stand, a jury box, counsel tables, an attorney lectern, and a public seating area. These different parts of a courtroom should be designed to integrate seamlessly with the overall layout of the courtroom. Efficiently position the features to enable movement and interaction between the witness, attorneys, judge, and jury.

It’s also important to ensure that nothing obstructs the lines of sight between parties in a courtroom. Examples would be columns or alcoves in irregularly shaped courtrooms. I have witnessed a situation where the corner of the judge's bench was sticking out, blocking the view of the witness stand from some of the jurors.

The arrangement of the various parts of a courtroom can vary depending on specific types of courts, courtroom size, and shape. The following are the best practices for laying out a typical criminal courtroom.

BLOG_Courtroom Isometric Plan_2

Typical Courtroom Layout

Judge’s Bench

The judge's bench is a crucial part of a courtroom layout. Based on its location, all other elements in the courtroom are arranged. 

The judge's bench faces the rest of the courtroom. It is often placed on an elevated platform. This gives the judge a better view of the proceedings. It also symbolizes authority.

It is not only the focal point of the courtroom; proper placement allows the judge to see what is happening in the courtroom at a glance.

Two primary locations of the judge’s bench are centered on the rear wall of the courtroom and in the corner of the courtroom. While the corner bench could have some advantages in a smaller courtroom or one with proportions that tend toward being square, the center bench is the more typical layout.

I will be primarily concentrating on the center bench courtroom layout. The central position allows for visibility and accessible visual and acoustic access to other courtroom areas, such as the witness stand, jury box, and counsel tables. The bench centered directly on the opposing counsel tables creates a natural and metaphorical sense of balance.

Clerk and Court Reporter

An area for courtroom staff, such as a court clerk (could also be a courtroom deputy, bailiff, or other staff position) and court reporter, should be directly in front of the bench.  This location allows the judge and the clerk to communicate efficiently and pass documents to each other.

An alternate arrangement would be for the clerk to be in a box adjacent to the judge opposite the witness stand. The court reporter would also be opposite the witness stand but in front of the clerk in the well area.

Witness Stand

The design and placement of the witness stand and its visibility to and from other parts of the courtroom can impact how testimony is received and perceived by a witness. It’s vital that the testimony be heard and that the witness can be seen by jurors, litigants, the judge, and -- because our justice system relies on transparency -- even the public.

The witness stand should be directly adjacent to the judge on one side of the judge’s bench and slightly elevated but below the bench's height. This positioning and height allow the witness to hear and see the judge when providing instructions and place the witness in a prominent position to be seen and heard by all parties.

Jury Box

The jury box should be positioned along a side wall near the bench, and the witness stand should be used to see and hear the judge's instructions. It should be located on the same side of the judge’s bench as the witness stand and have a clear and close perspective on the witness testimony.

Arrange the jury seating to give each juror an unobstructed view of the witness.  Raise the back row of seating 6 inches to allow those jurors to see over the front row.

In my years of assessing courthouses, I’ve seen layouts where the witness stand is opposite the judge’s bench relative to the jury box.  In these cases, the view of the witness’s face, mannerisms, and body language can be obstructed by the judge’s bench or by the judge, making the full impact of testimony challenging to ascertain.


It’s a good idea to have a lectern facing the judge’s bench and centered on both the bench and jury box. This would be a base for attorneys questioning a witness or presenting arguments to keep exhibits, papers, and notes. The lectern should also have an electronic evidence presentation system (see “Technology” below).

Counsel Tables

The defense table should be positioned on the opposite side of the courtroom from the prosecution table relative to the jury box, again maintaining a separation between a defendant and any potential interaction with jurors.

There should be a clear and direct line of sight between the counsel tables and the witness stand to allow attorneys to observe and interact with witnesses closely. The defense counsel table is usually positioned near the judge’s bench to help maintain appropriate decorum.

Prisoner Entrance and Juror Entrance

Defendants or witnesses in custody should be brought into the courtroom through a separate entrance dedicated to this purpose. Ideally, the prisoner entrance would be connected through secure corridors to courtroom holding cells and the courthouse central lockup.

This entrance should be on the side wall opposite the jury box to keep circulation paths of jurors and the escorted prisoner from crossing or being near each other.

Similarly, jurors should have their dedicated and restricted entrance into the courtroom from the jury deliberation room. This door should be on the same side as the jury box to prevent jurors from crossing in front of the defendant at the defense counsel table while entering or exiting the courtroom.

I have assessed many courtrooms where an in-custody defendant is escorted just a few feet away from jurors, or jurors are forced to walk directly past the defendant when leaving the courtroom. This can be an intimidating feeling for a juror and should be avoided.

Public Spectator Area

The spectator area ensures public access to court proceedings, promoting transparency and accountability within the justice system. The courtroom should have an appropriate spectator area to accommodate a reasonable number of the public.

Be sure that the spectator area has dedicated spaces for wheelchairs. These would be directly off the aisle and take up a portion of a couple of rows of seating.

If the proceeding warrants it, could you consider a designated area for the press among the spectator seating? This will also help promote transparency and provide a means for fair and accurate media coverage.


As mentioned, the attorney lectern should have an electronic evidence presentation system to display and present documents, exhibits, and multimedia content onto video monitors.

These video monitors should be provided at all stations: the judge’s bench, court staff areas, witness stand, counsel tables, and jury box. Provide multiple monitors in the jury box, perhaps separate monitors for each juror or a monitor that can be shared between every two jurors. 

Large-screen TV monitors displaying the presented evidence should be positioned in front of the spectator areas to keep the public informed.

This courtroom technology can significantly enhance proceedings by efficiently communicating documents and other evidence equally to all parties involved. This allows all parties to see all evidence being presented simultaneously.

Provide microphones at the judge’s bench, witness stand, counsel tables, and lectern so all participants can hear the proceedings properly.

The Future of Virtual Proceedings

Remote and virtual proceedings have become more common in the past several years, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the rise of video proceedings, the courtroom should be equipped with evidence presentation technology and multiple video monitors and cameras.

Witnesses should be displayed on video close enough to see their faces but far enough to see their body language. The same would be true for attorneys. Cameras should be able to follow attorneys as they move while they speak.

All video and audio equipment associated with virtual proceedings must deliver high-quality pictures and sound.

Whether it’s traditional proceedings with all parties present in the same courtroom or virtual proceedings involving one or more parties attending remotely, the layout of a courtroom significantly impacts the proceedings, participants' experience, and the perception of justice. A well-designed layout promotes transparency, fairness, and efficient communication, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the legal system.


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Tags: Courtroom Design

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Ted Prestogeorge

Ted Prestogeorge

Ted Prestogeorge is a senior architect with Fentress Incorporated, where he has worked since 2006. His primary interests include the history of architecture, Art Deco design, and watercolor painting.