Why do barristers not shake hands?

The courtroom is a theatre of tradition and etiquette, where the conduct of barristers is as meticulously observed as the arguments they present. Among these traditions is the curious case of barristers not shaking hands, a practise rooted in the principles of professionalism and impartiality that govern legal proceedings. This article delves into the reasons behind this custom and explores the broader implications of courtroom decorum on the legal profession.

Key Takeaways

  • The term ‘friend’ is used among barristers to foster a sense of professionalism, courtesy, and civility, reminding them of their duty to maintain decorum in court.
  • Non-verbal communication is critical in court; barristers must manage their expressions to maintain a ‘poker face’, as failing to do so can undermine their professionalism.
  • The avoidance of handshakes among barristers symbolises the maintenance of professional boundaries and serves as a reminder of their roles within the legal system.
  • Emotions must be carefully balanced with professional duties in court to ensure impartiality and objectivity, with judges expecting counsel to adhere to strict standards of conduct.
  • Legal traditions and practises are evolving, but the core values of barrister etiquette, such as not shaking hands, remain integral to the identity of the profession.

The Etiquette of Professionalism in Court

The Etiquette of Professionalism in Court

The Tradition of Referring to Opposing Counsel as ‘Friend’

In the formal arena of the courtroom, the term friend is more than a mere courtesy; it is a reminder of the professional ethos that barristers must adhere to. The use of ‘friend’ signifies a commitment to civility and respect, regardless of the adversarial nature of legal proceedings. This tradition serves as a constant prompt for lawyers to engage with each other in a manner that upholds the dignity of their profession.

The underlying intention of addressing opposing counsel as ‘friend’ is to reinforce the expectation of professionalism and courtesy, which are paramount in legal settings.

Instances of failing to maintain this standard of conduct are not just frowned upon but can lead to stern reprimands from the bench. A recent case highlighted a judge’s disapproval of a barrister who, caught up in the moment, displayed inappropriate triumphalism in court. Such behaviour not only breaches courtroom etiquette but also detracts from the solemnity and objectivity required in legal disputes.

The Importance of Professionalism, Courtesy, and Civility

In the realm of court proceedings, the conduct of barristers is not merely a matter of formality but a reflexion of the respect for the legal process and the individuals involved. Professionalism, courtesy, and civility are the bedrock upon which the integrity of the legal profession is built. These values facilitate a constructive dialogue and ensure that the focus remains on the merits of the case, rather than personal conflicts.

The use of the term friend when referring to opposing counsel is a subtle reminder of the expectation to maintain a collegial atmosphere, even amidst adversarial proceedings. This tradition underscores the importance of a respectful discourse, which is essential for the administration of justice.

  • Upholding professionalism preserves the dignity of the court.
  • Courtesy towards all parties ensures a fair and unbiased process.
  • Civility among counsel prevents the escalation of tensions.

The consistent application of these principles is crucial for the credibility of the legal system and the individuals who serve it. A lapse in these standards can lead to a diminished perception of the legal profession and can adversely affect the outcome of legal proceedings.

Consequences of Failing to Uphold Courtroom Decorum

The courtroom is a bastion of formality and respect, where every action and reaction is scrutinised. Failing to maintain decorum can have serious repercussions for barristers, both in the immediate context of the case and in their professional reputation. Instances of inappropriate behaviour, such as guffawing or overt displays of triumph, not only disrupt the proceedings but also call into question the barrister’s commitment to the ethos of the legal profession.

  • A judge’s admonishment for unprofessional conduct can lead to a formal reprimand.
  • Repeated offences may result in more severe consequences, such as being held in contempt of court.
  • The barrister’s standing among peers and potential clients can be significantly damaged.

Legal excellence requires expertise, ethics, teamwork, and effective advocacy. Judges value respect, clarity, logic, and adherence to protocols. Red flags include communication breakdowns and lack of strategy.

The judiciary has made it clear that professionalism must be upheld at all times. A lapse in conduct can swiftly erode the trust between the bench and the bar, and once lost, it is not easily regained. As the legal community continues to evolve, the importance of maintaining courtroom decorum remains a cornerstone of the justice system.

The Unspoken Rules of Barrister Conduct

The Unspoken Rules of Barrister Conduct

Understanding the Non-Verbal Communication in Court

In the theatre of the courtroom, non-verbal communication plays a pivotal role in the narrative of legal proceedings. Barristers are expected to maintain a composed demeanour, ensuring that their body language aligns with the solemnity of the environment. Subtle gestures, facial expressions, and even the slightest movement can convey volumes, often speaking louder than words.

