Sitting in Judgment



By Penny Darbyshire

Hart Publishing

ISBN: 978 1 84946 239 6


An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers

For those of us in the law, whether barristers or solicitors, this very readable book has that amazing “un-put-downable” quality which we are sure will lead to an impressive level of interest, not just amongst us legal beagles, but with the general public and certainly with academics.

New from Hart Publishing, the book is the result of a lengthy and undoubtedly extremely thorough research project undertaken over a period of seven to eight years by author Penny Darbyshire.

‘I wanted to find out what judges did in and out of court and what they were really like,’ says Darbyshire in the introduction. In her conduct of the project, which for the most part, has consisted of observations and interviews, she noted generally, a disparity between the public perception of judges and the reality.

Unlike the commonly held stereotypes of ‘eccentric buffers, out of touch with the real world, etc.’ the senior judges she met seemed, in her words ‘unpretentious, quick-witted, perceptive and encouragingly kind to (her) students.’

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the project certainly meets the need for a thorough, systematic and it is hoped, objective study of the judiciary and judicial behaviour through the analytical eye of a sociologist. Or is she an anthropologist?

As one judge apparently commented to another, ‘She’s writing a little anthropology — a study of judges in their habitat.’ To complete her study, she ‘shadowed’ every type of judge in different aspects of their work throughout the six court circuits of England and Wales. She duly shadowed a total of some seventy-seven judges and met hundreds of others.

Writing in the Foreword, Lord Judge, the current Lord Chief Justice has pointed out that ‘until recently research of this kind would not and did not happen.’ The preconditions on both sides demanded that such research be undertaken with an open mind and without preconceptions. This being the case, there would be no editorial control on the part of the judges.

Alas, however, compete 100% objectivity is an unachievable goal, even in this review we are writing. For example, in the interesting chapter on ‘Where do English and Welsh Judges Come From?’ Darbyshire refers to the ‘hierarchical’ mind-set and ‘arrogance’ of some barristers who (in our view rightly) regard themselves as the senior profession and who (wrongly) look down their noses at solicitors. ‘…Solicitor advocates were not permitted to wear wigs in court until recently,’ she says.

We confess to being a little confused as to what is meant by ‘recently’ as we assume from the footnote, that her conclusions are based on an article in the ‘Times’ (1989), the ‘New Law Journal’ (1995) and ‘ a book called The Bar on Trial’ published 1978. We won’t go into how much the Bar has changed since 1978, but we will point out that barristers no longer wear wigs and gowns much in court either these days, since about the turn of this centry-ish!

All this is but a minor cavil, however, on a formidable, utterly fascinating and certainly well written piece of research. If you wish to read a well-rounded and insightful commentary on the experience of modern judging, this book is to be highly recommended.

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