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  • April 25, 2015, 12:40:17 AM

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Author Topic: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'  (Read 416 times)

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AfleetAlex

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I've been watching 'Broadchurch' on BBC America and I had some questions about law procedures in the UK based on the show, and hoping someone here can enlighten me. (Mods, I hope these are okay questions to ask as I am not seeking legal advice, just curious about some of the procedures.)

- Does everyone have to stand while they are giving testimony? (We sit in the US. Then I got to wondering about people who might be infirm, elderly, etc. Are they allowed to sit?)

- While giving testimony, are you supposed to reply directly to the jury? Some people were doing that, and some were replying directly to the barrister, so I was curious.

- I know the wig is a requirement for the barristers and the judge, but I did notice during in a scene in which a youth was being questioned, that nobody was wearing their wig, not even the judge, and this was official testimony. Are wigs only worn when questioning adults?

Obviously this is a TV show (and I have two more episodes to go, so please don't spoil me! :)) so I don't expect it to be exactly perfect, but I've found myself wondering these things often while watching the courtroom scenes.
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weaselfrance

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2015, 02:54:45 PM »
-You are expected to stand when giving evidence. However, if you're unable to stand for some reason, you can ask the judge's permission to sit down. It's at their discretion whether to allow it or not, but I'd be astonished if this request was refused in the case of an elderly/unwell/infirm person.

-Not aware of any rules/convention about addressing your responses to the jury. Personally, I'd respond to whoever asked me the question, but I can see why someone might decide to address their answer to the jury since they're responsible for weighing up all the evidence.

- Wigs are not worn in cases involving children, to try not to intimidate them in what might already be a frightening and stressful situation. This includes family court cases as well as criminal trials. At the discretion of the judge, wigs may also be removed in court if it's really hot  :)

Mustard

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2015, 02:56:11 PM »
Weaselfrance got there before me! I was going to say exactly the same thing!
« Last Edit: April 23, 2015, 03:12:08 PM by Mustard »

AfleetAlex

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2015, 03:09:13 PM »
Thanks! I didn't know the wigs could come off in hot weather, I assumed they were part of all court proceedings (which I've only gathered from British TV shows, so I'm clearly no expert). Which explains why I was so surprised when the young man was on the stand and they weren't wearing the wigs anymore, but still had the robes on.

Has there ever been a move to stop wearing the wigs? I realize this is traditional, but was curious if some people in the UK thought they looked silly or old-fashioned.

Does every barrister have a (I don't know the term) co-barrister with them? It seems in all the shows like there's been one main lawyer, and then a junior lawyer either sitting with them or behind them, in wig and robe.
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Mustard

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2015, 03:14:40 PM »
I think many actually choose to wear a wig; tradition, dontcha know.... but they don't be necessarily have to.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15816497
I found this:

'Solicitors advise clients and represent them in civil and criminal courts and also deal with business advice wills conveyancing and every area of law - some specialise in specific areas of law and others may be "general practitioners.
barristers (often called counsel) may be junior counsel or Queens counsel (selected for special ability and experience). Their clients are the solicitors who "instruct" them. At one time barristers had sole rights to appear in the High Court and the court of appeal and the house of Lords but this monopoly is now disappearing.

At one time the solicitor appearing in open court wore a robe but the barrister wore a robe and a horsehair wig, but the wig is now being abolished.'
« Last Edit: April 23, 2015, 03:18:34 PM by Mustard »

AfleetAlex

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2015, 03:18:52 PM »
Oh thanks, that's really interesting! I gathered from watching a season of 'Silk' that there was something of an expense to the robe and wig as well, so I could see where a barrister might want to forego that expense, especially while starting out.

I know very little about law anywhere, even in the US (beyond the basics), so I'm curious about the differences between the systems. Here you're expected to dress in a suit, but I've heard many women say they have to be very careful about whether to wear skirts vs pants (depends on the judge, I hear), neutral colors, etc.
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sparksals

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2015, 04:54:13 PM »
I believe in Canada  Lawyers wear the traditional robes for certain cases but not wigs *anymore*.   

Snooks

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2015, 05:19:02 PM »
Broadchurch was widely criticised for its inaccuracies in portraying the legal system.

Katana_Geldar

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Re: Questions about British law procedures, from watching 'Broadchurch'
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2015, 06:04:32 PM »
I've heard they soak the wigs in tea to make them look old.

Mustard

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Anniissa

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- While giving testimony, are you supposed to reply directly to the jury? Some people were doing that, and some were replying directly to the barrister, so I was curious.


Generally, the jury or to the judge are the ones who will be making the decision and hearing the testimony so witnesses are usually told that they should look at the jury/judge when giving their answers. Of course, this is not always the easiest thing to do when someone else is directing questions at you as it is normal to want to respond back to them. Witnesses who are more used to giving testimony (police officers/officials/experts) are more likely to do this than others unfamilar with the proceedings who are more likely to be overwhelmed by the experience. Actually, I think this might be one of the legal bits that Broadchurch got right in that the officials were the ones directing answers to the jury rather than the barristers. Other legal procedure -  not so much... Regarding the wigs, the judge was wearing the wrong wig for a start and the court clerk, who never wears a wig, was wearing one at least some of the time. The main thing though would be that there is no way the family could have chosen the prosecution barrister but makes for more drama...

Twik

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I believe in Canada  Lawyers wear the traditional robes for certain cases but not wigs *anymore*.

When I was called for jury duty a couple of years ago, I didn't get picked, but I did sit in the cafeteria watching the lawyers in their robes eat tuna sandwiches and pitas.
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katycoo

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Oh thanks, that's really interesting! I gathered from watching a season of 'Silk' that there was something of an expense to the robe and wig as well, so I could see where a barrister might want to forego that expense, especially while starting out.

I know very little about law anywhere, even in the US (beyond the basics), so I'm curious about the differences between the systems. Here you're expected to dress in a suit, but I've heard many women say they have to be very careful about whether to wear skirts vs pants (depends on the judge, I hear), neutral colors, etc.

I think Silk is Australian, so I may as well jump in.  Yes, the robes and wigs are expensive but frankly, going to the bar is expensive itself so it's just not a move you make without the capital behind you. 
I'd be very surprised if wigs and robes disappeared any time soon in the superior courts, thought they're not usually worn in the lower courts anymore.

Has there ever been a move to stop wearing the wigs? I realize this is traditional, but was curious if some people in the UK thought they looked silly or old-fashioned.

None within the indutry would feel that way, and most people in the courtroom are in the industry.  I expect the people who think that way do so because its unfamilar to them.

Does every barrister have a (I don't know the term) co-barrister with them? It seems in all the shows like there's been one main lawyer, and then a junior lawyer either sitting with them or behind them, in wig and robe.

Senior counsel will often appear leading junior counsel in complex or high value claims where a lot of work is involved.  Some senior counsel will refuse to appear alone, but that's pretty uncommon.  In Australia, it's extremely rare for a barrister to appear without an instructing solicitor, who is unrobed.