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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935

A Letter to Spike

page 38

A Letter to Spike

Dear Spike,

I was asked by the Editor to write something for your pages and very rashly said that I would do so. Thereupon the Editor, no doubt to impress upon me just how rash I had been, lent me an old Spike, the articles in which were so interesting and well-written as to be positively terrifying to one who had promised to write something similar. For after all, what would you have me write, Spike? If you would have a dissertation on the law you must pay the fee stated in the calender and come to my lectures. For on all other topics there are many far more desirous and deserving of the publicity of your columns than I, who would write to you.

But your Editor has insisted. Very well. Then I must attempt something. Perhaps a little of courts and lawyers in parts beyond the sea.

Lawyers, whether English, Colonial, or Continental, and whether either in the higher or lower branch of the profession or in both branches, are always, so it has seemed to me, genial, pleasant people. Perhaps frequent contact with the woes and troubles of other folk has led them to a cheerful philosophy of life, based on the great principle that it's an ill-wind that blows nobody good, or perhaps the law has a cheering and humanising influence on those who study and practise it.

English lawyers are, indeed, much as their colonial brethren. In England, of course, lawyers practise either as barristers or as solicitors; nor, as we may do in New Zealand, both as barristers and as solicitors. I suppose that the great bulk of the litigation before the High Court of Justice (corresponding to our Supreme Court) takes place in London, at the Strand Courts, and in consequence London is the great centre of barristerial activity. A barrister, in English usage, is one who has been called to the degree of barrister-at-law, not by the Court, but by one or other of four learned societies or Inns of Court, viz., the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. Save in one or two exceptional cases, a barrister in England may not accept instructions from lay clients, but must be instructed, or "briefed," through a solicitor. The barristers have their chambers in buildings owned by the various Inns of Court, designed on the collegiate system, and set amidst old gardens and lawns; and some looking out on the River Thames itself. Each Inn has its library and its dining hall. The libraries are exceedingly good both in books and in furnishings. The whole atmosphere of the Inns of Court is of learning and beauty, antiquity and pleasant quietness. And the effect of all this is doubled by contrast with the noise and hurry which is all about the premises of the Inns of Court but does not invade them.

The Strand Courts are situated close to the various Inns. The building itself is of monastic Gothic architecture and constructed of light grey stone, darkened and stained in parts. It consists chiefly of a very large, somewhat plain, central hall, containing notice boards and some pictures and surrounded by numerous court rooms. There must be twenty or more of these court rooms, I should think. There is nothing especially impressive about them. Indeed, neither in England nor on the Continent, have I seen a court-room which for dignity and beauty rivals the down-stairs court-room in the Supreme Court Building at Auckland.

Some of the Continental Courts are architecturally very fine. The Palais de Justice at Brussels, splendidly situated on an eminence overlooking the city, I recall as being an especially handsome building. The Paris Courts, situated on Ile de la Cite in the River Seine are, because of both their history and their surroundings, of great interest. A few steps away from them is the Cathedral of Notre Dame; and in the courtyard of the Court building itself is the lovely Sainte-Chapelle, a most perfect Gothic monument with exquisite stained glass.

Nuremberg and Munich also possess fine Court buildings. In the Nuremberg Court building, I was shown a very sombre, handsome room used only in capital trials. The official who was showing me the building took great pride in the lift by which prisoners were brought from the cells up to this court room. This lift, so he told me, was so strongly made and the locks so cunningly designed as to make it quite impossible for prisoners to escape.

At Munich I saw one of the superior courrs trying certain persons charged with rioting. The proceedings were very different both in form and page 39 atmosphere from those to which we are accustomed. The Court consisted of three judges: there was no jury. The prisoners appeared to interrupt almost as much and when they pleased. Questions were put to witnesses not by the advocates but by the judges. Whatever the merits of this particular court, the aloof impressive dignity which is so conspicuous a feature of our own courts was not one.

Other courts that I saw were at Buda Pest, Prague and Vienna. The court building at Buda Pest was very eastern in its lavishness of tone and colour. The court at Vienna, built to replace a building which had been destroyed during some riots which had occurred a little time before was, in its exterior, of Egyptian design and decoration.

All of the superior courts that I saw were buildings of architectural beauty and magnificence. This, as I think, indicates the importance that is instinctively attributed in civilised communities to the administration of law and justice; and none the less so because in some of these communities the law and its administration fall very far short of moral justice.

And now, Spike, may I go back to the preparation of my next term's lectures?

Yours truly,

James Williams.