Volume 3, Issue 6, (Originally Published on Monday 15th April 2013)
This Thursday, over a delectable spread of biscuits and lattes, we were fortunate enough to hear from our new Judge-in-Residence, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeals Bernard Bongiorno AO, about the sometimes startling idiosyncrasies of the civil law.
The event was organised by Sophie Molyneux and Karyan Ng of the Global Law Student’s Association, part of the regular Coffee Hour conversations where students can enjoy a coffee with eminent guests from around the legal world.
Bongiorno modestly described his interaction with the civil law of much of Europe as a hobby interest, but this was belied by his extensive knowledge of the history of its development, from the Roman law codified by Justinian in the sixth century AD to the Code Napoléon.
Bongiorno is lucky to have a flat within the Périphérique in Paris, and perhaps luckier still to share the building with Françoise, a fellow judge. Over the years, they have discussed with zest and occasional shock the various differences between the legal systems of their respective countries.
Françoise, for example, scoffed at the seemingly endless provisions for counsel to cross-examine witnesses in our system. Bongiorno, on his part, expressed surprise that in French criminal trials the judges and jury retire together to discuss the case and arrive at a verdict.
What is perhaps more interesting for you, future advocates of MLS, is that in France, whilst barristers also wear gowns, they usually do away with the sartorial elegance of, say, a Denny Crane, and opt for jeans, runners and T-shirts underneath! A murder trial taking more than three days is a rare phenomenon, and whilst there is a strong culture of respect for magistrates, barristers and judges alike are prone to engaging in shouting matches across the bench until someone yells ‘Tais-toi!’ [ed.–‘Shut up!’ in English]
Finally, a key difference is that the French seem, historically, to have a much better record in terms of the feminisation of the judiciary, with most three-judge trials comprising two females to one male.
The Coffee Hour was a fantastic experience to learn from a man of much experience and eminent approachability. I encourage all students to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in an informal conversation with our Judge-in-Residence on TuesdaysThursdays from noon – 3 pm.