Start with courtesy then hope for respect

Posted: 17/12/2012 in Barrister, Jury, Magistrates, Police, Solicitor, Uncategorized

On my long train journey today I caught up with various blogs and news stories about criminal justice. It’s a habit indulged by the various bits of kit in my court bag which connect to the internet at high speed.

Today’s highlight for me was this

Written by a gentleman who described himself as a ‘Change Manager’.  As you’ll see, one of the reasons he concludes that the police are of low morale is because they aware that they aren’t providing a good service.


The Police Federation talk a lot about respect, they talk about how the Government should respect the police and how the public should do the same.

I actually agree.

However, what I don’t agree with is that respect is something automatic. I am not sure where this mantra came from. It seemed to first appear in schools, you must respect teachers, you must respect each other.

One of the reasons I became a barrister is because of schooling. When I grew up I thought it was unfair how students were treated by certain teachers, or how I was treated. I thought it wrong that I should respect people when they are doing things they shouldn’t do.  The requirement to automatically respect something or someone leads to injustice.

And actually, the criminal justice system has in built into it a lack of ‘blind’ respect. If ‘blind respect’ was to rule supreme then we wouldn’t have trials, we would simply take what the police and witnesses say for granted. We wouldn’t have appeals, we would presume that trial judges got things correct on the first time and there would be no appellate process.

My Recipe for Respect

As said, I do not expect blind respect. In fact I think blind respect is wrong. However, to earn respect, I think all actors (from Usher to Supreme Court Justice) in the Criminal Justice system should sign up to the same:

To admit mistakes are made and that no actor is infallible.

To act with honesty and integrity.

To follow the law (even when you don’t like it)

To be courteous to all involved with the system (from Defendant to Victim to Probation Officer to Parole Board Member etc etc)

To recognise that fairness is the central aim of criminal justice and without it the system cannot be fair at all.

Fairness and courtesy are linked

I think we overlook the link between fairness and courtesy. I personally think that reality police programmes do the police more harm than good. Often, the police are shown acting like law enforcement officials rather than officers of the peace. There’s a dispute, the police go and listen to the victim (clearly a courtesy as well as a duty) then often are seen arresting the complained of person, sticking them in the back of the police car and then start asking them questions about what happened.

It is a courtesy to listen. I know some people simply carry on when Magistrates start whispering to each other on the Bench, assuming they won’t be listened to. I don’t, I stand there in silence until they have finished. My biggest pet hate about the Magistrates’ Court is when Benches announce decisions without even turning to the Defence advocate, it is neither courteous nor is it fair.

I dislike in the Crown Court, colleagues who jump down people’s throats when they go off piste when answering a question. Just stop, ask the question again, and again, until the Judge directs the witness to answer. It has far more effect than being rude to a witness. A jury will prefer your courtesy and note the witness being evasive.

If an argument is being made ad hoc, or extempore, if you’re a Judge or Magistrate allow the advocate to at least set out what their argument is before dismissing it out of hand. Again a courtesy, but it goes to fairness.

If you’re a police officer at Court, don’t simply assume that your time is being wasted and don’t assume that you’re there because the Defence have demanded it.

And, if you’re an Officer In the Case, don’t  tell the defence solicitor to ‘fuck off’ when she asks you a simple question outside Court. (True story…)

Only human

Going back to my recipe for respect, I have to admit, I may sound holier than thou now but I’ve had my fair share of moments. I’ve gone hard on rude witnesses, bickered with disagreeable legal advisors, traded verbal blows with bobbies, argued with the Chair of a Bench or two.

But my default position is polite. And as my Mother says, I shouldn’t rise to it

If all the actors in the criminal justice system received a base line of courtesy then there would be an appearance of fairness. Those who appear to be fair are likely to garner respect. A system where there is an appearance of fairness will attract respect.

A fair criminal justice system deserves respect.


  1. Gromit says:

    I suspect some confuse respect with simple good-manners. The former should be earned, everyone is entitled to the latter.

  2. westofthelaw says:

    Excellent couldn’t agree with you more.

  3. Andrew says:

    I am that unusual figure: lawyer and lay JP.

    When I am in the Chair I will not pronounce sentence of immediate imprisonment, or refuse bail, without rising. I think it shows a lack of respect to our fellow-human in the dock to say “Go with the officers” after a hugger-mugger whisper on the bench.

    And when you are on the cusp between immediate custody and anything else a few minutes’ delay – like an all-options report – can also be an excellent opener of the bowels!

  4. Bagpuss says:

    I agree with Gromit – I think that what you would see as basic politeness is the same as the ‘respect’ which is is sometimes demanded. It is the basic respect for someone as an individual – you treat them with courtesy, you don’t *stat* by assuming the worst about them. I personally would think of that as common courtesy rather than ‘respect’ but I tend to assume that that is what is meant when talking about the ‘automatic’ respect. It”s the default setting for interactions with other people.

    I agree that there is then a different kind of respect which is has to be earned.

    So, a teacher, a police officer, a court, a person who is elderly – all of these get the first kind of respect from me. They don’t automatically get , or automatically ‘deserve’ the second kind.

  5. Michael says:

    A good New Year’s resolution for us all.

    Just as the wheat can be separated from the chaff by weight, so it is that hot air tends to make less lasting impression than cool reason.

    My own pet squirm is when I see advocates publicly squabbling for precedence in the running order with the legal adviser in front of those in the public gallery (& sometimes even unrepresented defendants patiently awaiting their turn). A most unedifying spectacle.

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