THE EDITOR: The recent reports of “Magistrate scolds police” and “Police got a dressing down from a Port of Spain magistrate” raise very important issues that go to the heart of our social structure.
When lawyers meet socially, one would occasionally learn of a certain judge or magistrate being ill-tempered or impolite. In fact, on rare occasions one would hear of a judicial officer being outright insulting.
I have personally witnessed this impolite behaviour from two High Court judges. I don’t know what type of training judicial officers receive before they are appointed to the Bench. However, one would think that at top of the list is that a judicial officer should always be polite to all people in court.
Further, the judge/magistrate, the police (prosecution) and the lawyers (defence) all have a clear, distinct and important role to play, each role different from the other. The court cannot function without each party performing his role.
In this sense, all parties are equal. Therefore, each party should always be polite, showing good manners and be respectful to the other party and this is how the system operates generally to a large extent. There are occasional exceptions.
More than 200 years ago, one English judge had this to say:
“Courts are unquestionably the seats of politeness and good breeding; were they not so, they would be seats of slaughter and desolation. Those who now smile upon and embrace, would affront and stab each other if manners did not interpose” (Lord Chesterfield – 1694-1773).
The essence of this quotation is that the court is the last bastion of civility. So, regardless to what we see taking place on the outside, our courts and all those who have a role to play in their operations must at all times show the utmost civility.
It is often said that the most important quality of a good judge is that he must be first and foremost a gentleman; a little knowledge of the law will help.