Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Here is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in action in 2023. (Brick Court Chambers just call it The Privy Council).

privy council quashes a conviction for armed robbery in the bahamas based on a confession allegedly obtained by police oppression

A horrifying story.

The Privy Council has today quashed the conviction of Mr Vinson Ariste for armed robbery on the ground that the confession on which the conviction was based should never have been admitted into evidence and rendered the conviction unsafe.

Mr Ariste was 20 years old in 2010, when the robbery happened. He looked much better before his police confession than after. In 2012 he was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on the basis of this confession. He appealed unsuccessfully to the Bahamas Court of Appeal, and thereafter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which has now quashed the conviction. He was in prison for 12 years.

Paul Bowen KC, Emma Mockford and Jagoda Klimowicz acted pro bono on behalf of the Appellant, instructed by Simons Muirhead Burton / the Death Penalty Project.

Here is the trial.

I notice that the appellant is Mr Vinson Ariste and the respondent is The King.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies. It also serves those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to His Majesty in Council or, in the case of republics, to the Judicial Committee. The judges are usually the justices of the Supreme Court. The Bahamas is an independent country, and member of the Commonwealth, which has decided to retain the Queen, now King Charles III, as head of state.

This leaves the question of what is the Privy Council itself? A question much asked when Penny Mordaunt appeared as a swordbearer at the coronation, in her capacity as Lord President of the Privy Council. Anyone who wants details of that can find it on the web.

ChatGPT in the news for lawyers in Germany too

Great excitement has been caused by the case reported in the New York Times (and elsewhere): Here’s What Happens When Your Lawyer Uses ChatGPT – a ten-page pleading submitted by a law firm for its client

cited more than half a dozen relevant court decisions. There was Martinez v. Delta Air Lines, Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines and, of course, Varghese v. China Southern Airlines, with its learned discussion of federal law and “the tolling effect of the automatic stay on a statute of limitations.”

But all these decisions had been invented by ChatGPT, which the lawyer had used to help him write the pleading (US brief).

There’s been some discussion about German lawyers using AI in the beck-community blog.

ChatGPT – Nutzungen durch Anwälte: gefährliche rechtliche Klippen sind zu umschiffen is an entry by Dr. Axel Spies. It refers to an article which I don’t have access to. The main conclusion is that it is a violation of the GDPR (German DSGVO) to enter a client’s name, for example, into ChatGPT. It’s hard to imagine this happening in Europe. But obviously, even in the USA the judge soon noticed the problem. I suppose ChatGPT could devise deceptive arguments, but once it invents facts, it should be obvious it is false.

One commenter on the blog entry actually asked ChatGPT what lawyers should think of a chatbot’s legal advice:

Das meint ChatGPT selbst zu dem Thema:

Als KI-Chatbot kann ich keine Rechtsberatung geben, aber ich kann Ihnen allgemeine Informationen zur Verfügung stellen. …

Zweitens müssen Rechtsanwälte sicherstellen, dass die von ChatGPT bereitgestellten Informationen korrekt und aktuell sind. Rechtsanwälte können sich nicht allein auf ChatGPT verlassen, um rechtliche Fragen zu beantworten, sondern müssen ihre Recherchen sorgfältig prüfen und zusätzliche Informationen sammeln, um eine vollständige und zuverlässige Antwort zu erhalten.

Peter Winslow reports on the US case in German on the beck-community blog too.


How to address a judge

Via Joshua Rozenberg’s newsletter – the free version – at A Lawyer Writes – nowadays most judges can be addressed as “Judge” rather than “Sir” or “Madam”. I suppose this avoids gender problems and wonder if that was the reason for the change (announced on December 1 2022).

You should still address lay magistrates as Sir or Madam. If you are not sure which is appropriate, try Your Worship. That also works as a collective: Your Worships. Many magistrates will tell you they have been addressed as Your Holiness by confused defendants or those hoping for a more benign sentence.

The diagram What do I call a judge? makes it no clearer. I love the surnames used – “District Judge Kherallah” or “First-tier Tribunal Judge Curry”.


In response to a comment unexpectedly received, here is a longer quote from Rozenberg’s newsletter (i.e. virtually the whole thing):

How do you address a judge in court? Top judges are addressed as My Lord or My Lady. Most circuit judges are addressed as Your Honour. I was taught to address any High court master as Master. And until yesterday some of the most junior judges in England and Wales were simply called Sir or Madam.


