“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.
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.