“Take your hands out of your pockets”
“Stop leaning on the furniture”.
“I’m adjourning your case. Come back when you’re properly dressed”.
“If you’re confused when to turn up in court maybe I should put you somewhere where I know you’ll be brought here on time the next day?”
These are some of the things that Judges routinely say to people in court every day of the week.
It can be an intimidating place.
The mechanics of court cases are important to understand but understanding the environment in which those arguments are presented is even more important.
We only discovered much later that when he nodded
his head this was not an indication of agreement,
it was just an acknowledgement that he was listening to you.
How you present your case is just as important as what you actually say.
No two people are the same or think the same.
That applies to Judges too.
An argument that may work for one Judge may not work for another.
But there are some things that almost all Judges agree on.
When it comes to court you might want to keep some of these things in mind.
BEWARE OF WEAK ARGUMENTS
Brevity is key. The fewer propositions a Judge has to deal with the better the proposition. A sharply focused argument keeps attention.
When a lawyer raises ten grounds for their argument, they’re really saying, “I’m not sure about the strength of my first three grounds, so I’m throwing in seven more in the hopes that they confuse you and I get lucky”.
This rarely happens. That smokescreen is as old as the hills, and you only succeed in annoying the Judge who has to waste time listening to flimsy gibberish masquerading as legal argument.
Negative consequences usually follow.
You should spend some time -if you can- trying to understand what values are important to the Judge that you will face.
Some Judges are impossibly polite, even in the face of verbal nonsense.
These Judges can sometimes be the hardest to read.
I remember one old Judge who had a mane of white hair and an almost universally kindly face.
He was paternal in the extreme, always stopping to offer words of encouragement and advice if you met him off the bench.
If you needed a wise old uncle and could have one appointed, he’d be the one.
He made a point of smiling benevolently, slowly nodding his head, when he was being addressed by lawyers, before deciding -politely of course- to convict your client.
We only discovered much later that when he nodded his head this was not an indication of agreement, it was just an acknowledgement that he was listening to you.
We had misread him completely.
RESPECT IS KEY
Regardless of when your case takes place there are some things that always help.
Decorum is one of them.
Look at how Judges dress. They are almost always impeccably turned out.
They expect no less from you.
You’d be surprised by the number of people who come into court wearing casual clothing. Often tracksuits or parts of tracksuits, even by people who should know better.
If you don’t care enough to dress formally, why should a Judge take you seriously?
After all, you’ve just basically told them -without telling them- that you couldn’t be bothered wearing respectable clothes.
Only this week someone pointed out a man to me who was addressing the Judge wearing a ‘high-vis’ vest and tracksuit pants lovingly spattered with multiple different types of paint.
A conviction was almost inevitable.
It is next to impossible to convince a Judge that you are worthy of their good graces when you come to court dressed like a building-site scarecrow or are wearing something harvested from the clothes bin at home.
TRUTH AND JUSTICE.
It’s important to understand that Judges don’t like unfairness.
That may seem obvious, but Judges really don’t like imposing penalties that may cause undue hardship or are not warranted.
This is especially the case when a powerful institution seems to be oppressing an individual.
No one likes a bully.
Some Judges will use all their ingenuity at finding a remedy, even if the wrongdoer appears to have the law on their side.
But often Judges will -as much as they can-try to bend the law to make it conform to their idea of what is fair in the circumstances of a particular case.
Lord Denning was just such a man.
He was one of the outstanding judges of the twentieth century. Teasing a colleague at a legal dinner once he said, “Unlike my brother judge here who is concerned with the law, I am concerned with justice”.
The law does not trump fairness, but where it seems to, you will often see Judges -to their credit- grappling and bending the law so that the result is fair.
Remember: every single motoring conviction you get
is an opportunity for your insurance company to send your
future insurance quote far into the Milky Way Galaxy.
Judges have wide discretion when it comes to penalty.
These range from a non-conviction to imprisonment.
Convictions of any sort can have huge consequences for your future. They don’t go away, and they might even stop you travelling abroad.
If you can frame an argument in such a way that a Judge might be persuaded not to even convict you that is huge.
Obviously, there are some cases so serious that a conviction will follow no matter what the argument.
Drink driving for instance. Once a drink driving case is proven against you, you will be convicted and disqualified from driving, no matter what.
But plenty of other cases allow a Judge to either disqualify you from driving or not. The difference between the two is enormous.
Remember: every single motoring conviction you get is an opportunity for your insurance company to send your future insurance quote far into the Milky Way Galaxy.
So, avoiding them is paramount.
PRIORITISE WHATS IMPORTANT.
There are times where the nature of the case is so serious that if you’re found guilty your priorities change.
Here the objective is not leaving court without a conviction, it’s not leaving court in a prison van.
But leaving court without a conviction is possible, in some cases.
Fundamentally Judges do not like having to convict people unless they feel they have to.
They don’t necessarily want to give people convictions because they know the long-term consequences convictions can have.
If you actually listen to what Judges say they’ll frequently (at least once a day) remind someone that if they were convicted “it might affect your ability to travel (to a different country) or even get a job”.
This is true.
But Judges have obligations. These obligations are different to yours.
You only have your interests to worry about.
Judges have the interests of the wider public to consider.
And both sets of interests have to be balanced.
In order for a Judge to consider applying leniency to you
they need reasons why they should.
Its useless merely asking a Judge to be lenient.
If you do, you’re not seeing the world through their eyes.
THE MAN ON THE STREET DOESN’T LIKE YOU
If a Judge is to be lenient to you, it means that the full weight of the law does not fall on top of you.
This may delight you but will likely anger some members of the public.
The wider public are generally conservative.
This is a fact of life in every democracy.
These people are the responsible types, the sort who vote every time there’s an election, no matter if they have to be air-lifted to the polling booth.
Many of them think that the penalties that people get in court these days are far too lenient.
A minority think that everyone should be locked up anyway.
Some even become misty-eyed when they reminisce about capital punishment or flogging.
You probably know people like this.
You may even be one of them.
But in order for a Judge to consider applying leniency to you they need reasons why they should.
Its useless merely asking a Judge to be lenient. If you do, you’re not seeing the world through their eyes.
Why should they be lenient? Because you asked them?
It doesn’t work that way.
They need proof, solid proof, that applying leniency to you is the right and fair thing.
Remember the ‘fairness’ argument earlier?
Everyone wants the Judge to be lenient if they’re convicted.
After all, nobody ever asks for the heaviest penalty, always the lightest.
How does a Judge know that you’ve learned a lesson, that this was a “one off”, that they should be lenient?
Words are words. They’re empty unless they’re accompanied by action.
Anyone can say that they’re sorry.
It costs nothing to say that.
THE JUDGE’S POV
Judges have other considerations to contend with, considerations you probably never even thought about.
Like that well-dressed person sitting to the side of the court, silently scribbling in a notebook.
Every so often she looks up, listens to what’s being said before furiously scribbling again.
This the court reporter. She writes for the papers.
They may be local or national papers but as everything is online these days even stories from local papers can gain national attention quickly.
The last thing a Judge wants is some newspaper article flying around on WhatsApp saying that they listened to a “sob story” and gave a lenient sentence.
That sort of stuff attracts attention, the wrong type.
Nobody wants to be portrayed as being “soft on crime”.
Now you know where the Judge is coming from.
That’s their perspective.
It should also be yours because they’re the ones who are going to make decisions that will affect your life.