That’s all gone. From now onwards, any judge in one of the following categories is to be addressed simply as Judge:

  • Masters
  • Upper Tribunal Judges
  • Judges of the Employment Appeal Tribunal
  • District Judges
  • District Judges (Magistrates Courts)
  • First-Tier Tribunal Judges
  • Employment Judges

Why? According to the lord chief justice and the senior president of tribunals,

the move away from “Sir or Madam” involves modern and simple terminology, reflecting the important judicial role whilst maintaining the necessary degree of respect.

We also hope this change in language will assist litigants-in-person involved in court and tribunal proceedings.


And, I suppose, it will reduces the risk of misgendering judges.

Calling a judge “Judge” may sound a bit disrespectful. But it’s how you address them formally when they’re not sitting in open court.

You should still address lay magistrates as Sir or Madam. If you are not sure which is appropriate, try Your Worship. That also works as a collective: Your Worships. Many magistrates will tell you they have been addressed as Your Holiness by confused defendants or those hoping for a more benign sentence.

And Sir or Madam remains appropriate for lay members of a tribunal. High Court registrars should be addressed as Registrar, which is inconsistent and a bit harder to say.

The changes apply only to the way in which judges are addressed in court or at tribunals. It does not affect judicial titles.


I have now found my copy of The Language of Advocacy by Keith Evans, one of my favourite books and not just about England and Wales. It is dated 1998 (but still in print), so before the House of Lords became the Supreme Court. Evans writes that “no appeal court Justice will ever take offence at being called simply ‘Judge’. It’s an illustration of the old truism that those who matter don#t care, and those who care don’t matter.”

Of course, now the judges of the Supreme Court are called justices, which might not alter the relevance of the above but did prompt the judges of the German Constitutional Court to wish to be called “justices” in English translations.


There is also a post on this on free movement.

Forensic linguistics in German criminal procedure

The latest edition of Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito is a special issue arising from a one day symposium looking at the way expert evidence is handled in different jurisdictions.

It contains an article by Sabine Ehrhardt of the Bundeskriminalamt looking at how forensic linguistic evidence and experts are handled in the German criminal court system. Forensic Linguistics in German law enforcement.

The main emphasis is on a case where forensic linguistics evidence was required to analyse text messages sent to the victim’s mother before and after the victim’s disappearance, answering the question: no body has been found, but did her husband kill her and fake the circumstances of her disappearance? The case was based on circumstantial evidence, of which the text messages were only part.

It was striking but perhaps not surprising that in the 200-page summary of the judgment, the judge seems to have completely misunderstood some of the expert’s arguments. The article queries whether German lawyers receive enough training in forensic linguistics.

Incidentally, the English of the article was good, but I really dislike the translation of Nebenklägerin – taken straight from Dietl – as joint plaintiff. My suggestion is private co-prosecutor. This refers to the role of the victim’s mother. I know the German “Kläger(in)” is closer to plaintiff than prosecutor, but it seems odd in a criminal court. – Romain has additional private prosecutor, which is better, although it seems to suggest that there are multiple private prosecutors, unless you put commas in.


It’s only a few months before divorce law in England and Wales becomes more sensible. But currently, if you want a fairly quick divorce, the easiest way is to prove that your spouse’s behaviour is ‘unreasonable’, that is, not reasonably acceptable to you.

In times of iSmash, iBroken and so on, it’s not surprising that there is a firm called iDivorce. A judge has recently rapped them over the knuckles for having 28 clients with virtually identical wording with regard to the respondents’ behaviour.

Judge spots clowntown divorce factory using identical wording in 28 petitions (RollOnFriday):

IDivorces’ efficient but unlawful approach had resulted in declarations that were untrue, said The judge. “If I needed to give an example, it would be to say that it would be incredible if all twenty eight respondents ignored the twenty eight petitioners and declined to communicate with them on about two days per week”, he said.

Does Facebook speak German?

The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) had to decide whether German documents served on Facebook in Ireland had to be in English, the local language. Facebook refused to accept documents. The court decided that although an individual who could not speak German might have been able to require a translation, a big company like Facebook certainly had employees who could handle German law and indeed it had a German-language website.

