Judges’ gavels

“Knock it on the head, BBC. Judges don’t use gavels”

Under this headline in The Guardian newspaper on 23 November 2009, writing about the BBBC1 series Garrow’s Law, Marcel Berlins said, “my enjoyment was mitigated by irritation at the BBC’s continuing failure to get one particular bit of courtroom procedure right – the judge’s use of the wooden gavel much banged in Garrow’s Law and many other BBC dramas containing scenes in court. In reality, English judges have never had gavels – not in Garrow’s time, not now, not ever”.

My initial reaction was that Berlins was perfectly correct.

The gavel passed down through the generations of William Garrow's family

I have seen criminal courts in action in the United States and we prefer to think of ourselves as managing affairs in a more sedate manner than is sometimes the case across the Atlantic.

But two things raised a slight doubt in my mind. First, the depiction of the court scenes in Garrow’s Law were in other respects accurate. With an active judge and lawyers, jurymen and by-standers all joining in loudly and at will, the atmosphere at times was reminiscent of a bear-garden or saloon bar. In that situation could a judge have maintained order in court without a gavel? Secondly, Richard Braby, who is a direct descendant of William Garrow, has in his possession a wooden gavel which has come down through his family and may have been used by Garrow. It is light in weight, could easily be carried on coach trips and makes a good sound when struck on a bench. Could this have been used by Garrow when he himself became a judge?

Can anyone reading this note give a definitive answer as to whether in the eighteenth century (or at any other time) English judges have used gavels? I should be very pleased to be enlightened on the point and I attach a photograph of the gavel owned by Richard Braby.

One Reply to “Judges’ gavels”

  1. As so far as I have been reading and watching the series I have often wondered of Garrow as the peoples champion would have done in the case of Jane Austen’s relatives the Leigh Perrots and was wondering your thoughts on this case as a relative of William Gye
    As well trying to although they were almost around in the same time in Ireland trying to establish a connection with Arthur Hill and Tom Lefroy which has proven very hard to do not knowing anything about the Irish justice system and it’s peers.



    I found somewhat of a connection and if I find my notes again I will share here


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