Let’s break free from the cultural imperialism of US legal dramas and stop imagining that English judges use gavels

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By Judge John Hack on

Respected broadsheet follows ITV into the trap of thinking British judges bang away like their Yankee counterparts


Lawyers and judges were reeling this week at the most shocking development to hit the legal profession since a television producer was appointed as Lord Chancellor — gavels have been introduced to English courtrooms.

Well, at least according to the Daily Telegraph they have.

Britain’s biggest selling broadsheet picked up on the dramatic tale of barrister Ian West, who recently had a fine for being in contempt of court overturned, following a verbal dust up with a judge at Durham Crown Court.

In its report, the Telegraph painted a vivid picture of the slanging match between criminal law specialist West and Judge Peter Kelson QC. But social media commentators quickly began to speculate on whether the reporter was actually in the courtroom, owing to this line:

“…the judge barked at him to sit down six times, banging his gavel on the bench as he did so”.


Exciting stuff — apart from the fact that … English judges (and indeed judges across the UK) don’t use gavels.

So even Daily Telegraph hacks appear to have been infected by the cultural imperialism of countless US television dramas depicting tough-talking judges smacking a gavel on the bench like demented DIYers.

Several years ago, highly respected legal journalist and commentator Marcel Berlins bemoaned the pervasive nature of this misconception. Writing in The Guardian in 2009, Berlins lambasted the BBC for incorporating repeated bench gavelling in the production of “Garrow’s Law”.

More recently, ITV has got in on the act. The station has promoted Britain’s own version of “Judge Judy” with scenes of barrister Rob Rinder (who has been elevated to the bench for the series) wielding a gavel with gusto.


Perhaps they just do things differently in the wild world of Durham Crown Court. Updates from local advocates gratefully received.