Decision in German.

There is an excellent blog post on the case in English on Peter Bert’s weblog Dispute Resolution in Germany. I don’t think I’ve seen this blog before and it’s very interesting.

Back in December 2019, the headline to my post on that very topic still had a question mark: “Does Facebook speak German?” I had reported on what appeared to be only the second decision by a German court of appeals (Oberlandesgericht) on the issue whether Facebook Ireland, the legal entity operating Facebook’s German activities, is entitled to refuse service of German-language court documents under Article 8 of the European Service Regulation.*

I concluded by saying that the Munich order contributed to what German lawyers love to refer to as “prevailing jurisprudence” (herrschende Rechtsprechung) or “prevailing opinion” (herrschende Meinung): Facebook does understand German. This recent decision of the Court of Appeals in Düsseldorf does confirm this conclusion: The headline of the court’s press release yesterday read “Facebook kann Deutsch” – Facebook does speak German. The court held in a ruling concerning a cost application that Facebook cannot insist on a translation of German documents into English.

I want to comment on some of the terminology choices made here. The first one is to translate Beschluss as order. This is common and I have certainly had to do it in the past because a client insisted. Here is a definition from Juraforum:

Der Beschluss ist zu unterscheiden von anderen gerichtlichen Entscheidungen, zu denen das Urteil und die Verfügung zählen. Er ist vor allem dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass er keinen Tatbestand (Sachverhalt) und keine Entscheidungsgründe enthält. Somit beinhaltet er nur den Tenor der Entscheidung und ist daher in der Praxis bei Richtern sehr beliebt.

To my mind a Beschluss is a decision or ruling. It is a kind of decision. It does not set out the facts or give the reasons for the decision but just contains the operative part of the decision. I don’t think that can be conveyed in one word in English, and the context is not usually such that a detailed definition is needed. Maybe there is some usage of order in English that I have missed?

Another point I would simply disagree with is the use of jurisprudence for Rechtsprechung. Rechtsprechung means court decisions or case law. Jurisprudence means legal theory. I think that to refer to case law as jurisprudence is a gallicism.

German courts holding commercial cases in English

The subject of German judges holding cases in English has raised its ugly head again and is not likely to go away. I’ve mentioned it several times, from 2010 on.

Courts in Paris and Amsterdam as well as Frankfurt would like to take over the international commercial cases so often held in London. Apparently after Brexit UK decisions won’t be automatically effective in the EU and this will slow things down.

Frankfurt am Main Landgericht (Regional Court) has announced this week that from January it will have an English-speaking commercial chamber. From Legal Tribune Online (in German!):

Gerichtsstandort Frankfurt Eng­lisch­spra­chige Kammer für Han­dels­sa­chen ab 2018

Das Landgericht (LG) Frankfurt am Main will ab Januar 2018 eine englischsprachige Kammer für Handelssachen einrichten. Wie das LG am Donnerstag mitteilte, soll Frankfurt damit als Gerichtsstandort gestärkt werden. “Unternehmen sollen die Möglichkeit erhalten, nach ihrer Wahl die Verhandlung auf Englisch durchzuführen”, sagte der Gerichtspräsident Wilhelm Wolf.

I’m not going to analyse this at length, but it is fun reading some of the comments on articles quoted here.

Here is something in English from Bloomberg:

Paris, Frankfurt Try to Grab Lucrative Legal Action From London

“London is stepping into the shadows,” says Roman Poseck, president of the appeals court in Frankfurt, where officials plan to have an English-language panel in place by January. “Frankfurt wants a piece of the pie.”

(Is this what’s known as a mixed metaphor?)

This is all early November 2017 stuff. It was being discussed in March though.

Here is my earlier report on a colleague’s description of the first court hearing in English:

First German court hearing in English

I remember coming to the conclusion that the judges understood each other despite using English, not because of it.

The problem for me, of course, is the language, and above all the gulf between what some judges think is fluent English and what some translators and interpreters think. Especially when it comes to talking about one’s own or a different legal system in a foreign language.

Donoghue v. Stevenson (almost) rides again

Legal Cheek reports that a case called Donoghue v. Stevens was heard in Manchester today:

EXCLUSIVE: There was stifled laughter all round at Manchester County Court this morning when the case of Donoghue v Stevens appeared on the hearing list.