Professionalism in court extends beyond verbal exchanges to include a barrister’s physical comportment. An inadvertent eye-roll or a poorly-timed smirk can undermine the gravity of a situation or inadvertently communicate disrespect. Such actions can be perceived as an affront to the decorum of the court and may even influence the judge’s perception of the barrister’s case.

The mastery of non-verbal cues is essential; it is a silent dialogue that can shape the outcome of a trial.

Instances of inappropriate non-verbal conduct have been noted in various jurisdictions. For example, a case in Ontario, Canada, highlighted the impact of a counsel’s inability to maintain a poker face, resulting in eye rolling, head shaking, and even laughter during court proceedings. This behaviour not only detracted from the professionalism expected but also prompted judicial reprimand. The following list outlines some of the non-verbal actions that were deemed unprofessional:

  • Eye rolling
  • Head shaking
  • Grunting
  • Snickering
  • Guffawing
  • Loud muttering

These actions serve as a reminder that the courtroom is a stage where every gesture is scrutinised and can have significant implications for the case at hand.

The Significance of Maintaining a ‘Poker Face’

In the high-stakes environment of the courtroom, barristers must exhibit a level of self-control that transcends the ordinary. Maintaining a ‘poker face’ is not just about hiding one’s emotions; it’s a strategic tool used to ensure that personal feelings do not betray legal tactics or influence the jury’s perception. The ability to remain impassive, even in the face of provocation, is a testament to a barrister’s professionalism and composure.

Instances of barristers failing to maintain their composure can have significant repercussions. A recent case in Ontario, Canada, highlighted the consequences when a barrister indulged in eye rolling, head shaking, and loud muttering. Such behaviour not only undermines the barrister’s credibility but can also be seen as disrespectful to the court and damaging to the client’s case.

The courtroom is a theatre of strategy where every gesture, or lack thereof, communicates volumes.

The importance of this non-verbal discipline is underscored by the rigorous training barristers undergo, which includes the development of practical skills essential for effective court representation and advocacy. The distinction between barristers and solicitors in the UK, and the challenges faced in non-common law jurisdictions, further emphasise the unique role barristers play in the legal system.

Instances of Inappropriate Behaviour and Their Impact

Instances of inappropriate behaviour within the courtroom can have profound effects on the proceedings and the reputation of the individuals involved. Barristers are expected to uphold the highest standards of conduct, and deviations from this can lead to severe professional consequences. For example, a barrister’s failure to maintain composure and civility may result in disciplinary action, and in some cases, it can influence the outcome of a case.

Inappropriate behaviour is not limited to overt actions; it can also encompass subtler forms of misconduct, such as improper communication or the offering of inducements that could be construed as bribery. The UK Bribery Act (UKBA) clearly defines such acts as offences, with no exceptions for seemingly minor ‘facilitation payments’.

While human emotions are an inherent part of our nature, they must be carefully managed in the legal arena. A lapse in professional conduct can diminish the perceived impartiality of the legal process and erode public trust.

The table below outlines some key types of inappropriate behaviour and their potential impacts:

Behaviour Type Potential Impact
Loss of composure Disciplinary action, case influence
Improper communication Misinterpretation, case dismissal
Inducement offers Legal sanctions, reputational damage

The legal profession demands that barristers not only understand these unspoken rules but also adhere to them meticulously. Any deviation can tarnish the individual’s reputation and, by extension, the integrity of the legal system itself.

The Symbolism Behind Not Shaking Hands

The Symbolism Behind Not Shaking Hands

Historical Context of the Handshake Tradition

The handshake, a gesture deeply rooted in history, has long been a symbol of agreement and mutual respect. A firm handshake is often seen as a sign of confidence and assertiveness, conveying a sense of professionalism that leaves a lasting impression. In the legal profession, however, the absence of a handshake between barristers is not an oversight but a deliberate choice.

Historically, the handshake served as a physical manifestation of a spoken agreement, a binding gesture that predates written contracts. In the context of the courtroom, where every action carries weight, the decision not to shake hands is laden with symbolism. It is a non-verbal cue that underscores the impartiality and objectivity required in legal proceedings.

The tradition of not shaking hands among barristers is a subtle reminder of their role as officers of the court, where personal sentiments are secondary to the pursuit of justice.

While the handshake might be a common practise in many professional settings, its omission in the legal world is a nod to the unique nature of the judicial system. The following points outline the key reasons for this tradition:

  • To maintain a clear distinction between personal and professional relationships.
  • To avoid any implication of bias or personal alliance.
  • To uphold the formality and solemnity of the court proceedings.

How Non-Physical Greetings Uphold Professional Boundaries

In the legal profession, the avoidance of physical greetings such as handshakes is not merely a matter of personal preference but a conscious effort to maintain professional boundaries. The absence of a handshake, while seemingly trivial, serves as a non-verbal cue that reinforces the impartiality required in legal proceedings. It is a subtle reminder that, despite the adversarial nature of the courtroom, barristers must engage with each other with respect and decorum.

