The Presidents’ Hammers, by Diego Tonus got us thinking about gavels and their back story.

A curious volume lands on Obiter’s desk – The Presidents’ Hammers, by Diego Tonus. Tonus is thinking about gavels and their back story – as ceremonial tokens, concealed weapons, items of economic value and, of course, functional order-keepers. The 300-page book is richly illustrated with photographs and art, film stills and diagrams.

Gazette readers will be thinking: ‘But our judges don’t use gavels!’ Quite so, and there is almost a cottage industry in pointing this out. Hence a section on our judges’ non-use of the implement, ‘Inappropriate Gavels: the spread of the media’s use of the wrong judicial imagery,’ accompanied by a picture of daytime TV ‘judge’ barrister Robert Rinder holding a gavel. Even the UK parliament’s official website used a gavel-pic when referencing a legal aid debate. 

The gavel is wrongly used in TV’s Garrow’s Law, 2016’s Our Ex-Wife (both BBC – a serial offender, it seems); and cartoons on the Article 50 Miller judgments. Accuracy is redeemed with a chapter featuring artist Isobel Williams, author of The Supreme Court, A guide for bears. Williams’ evocative colour sketches of the Supreme Court deliberating on the Article 50 case is presented as ‘a testimony to the absence of the gavel from UK courtrooms’.