{16/06/2012}   Judges

Are judges out of touch?  Should they know about popular culture?  Should there be an age limit?  Why are there not more female judges?  Why are there not more non-white judges?   How many, if any, judges went to state schools?  What makes a good judge?  Would a judge make a good Head of State?  Is it possible to be impartial?

I work in courts and have encountered more than my fair share of judges.  I find them strangely fascinating, a little bit intimidating and I always wonder what they’re really like and how much they understand of what’s going on outside their spheres of expertise and knowledge.  I know it’s unfair to refer to “all judges” as there are so many different characters, but the odds are that everyone will encounter at least one judge at some point in their life, most likely sitting on a jury.

If someone says “judge”, I picture an elderly man wearing a ridiculous wig who mumbles as he speaks.  As it happens, the case I’m sitting on now (admittedly a Deputy Master not a judge) has a fairly sparky female in her 50s presiding.  I needed to speak to her so had asked the clerk to ask her, but instead I was called into the back corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, Rolls Building, to ask her myself.  I was ridiculously terrified and resorted to my meeting-a-celebrity-trying-to-be-witty-and-cool gabble.  She was very calm and eventually got out of me my simple question.  But it did make me think how people in such a position of authority have a certain air about them

There are times when judges ask about popular culture things they don’t understand, I find it sniggerable.  They also lose a degree of respect, though at least they are not embarrassed to ask.  I’d like to have the internet available so I could Google Atomic Kitten rather than have to ask, in open court, what “it” means.

Many years ago I worked quite a lot in the Admiralty Court.  There was a long-running and tedious case that was presided over by a rather elderly judge.  The court’s air conditioning was set to deep freeze.  I mean really, really painful-nose, hands-freezing-up cold.  It got increasingly cold and unbearable as the day progressed.  In the morning there was usually live witness evidence, with the odd interjection by the judge.  In the afternoon, it was usually legal matters, no interjections by the judge.  The judge was behind me.  While counsel made submissions and addressed the judge, occasionally they would share a look, a sense of camaraderie unusual between counsel during a court session.  It took me some time to realise what was happening.  It transpires (or so I was told) that the judge was known to enjoy the odd tipple, to put it mildly.  The arctic court temperature was an attempt to keep him awake.  He could just about function in the mornings, but by the afternoon was largely asleep, having had a longer than necessary (liquid?)  luncheon adjournment!  Hence the less important matters dealt with in the afternoons.

I asked lots of questions at the start of this, I hadn’t intended to address them, they are just questions that seem to repeatedly spring to mind when I think about all things judgy.  But as for impartiality and their being a potential head of state, I think for the latter to be achieved, you must possess a brilliant mind, and I do believe that some, actually quite a few, judges do.  Though I do believe there should be some sort of age limit.  A judge becoming Head of State?  I think the right judge could make a brilliant Head of State, though it would have to be one, in my mind, who had a grasp on the modern world, common sense and an understanding, ideally from personal experience, of your average Joe Bloggs.  These skills I don’t encounter as often as I’d like, maybe even expect.


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