Saturday, November 10, 2007

Judges: Mind Your Image and Manners

The Henan Supreme People’s Court recently made news here and here. It issued China’s first institutionalized provincial level judicial etiquette—《河南省人民法院司法礼仪规范(试行)》, the Henan Province People's Court judicial etiquette (Provisional) (“Judicial Etiquettes”). The much hyped Judicial Etiquettes will become effective on August 1, 2008, across the central province of Henan.

It sets out some norms for judges to follow while on or off the bench. Some deal with speech, some deal with dress code, and others concern basic manners in a court room.

The following 11 types of sentences addressing lawyers are banned:

1. Stop talking (or more crudely, shut up).

2. Am I the judge or you are?

3. Do you or I know the law?

4. Whose words are controlling here?

5. Shall we listen to you or me?

6. Not agreeing to mediation is not good for you.

7. Your case is sure to win/lose.

8. How are you lawyering the case?!

9. This Court is not here for you alone.

10. You are annoying.

 11. This is how I’m gonna rule. You are free to appeal, to whomever and wherever.

Aren’t these rules great?! Taxi drivers in Beijing and the judges in Henan finally have something in common to talk about—Caution, Speech. What is more, the judges in Henan are now officially required to deliver justice and politeness. Hopefully, that is not a tall order.

There is more to the Judicial Etiquettes. Judges in Henan also have to mind their manners too on the bench. For example, they cannot do these:

1. leave the bench in the middle of proceedings;

2. receive phone calls or play computer games;

3. wear sandals or slippers;

4. Pick ears or cut fingernails;

5. Smoke, eat snacks, or any other improper activities

I cannot imagine these happening in a court room; but apparently it’s been an issue in Henan People’s courts. Not targeting Henan Province here or have anything against it, which is the cradle of the Chinese civilization, but it is Henan that first came up with these rules.

And the following are my favorites:
1. Male judges shall not grow long hair, beard, or shave their heads bald.
2. Female judges shall not “dye their hair, wear heavy make-up, tattoos or painted nails.”
3. While wearing their uniforms, judges should not hold hands, arms with others in the public.

Overall, I see the Judicial Etiquettes as a positive thing, especially in the light that lawyers will get more respect in court rooms. But, what is wrong with male judges growing long hair? Is it the continuing campaign to root out any remaining influence of the Qing Dynasty? And female judge paining their nails?

Take it easy, your Honors in Henan.


Todd Platek said...

Great stuff. I once had a judge in one of the maritime courts say to me, "Well, if the foreign defendant thought it was so important to have their U.S. lawyer attend the court, I will need to take this case quite seriously." That was reassuring, no? (Yes, for that case specifically; no, if other cases are not taken so seriously.) Ex parte conferences still kind of bother me, though.

Brad Luo said...

I expect courts in the coastal regions to be a little better than what these rules impliedly portray the courts in Henan to be. But this is after all a good step forward toward judicial professionalism.