Legal dramas have made law and litigation the subject of popular TV viewing over the years. And for lots of people, these American dramas are the only depiction of the court system they’ll encounter. Which is undoubtedly a good thing! Court should be the very last resort for civil disputes. So it may surprise you to find out how the court system in English and Wales differs from the set-up you’ll see in an American drama. Here are a few of the notable omissions and differences:
There’s no gavel
What!? No gavel? No call to “order, order” while banging the little hammer!? And no decisive bang of the wood-on-block while passing the sentence?
That’s right. The gavel is used exclusively in the American court system. It has never been used by judges in the courts of England and Wales. Or in many other English-speaking jurisdictions for that matter!
The gavel has become a fairly ubiquitous symbol of the law, but unfortunately it’s just a quirk of the American system. It’s actually a little misleading to use it as a depiction of the UK jurisdictions.
When you get to shout “Objection!”
Please don’t be too disappointed by this one… You never get to shout “objection!” in English courtrooms.
To object is a purely American term and it’s not recognised in the UK court system. In fact, you’d wonder if it was truly becoming of the typically more reserved nature of the Brits. When barristers disagree with the line of questioning, they’ll probably interject with something like “My Lord, my learned friend is asking a leading question”, or “My Lady, if I may interrupt here..”
It’s much more understated than the dramatic jack-in-the-box style objections that you might see on the telly.
Witnesses: ‘take the stand’ or ‘in the box’
When it’s time for witness evidence, each witness in the US will “take the stand.” You’ll often see it mis-reported in the English press that a witness took the stand to give their evidence.
But in the UK, the witness will stand in the witness box. In UK proceedings, it’s more accurate to say that a witness was “in the box” to give their evidence. It’s a subtle distinction and one you’re not likely to get pulled up on, but the purists in UK law will wince slightly at this popularised Americanism.
Lawyer, solicitor, barrister or attorney?
In US dramas, you’ll often hear characters who want to consult their “attorney”. In the UK system, the closest translation of “attorney” is simply “lawyer”. A lawyer is an umbrella term for somebody who is qualified to practice law.
But in the UK, in the simplest terms, we distinguish between solicitors who do not plead in court and barristers, who do plead in court. Some solicitors will do extra qualifications to obtain Higher Rights of Audience, in which case they’ll be a Solicitor-Advocate, capable of doing the advocacy in the courts if they choose to.
An attorney in the USA is able to plead in court and they tend to amalgamate the roles of the traditional British set-up of solicitors and barristers.
At HooperHyde we’re a little unusual for a UK solicitors firm and we have similar versatility to American attorneys. Gareth Lee-Smith is a practising barrister who is also authorised to conduct litigation. So he’s able to practice the roles of both a solicitor specialising in commercial litigation, and a barrister who pleads in court.
If you’d like any help with any very British litigation, please do get in touch.