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Interruptions from the tribunal

As the case of Michel v. The Queen (The Court of Appeal of Jersey) [2009] UKPC 41 demonstrates, even a legally qualified judge can sometimes be tempted to misuse his position by appearing to act as a continental style examining magistrate. In this case the appellant’s conviction for money laundering was quashed because of the nature and frequency of the interruptions, often amounting to cross-examination, of the legally qualified Commissioner. Giving the report of the Privy Council Lord Brown observed of the chairman’s role:
‘Of course he can clear up ambiguities. Of course he can clarify the answers being given. But he should be seeking to promote the orderly elicitation of the evidence, not needlessly interrupting its flow. He must not cross-examine witnesses, especially not during evidence-in-chief. He must not appear hostile to witnesses, least of all the defendant. He must not belittle or denigrate the defence case. He must not be sarcastic or snide. He must not comment on the evidence while it is being given. And above all he must not make obvious to all his own profound disbelief in the defence being advanced.’

Lord Brown also quoted Denning LJ's celebrated judgment in Jones v National Coal Board [1957] 2 QB 55, 64, a personal injury claim ending with each party complaining that he had been unable to put his case properly:
"A judge's part . . . is to hearken to the evidence, only himself asking questions of witnesses when it is necessary to clear up any point that has been overlooked or left obscure; to see that the advocates behave themselves seemly and keep to the rules laid down by law; to exclude irrelevances and discourage repetition; to make sure by wise intervention that he follows the points that the advocates are making and can assess their worth; and at the end to make up his mind where the truth lies. If he goes beyond this, he drops the mantle of a judge and assumes the role of an advocate; and the change does not become him well. Lord Chancellor Bacon spoke right when he said that: 'Patience and gravity of hearing is an essential part of justice; and an over-speaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal.'"

This advice could also usefully be borne in mind by the chairmen of lay tribunals.


5th Edition » | Chapter 9