Unfortunately, the case — which is of course very similar in name to the 1932 tort law classic, Donoghue v Stevenson — has nothing to do with a snail or ginger beer, and actually involves a road traffic accident.

Manchester County Court’s hearing list shows that Donoghue v Stevens was heard at 10am this morning before District Judge Davies.

I notice that Otago University anticipated the change of name.

Is there an alternative to the gavel image?

As I have frequently posted – e.g. here -, the image of a gavel is often used in British and German newspapers to illustrate a court judgment. But UK and German judges don’t use gavels. Judges in the USA use them. In the UK, the gavel or hammer is what an auctioneer uses.

I don’t suppose everyone would understand how irritating it is to keep seeing this totally inappropriate image. But one site that does is Inappropriate Gavels. They tweet at @igavels too, and there’s no lack of examples in the press.

It strikes me that the gavel is a good image to use – stock image companies are full of them. alamy reports 28.294 images of gavels. So we need an alternative image.

The only commonly used image for a court decision apart from gavels is the scales of justice, sometimes held by a woman. alamy seems to have 6,937 of those. Maybe we should be encouraging good images of the scales of justice if we are to eradicate the gavel.

Here’s a Guardian article on Inappropriate Gavels, with comments, from the year 2015: Gavel bashing: why banging in court on TV is a serious factual offence.

The Trial – real lawyers and jury on BBC

People in the UK can see this 5-part serial on iPlayer – spoilers ahead.

Last week the BBC put on a program showing a fictitious murder trial but with real barristers, judge, court clerk and expert witnesses and with a jury who were randomly chosen members of the public. It reminded me of Marcel Berlin’s The Law Machine, which I watched ad nauseam with my students years ago.

The first episode I watched I thought not only the defendant and witnesses, but also the jury were actors. Not so! But those jurors were fixated on calling each others’ remarks sexist – the case involved a man charged with murdering his estranged but not quite estranged wife. For example, the relatively coherent older woman juror with experience of social services began to describe the way ‘an abusive man’ may appear amenable at first but gradually becomes domineering and controlling. She was immediately shouted down by two or three male jurors as ‘sexist’. Now this was boring if it was actors, but if it was ‘real’ people it made me worry about how one could speak about abuse and still be heard. However, I have now come to the conclusion that the jury’s remarks were tightly edited and we cannot decide from hearing a short exchange what they were like over several hours. Just like the Big Brother house and other reality TV products, you can’t trust it.

If one wanted to see the law in action, I would strongly recommend the way the barristers appeared. I particularly enjoyed the bit of bickering between them: it seemed authentic and matched my own memories.

It was odd that the judge’s closing speech was not given.

And then, in the last programme, at great length, the ‘true story’ was shown and we saw that the defendant really did kill his wife. I think it was a massive mistake to show what really happened. And above all, the way the jury’s individual votes were shown, showing that it was the women who voted guilty, and the details on how much domestic violence is not reported. An important issue, but we were to be manipulated.

This case should have ended in a not guilty verdict, not guilty for lack of evidence, but it resulted in a hung jury. Of course the jurors knew they were on TV, and that might have influenced their demeanour.

The whole thing has been well taken apart by The Secret Barrister: In forgetting our fundamental principles of justice, The Trial’s fascinating run fell down at the last:

Taking the above together, the only possible interpretation of the editorial line is: “This jury should have convicted. They didn’t, ergo they failed. What does this tell us about juries? (Clue: Maybe it’s sexism.)”

Which would be fine, had that been the premise of the programme. But it wasn’t. At least, not as far as we’d been led to believe. It was billed – accurately – as a groundbreaking docu-drama in which we would be given a unique insight into the way that juries operate. The opacity of the jury room means that, notwithstanding academic studies attempting to recreate its conditions, we know little about how juries approach their task. We have a fervent cultural faith in the inherent supremacy of trial by jury; let’s, Channel 4 suggested, cut open this sacred cow and have a rummage around inside.

As the Secret Barrister says, the jury trial is not about discovering the truth – but the programme behaved as though it was.

Obiter J also has a useful post on the programme, more about legal details and less about criticizing.