THE GAVEL, THE WIG AND THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE: PERPETUATING INACCURACY IS NOT ITS ROLE
It comes as a surprise to many that judges in England and Wales do not use gavels. It is a widespread myth. Many images of judges in the media have a judge with gavel in hand. There is a Twitter account – Inappropriate Gavels (@igavels) devoted to exposing this misconception. It is kept busy. Most of the media and even some of our most eminent university law departments, regularly sent out images of judges and gavels. It is disappointing though when the Ministry of Justice helps to perpetuate this fallacy.
THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
It was a surprise on Friday when someone mentioned that the Ministry of Justice had retweeted a tweet that showed a judge with a gavel.
AND IT GOT WORSE…
The retweet in question not only had a photo of judge with a gavel the judge is shown wearing a full-bottomed wig. Something never worn in court.
The irony was that the MOJ was attempting to publicise the new online facility for debt collection. It was attempting to advertise a 21st century means of litigation using an outmoded and highly inaccurate portrait of the judiciary.
EXERCISING THE RIGHT OF SILENCE
I did send the MOJ a tweet in response.
“Ministry of Justice you should know better. There are no gavels in court. Judges do not wear full-bottom wigs.”
However it has exercised its right to silence and has yet to respond. If is, of course, under no obligation to do so. What inferences should be drawn from silence is another matter.
DOES IT MATTER?
The MOJ, of all bodies, should ensure that any representation of the judiciary is accurate.
I wrote earlier this week about the need for education in relation to the justice system. I used a quotation from the Secret Barrister’s book.
“… public legal education in our country has historically been appalling. Upon arriving at university as a law undergraduate in the early 2000s, I knew nothing about the justice system other than what I had erroneously gleaned from American TV… I am not alone. A distressing number of my educated, professional friends genuinely understand my day to involve strutting around a courtroom barking “objection” while spinning deliberate lies to a jury as judge in full-bottomed wig twirls his gavel”
A MATTER OF PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE
This may only be a small matter. However it can have larger consequences as to how the public views the legal system.
It is remarkable that the MOJ not only does nothing to end this common myth but actually perpetuates it.
This has consequences for public understanding and confidence in the judicial system. If judges are seen as characters that bang gavels and wear antiquated wigs as a matter of course it is not surprising that understanding, and confidence, in the judiciary declines. It is not surprising that judges can be the targets of (wholly unwarranted) media attacks as “enemies of the people”.
The very least we should expect of the MOJ is accuracy (actually we should expect a lot more). Perpetuating the “gavel and wig” myth undermines its very purpose.
A small thing I know but another brick in the wall…