Nonverbal communication plays a crucial role in the courtroom. It can complement or contradict what is being said. As noted by sources like HelpGuide.org, when nonverbal signals align with verbal messages, they foster trust and clarity. Conversely, a mismatch can create tension. Barristers are acutely aware of this dynamic and use non-physical greetings to avoid sending mixed messages.

The use of non-physical greetings is a nuanced form of communication that upholds the dignity of the court and the integrity of the legal process.

While the handshake has a long history of symbolising agreement and mutual respect, in the context of the courtroom, alternative greetings serve a similar purpose without the risk of misinterpretation. They provide a clear boundary between the personal and the professional, ensuring that the focus remains on the case at hand rather than on the individual relationships between counsel.

Interpreting the Gesture in the Legal Profession

In the legal profession, the absence of a handshake is not merely a breach of social norms but a conscious decision to maintain a certain level of formality and detachment. The handshake, a universal symbol of greeting and agreement, is eschewed in favour of a professional nod or verbal acknowledgment, ensuring that the focus remains on the legal arguments and the pursuit of justice, rather than personal rapport.

The gesture, or rather the deliberate omission of it, serves as a non-verbal cue that reinforces the barrister’s role as an impartial advocate. It is a subtle reminder that while barristers may vigorously defend their clients’ interests, they do so within the framework of legal decorum and respect for the court.

The practise of not shaking hands is emblematic of the barrister’s commitment to objectivity. It is a tradition that underscores the distinction between personal feelings and professional duties. This distinction is crucial, as it allows barristers to argue without the encumbrance of personal relationships influencing their conduct or the perception of bias.

  • Upholding the integrity of the legal process
  • Ensuring impartiality and fairness
  • Maintaining professional boundaries
  • Demonstrating respect for the judicial system

Maintaining Impartiality and Objectivity

Maintaining Impartiality and Objectivity

The Role of Emotions in Legal Proceedings

In the courtroom, the display of emotions must be carefully managed. Barristers are expected to maintain composure, even when the stakes are high and the pressure mounts. The ability to control one’s reactions is not just a matter of personal discipline; it is a professional requirement that upholds the dignity of the legal process.

Emotions can undeniably influence the atmosphere of a trial, and their mismanagement can lead to a perception of bias or unprofessionalism. For instance, overt displays of frustration or triumph can detract from the solemnity of the proceedings and may even affect the judge’s view of the case.

  • Emotional restraint ensures fairness and objectivity
  • Professional decorum prevents undue influence on the court’s perception
  • The control of non-verbal cues supports the integrity of the legal argument

It is essential for legal professionals to balance their human responses with the duties of their role, ensuring that their conduct remains above reproach at all times.

Balancing Human Responses with Professional Duties

In the legal arena, barristers must navigate the delicate balance between their human responses and their professional duties. Emotional intelligence is key, allowing them to empathise with clients while maintaining the necessary detachment to argue effectively. Barristers specialise in court representation and legal opinions, distinct from solicitors who handle day-to-day legal affairs. They work independently, adhere to professional standards, and play a crucial role in the British legal system.

The impartiality of a barrister is not just an ethical requirement but a practical necessity. It ensures that personal feelings do not cloud judgement or strategy. This is particularly important when dealing with sensitive cases where the emotional stakes are high.

The mastery of one’s emotions in the courtroom is not about suppression; it’s about channelling them into a force that serves the client’s best interests.

While barristers must be zealous advocates for their clients, they must also ensure that their conduct remains within the bounds of professional decorum. This includes a respectful demeanour towards the court, opposing counsel, and all parties involved.

The Judge’s Perspective on Counsel Conduct

From the bench, judges observe not only the legal arguments presented but also the conduct of counsel. The judiciary expects barristers to embody the highest standards of professionalism and decorum. Instances of inappropriate behaviour, such as the reported case of a barrister in Ontario who disrupted court proceedings with overt displays of emotion, are met with disapproval. This conduct, which included laughing and gesturing during an opponent’s exchange with the judge, was noted and criticised.

Judges emphasise the importance of maintaining a composed demeanour, often referring to the etiquette that requires barristers to address each other as ‘friend’. This term serves as a constant reminder of the professional courtesy expected within the courtroom. Judges are acutely aware that any lapse in conduct can undermine the respect and civility foundational to legal proceedings.

The judiciary’s role extends beyond adjudicating disputes; it involves upholding the integrity of the courtroom. A judge’s admonishment of unprofessional conduct serves as a stark reminder of the expectations placed upon legal counsel.

