All of our first year law undergrads took part in an exercise in week one of their LLB where they escaped City and went to visit a number of buildings of significance in the local area, before tackling some research questions.
They were then asked to write a blog post inspired by their travels. 21 winners were selected from all those posts submitted – this is one of those – thanks to Radha Baan.Walking around the legal part of London made me reflect on the visual differences between legal professions in different countries.
In England, it seems that there is a clear distinction between different legal professions. Multiple times the comment ‘look, that’s a barrister’ or ‘that’s a solicitor’ was said by someone in our group.
Barristers seem to dress mostly in dark colours, whereas solicitors dress in much more colour and tend to look slightly more casual.
I lived in the Netherlands for years and it is very hard to distinguish who’s who. Judges, lawyers and clients all seem to have the same courthouse attire.
This clear distinction can be found in English schools as well, where wearing a school uniform is the norm. From the first to the last day of school, the English children will don themselves in the colours of their school, and represent it with a sense of pride and distinction.
The advantage of the uniformity of a certain group of people is that they appear more reliable and competent. Furthermore, they not only give the school (or in this case: their profession) a better image, they are also protected by the feeling of respect and sometimes even awe that people get upon seeing them.
It is very difficult in the Netherlands. Barely any of the schools have a uniform and the generation currently working in courts and other parts of the legal profession does not even remember a time where uniforms were mandatory. There is also a very strong opinion ingrained in the Dutch that they are entitled to do whatever they want, wear whatever they want and not be criticized about it. This idea is still prominent when they attend university and get a job, making the courts look like a gathering of people with no clear distinction or hierarchy.
The lack of hierarchy is further portrayed by the casual attitude lawyers and even their clients have towards judges. They are treated as just another person who makes a fuss and tries to make everybody’s life more difficult by asking questions and not letting them get away with whatever it is they want to.
This, to me has always been utterly appalling. In the courtroom, judges need to be treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled to (actual entitlement, not a false sense of it). If this is not the case, there can be many negative consequences to the practice of law. If the judges lose respect and authority, there will be an increasing disregard for the verdicts they give and their profession will become pointless and eventually obsolete.
This will propel society into one of disarray and has the potential to become incredibly dangerous.
The only way to make sure that we have a society in which we feel safe and can rely on our legal system to preserve the laws we live by and effectively enforce them when necessary, is by making a clear distinction between the different levels of the judiciary. A certain uniformity without uniform, like what England has at this very moment.
We need to strengthen this image that comes with the profession. The solicitors, barristers and judges have a very important role in society and without them there would be few just consequences for people that step out of line, making the population unsafe due to distinctly fewer consequences of bad acts.
We need to be aware of the power of the judiciary branch of the trias politica and ensure that this power is respected if not feared a little by those who try to disrupt our society or harm others.
In fact, if there is a clear distinction between the different people in the courts, there is clarity at what you are getting yourself in to. You know what to expect from who and who you can talk to if there is a problem.