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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 12:26 GMT
Rocking the bench
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Magazine

Judges in traditional garb
'If your names not on the list, you're not coming in...'
Judges are not noted for their grasp of popular culture.

So the revelation on Wednesday that Mr Justice Mann, sitting at the High Court Chancery Division, not only knows what an Apple iPod is but actually owns one - will come as a surprise to many.

The idea of a be-wigged member of Her Majesty's judiciary downloading banging tunes off the internet is somewhat at odds with the traditional image of the profession.

High Court judges are meant to scratch their heads in wonder at anything invented after the industrial revolution.

"Who is Gazza?" they are meant to say, as they peer over their half moon spectacles at an uncomprehending world.

'Dramatic change'

But legal commentator Marcel Berlins, of BBC Radio 4's Law in Action, says Mr Justice Mann's comments - made as he presided over a dispute between Apple Computer and the Beatles' Apple Corps company - are typical of a new generation of judges.

I had a long conversation with one the other day about the relative merits of Beyonce and Britney
Marcel Berlins on judges
"Judges have changed dramatically in the past 15 years," Mr Berlins says.

The new judge is computer literate, he says. He or she "travels to court in a people carrier" and spends their leisure hours listening to "pop music" or visiting the pub.

"Today's judges grew up in the Beatles' time.

"They are living in the real world. Their children play loud music. I had a long conversation with one the other day about the relative merits of Beyoncé and Britney."

Magisterial aloofness

The previous generation seemed to delight in their detachment from the modern world, he says.

"Some of them used to think they had to be somehow aloof, in order to impose the majesty of the law.

Legal downloads only
"Some of them frequently took pleasure in it. They rather liked their image."

Mr Justice Harman probably set the gold standard for magisterial aloofness in 1990, when he appeared to have no idea who Paul Gascoigne was.

Gazza, then at the height of his post Italia '90 fame, was suing Penguin Books for publishing an "unauthorised biography".

Comic timing

The footballer's lawyer Michael Silverleaf began his submission by saying: "Mr Gascoigne is a very well-known footballer."

"Rugby or Association?" asked the judge, with impeccable comic timing.

Later, during evidence, Justice Harman again interrupted: "Isn't there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?"

"I could not say, my lord," replied Mr Silverleaf.

When Judge Harman asked, "Do you think Mr Gascoigne is more famous now than the Duke of Wellington was in 1815?", Mr Silverleaf replied: "I have to say I think it possible."

Linford's lunchbox

In 1999, Judge Francis Appleby stopped a Teletubby theft case and asked: "What is that?"

A year earlier, Mr Justice Popplewell interrupted proceedings in a High Court libel trial to ask, ''What is Linford Christie's lunchbox?''

The athlete himself - who had used the term in an attack on media speculation that he was a drugs cheat - had to explain, "They are making a reference to my genitals, your honour.''

Paul Gascoigne
Who is Mr Justice Harman?
But perhaps there is something to be said for judges remaining aloof from pop trivia - particularly when pop stars themselves are in the dock.

Mr Justice Weeks' assessment of former Smiths frontman Morrissey - "to me at least, he appeared devious, truculent and unreliable where his own interests were at stake" - proved particularly wounding to the singer, who unsuccessfully attempted to have it overturned in the appeal court.

Would Judge Weeks have been so forthright if he had a copy of Smiths album Hatful of Hollow playing on his iPod?


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