Judges also recognise the human element in legal advocacy and the challenge it poses to barristers striving to balance emotional responses with professional duties. However, they maintain that professionalism must prevail, as the courtroom is not a place for personal triumphs but for the measured pursuit of justice.

The Evolution of Legal Traditions and Practises

The Evolution of Legal Traditions and Practises

From Handwritten Law Reports to AI: The Changing Face of Law

The legal profession has witnessed a remarkable transformation from the era of handwritten law reports to the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in legal research and case management. The digitisation of legal resources has revolutionised access to information, making it more efficient and widespread.

The integration of AI into legal practises is not without its challenges, but it also offers unprecedented opportunities for efficiency and accuracy. Here are some key changes:

  • Transition from physical to digital law libraries
  • Use of AI for predictive legal analytics
  • Automation of routine tasks and case management

The embrace of technology in law is a testament to the profession’s adaptability and commitment to progress, while maintaining the integrity of legal traditions.

The balance between innovation and tradition is delicate, with barristers and solicitors alike navigating the new landscape. The future of barrister etiquette and courtroom conduct may evolve, but the core values of the profession are likely to remain steadfast.

Adapting to New Norms While Preserving Core Values

As the legal profession navigates the intersection of tradition and innovation, barristers are increasingly confronted with the challenge of adapting to new norms. The digital transformation of legal practises is not just about adopting new technologies, but also about rethinking the way barristers work and interact.

The introduction of digital fluency among legal professionals is essential for the modernisation of the legal system. This includes the use of online platforms for case management, virtual courtrooms, and digital document handling. However, it is crucial that these advancements do not compromise the core values of the profession:

  • Upholding the rule of law
  • Maintaining professional integrity
  • Ensuring access to justice

The essence of barrister etiquette and the unwritten codes of conduct must remain intact, even as the tools and methods evolve.

The balance between embracing change and preserving the sanctity of legal traditions is delicate. While the legal landscape continues to evolve, the fundamental principles that underpin the role of a barrister must be safeguarded to maintain public trust and the effective administration of justice.

The Future of Barrister Etiquette in a Modern Legal Landscape

As the legal profession strides into the future, barristers are confronted with an ever-evolving landscape of etiquette and practise. The trends of 2024 indicate a future for the legal profession that is more dynamic, diverse, and digitally integrated than ever before. Embracing these changes will be crucial for barristers to maintain relevance and effectiveness.

In the context of etiquette, the digital transformation has introduced new challenges and opportunities. Remote hearings, which became commonplace during lockdowns, have necessitated a reevaluation of non-verbal communication cues. The poker face once mastered in the courtroom now extends to the digital arena, where maintaining professionalism is just as critical.

The profession must stand up for its values, ensuring that the core principles of civility and respect are preserved, even as the tools and methods of legal practise transform.

The following points highlight key areas where barrister etiquette may evolve:

  • Adapting to virtual courtrooms and the nuances of online communication.
  • Integrating artificial intelligence tools while upholding the integrity of the profession.
  • Continuing education on professional conduct to include emerging technologies and platforms.


In the realm of legal etiquette, the tradition of barristers refraining from shaking hands is emblematic of the professionalism, courtesy, and civility expected within the courts. This practise, alongside the respectful address of ‘friend’ to opposing counsel, serves as a constant reminder of the duty to maintain decorum and mutual respect, even amidst the adversarial nature of legal proceedings. Recent incidents, such as those observed in an Ontario courtroom, highlight the importance of such traditions in preserving the integrity of the legal process. It is imperative that barristers embody these values consistently, ensuring that the fabric of professionalism is not only maintained but strengthened for the betterment of the legal community and the justice system at large.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do barristers refer to each other as ‘friend’ in court?

The use of ‘friend’ to refer to opposing counsel is a tradition intended to remind barristers of their duty to treat each other with professionalism, courtesy, respect, and civility.

Is it common for barristers to display non-verbal reactions in court?

While barristers strive to maintain a composed demeanour, instances of non-verbal reactions such as eye-rolling or head shaking have occurred, particularly during remote hearings.

What are the consequences of inappropriate behaviour by counsel in court?

Inappropriate behaviour can lead to a reprimand from the judge and may damage the professionalism and civility expected in court proceedings.

Why is it significant for barristers not to shake hands?

Not shaking hands is a symbolic gesture that helps maintain professional boundaries and impartiality within the legal profession.

How has courtroom etiquette evolved with modern technology?

Courtroom etiquette has adapted to include new technologies, such as AI, while still preserving the core values and traditions of the legal profession.

What is the judge’s perspective on counsel conduct during legal proceedings?

Judges expect counsel to balance their human responses with professional duties, maintaining decorum and objectivity throughout the legal process.

Scroll to Top