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Legal Minds

4 March 2016 / by / in

Judicial interventions

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas marked 2016 by questioning counsel for the first time in over a decade.

This accords with the advice of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor from 1618 to 1621 that “an over-speaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal”. Judicial interventions, particularly humorous ones, are normally neither funny nor judicial. Lord Justice Darling was notorious for his interruptions and only he appeared to regard his jokes as funny. In one case Darling’s interjections so enraged Lord Sumner that he threw a book at him, not itself good judicial conduct. Patience and gravity are more judicious traits than intervention and ill-judged humour.

The award for literal gallows humour, however, must go to Lord Braxfield, who when sentencing a defendant to death remarked “you’re a very clever fellow, but you’d be none the worse for hanging”!


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John specialises in commercial and civil fraud litigation. Admitted as a solicitor in 1983, John worked in private practice and in-house for a leading life assurance company before establishing Bivonas with Antony Brown in 1997. John has extensive experience in a wide range of courts and tribunals including the UK Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Divisional Court. He has been involved in a number of important reported cases.