Courtesy in court was the subject of a lecture in London last week by Lord Neuberger, and the Supreme Court president revealed himself to be only too aware of lawyers attempting to conceal their contempt for the bench.
Neuberger (pictured) said discourtesy to judges had to be subtly administered, especially as it can be couched in the most courteous language.
‘When the judge makes what the advocate thinks is a stupid point, the advocate will often begin his answer with the words, “My Lord, with great respect… ”.
‘If he thinks the point is particularly stupid, the advocate may begin his answer by saying, “My Lord, with the greatest respect…”.
‘I will leave it to your imagination as to what an advocate thought of a point I once made to him in argument when he started his answer with the words, “My Lord, with the very greatest respect possible…”.’
But advocates thinking they might have crossed swords with the odd grouchy judge in the past should be grateful they never encountered Lord Thankerton, a law lord in the 1930s and 1940s.
Neuberger recounted how Thankerton would deal with advocates he did not care for as he ‘irritated some counsel by practising his hobby of knitting while on the bench’.