A shame on the Bench

Senior members of the profession were not happy that sitting judges were so honoured, and said so. Eventually, the instruments of appointment were returned. 

This incident ought to be an object lesson for all of us who practise the Westminster system of government, adopted and adapted by us for our own convenience. For our own short-sighted convenience on occasion, we have sought to dispense with the oil of convention and have substituted the water of expedience where time-honoured traditions have long been established as useful landmarks. 

And while oil and water do not mix, the one can never be substituted for the other without serious damage to engine. 

It is to take one’s eye off the ball and temporarily lose focus, for anyone to contemplate, worse still, award the dignity of Senior Counsel to any incumbent judge. Such awards are, or ought to be, the Kitemark of excellence of the practising advocate, who has demonstrated the highest professional standards of competence and integrity at the Bar. 

And a judge must perforce be occupying a greater status within the hierarchical structure of the legal profession than any counsel at the Bar, however eminent such counsel might be! 

So that the status of Senior Counsel is a signal honour; but it is not and has never been a prerequisite for qualification and appointment as a judge in any of our regional jurisdictions. There is therefore no reason why a sitting judge should be considered for this dignity. He is of higher status. 

The office or appointment to the Bench is a matter of such high and ethical distinction that it is difficult to see and understand how this embarrassing complication developed. The Bench, is in this and all other respects mightier than the Bar. 

We may perhaps hazard the guess that ancient landmarks are being moved in these parts simply because some of us do not quite understand the reason for those landmarks in the first place. If we did, a moment’s reflection ought to have reminded us that some principles are sacrosanct, and that mischievous minds may easily invent evil and malevolent rumour; for such minds are capable of making false bricks of facts even without regard for the straws of truth. 

In essence, all honours are political. They lie in the gift of the Executive. That is why we used to call it “Queen’s Counsel”. There is nothing whatever, however, insignificant or valuable in the gift of the state that should ever adorn the intellectual or physical mantelpiece of the judge, duly appointed and sworn to do justice.


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