‘Unfailingly courteous’: Top lawyers highlight human decency on the bench

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Barristers take to Twitter to swap stories of their judicial faves

Senior judges are keen to remind the public that, underneath the wig and gown, they are only human.

That judges ain’t robots is made clear by frequent horror stories of judicial bullying of lawyers who appear before them — a nightmare scenario for junior advocates in particular.

But top barristers also have fond memories of times when judges showed their human side in the nicest possible way.

Prompted yesterday by yet another negative scene in court, crime silk Michael Auty reminded followers that being a jerk isn’t a necessity on the bench:

And anonymous advocate CrimeGirl contributed her own tale of judicial kindness:

While Rebecca Herbert of 36 Bedford Row recalled being sent flowers and called into chambers by concerned judges when times were hard in her personal life.

It’s not just members of the bar who appreciate a bit of judicial TLC at times. Lord Neuberger, who recently retired as Supreme Court president, reminisced earlier this year about his experience as a newly appointed High Court judge:

“The first time I was reversed, the judgment was given by Lord Justice Mummery, who characteristically got in touch and said that I should not take it amiss; the Court of Appeal saw many excellent judgments which they nonetheless overruled.”

His replacement, law student favourite Lady Hale, was singled out by No.1 High Pavement’s Auty as an example of a “terrifyingly clever and yet unfailingly courteous” judge. No surprises there, we reckon.

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Whilst it is good to reminisce, recognition should also be given to those Judges who continue those practices. A few years ago in the middle of a very difficult trial, we had a personal tragedy (think blue lights, A&E e.t.c) HHJ Peter Ross was superb. Compassionate and kind. Sent the jury away, and completely re-scheduled half a week of the trial so that I was able to recover and wasn’t distracted. I will never forget his decency.



Wow, actual lawyers read legal cheek!



During a mini-pupillage in Birmingham I accompanied a barrister who was appearing in Sheldon Court (which is a First-Tier Immigration & Asylum Tribunal). During day two we were representing a young asylum seeker who felt repeatedly neglected by the courts and upon hearing of a further postponement to his case, threatened to commit suicide.

Counsel explained the situation and the judge directed that the youth was brought into court so she could justify her reasoning to him. She got down from the bench and we sat round the table as she told him in plain language that it would likely benefit him if more documents were obtained etc.

I got the feeling from both my own side and the PO for the Home Office that this threat was all too common in asylum cases and goes some way to demonstrating the vulnerability of the people involved. However, I will remember the care and compassion that the judge acted with as shining examples of judicial kindness for the rest of my career.



I would like to say a word in favour of a judge who few recall with unbridled kindness. I refer to HHJ Holman, former DCJ at Manchester. He had a reputation for being somewhat short with advocates, to say the very least.

It was therefore surprising to have been in his court waiting to start my app to vac, and listening to the way in which he dealt with a LIP who was seeking to appeal a DJ’s striking out of his apparently unmeritorious claim. To borrow a phrase from a Manchester judge of diametrically opposed reputation, that application was not stanchioned by any procedural regularity.

Had the LIP been counsel or a solicitor, the judge would have gone nuclear. As it was, Holman took 40 minutes to carefully and repeatedly explain the nature of the manifold procedural difficulties that lay in the LIP’s path. He did so with tact, patience and admirable clarity, while avoiding any kind of legalese at all. It was the first and last time I was ever able to say that I found HHJ Holman to be gentle and compassionate.


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