Legal traditions & the path to ceremonial symbolism

Legal traditions & the path to ceremonial symbolism.Intelligenthq

My mother told me never to openly discuss religion, politics or fathers strange nocturnal habits however, I’m writing this on Maundy Thursday, have a deadline to meet and plane to catch so we start … with a little religion.

Maundy Thursday has been celebrated since the earliest days of the Christian church and commemorates the last supper.  It’s also the night when Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Its nomenclature comes from the latin, ‘Dies Mandatum’ (the day of the new commandment) and refers to the command given by Christ at the Last Supper, that we should love one another, before he washed the feet of his disciples.

It’s also a day surrounded by symbolic tradition, particularly across the catholic world where eating greens and spinach are popular whilst the church bells tend to fall silent.

In the UK, traditions dating back to the 12th Century endure, such as the giving of alms by the sovereign to the poor, the number of recipients being a mirror on the sovereign’s age.   In 2014 the Queen is 88 and will present alms purses to 176 people – 88 men and 88 women.   Must have been a disappointing ceremony the year Henry VI was declared king.

There was also a tradition where the queen would wash the feet of the poor … must say, that’s one tradition I’d be like to see today as 352 commoner feet receive a rapid foot scrub from her majesty!

Until recently a legal tradition also took place on Maundy Thursday with The Times publishing the official announcement of that year’s new silk or QC appointments.  In truth, the news would be unofficially available some days earlier with the arrival of a letter from the Lord Chancellor.   If you received a large envelope stuffed with ceremonial information about your appointment then it was obvious to everyone what was inside, as was the rather slimmer envelope containing a rejection letter.

Today silk appointments are no longer announced on Maundy Thursday and the process is relatively transparent compared to that previous era, where appointments were made (or rejected) on the basis of judicial winks, behind closed door nods and historic vendettas.

It was a process of nepotistic secrecy where receiving a wrong word from the right person could doom your hopes of donning that silk gown, a judicial cold shoulder being placed against many a fine barrister for reasons that had little to do with ability or expertise and much to do with pettiness and score settling.

Whilst the silk process is more open today, the legal world in general remains a place of tradition and “we’ve always done it this way” narrative.   Combine these traditional and expensive barriers to law, with the cuts taking place in legal aid, and it’s easy to see why there’s a crisis with access to different types of legal service.

Within legal aid a funding scrap is taking place that’s generally overlooked by the public due to a barrage of disingenuous misinformation from the MOJ and a lack of sympathy towards barristers with their picket line wigs and gowns – please, lose the garments during the next strike.

The result of legal aid changes will be reduced access to justice whilst in the private legal sector, lack of access has been a reality for many years with expensive fees, uncontrolled costs and a supply model with little incentive to become efficient and commercial.

The good news, for the private legal space at least, is that change has arrived and market forces are helping to re-shape the way people can access and pay for legal services.   The arrival of new business models and ever evolving technology makes it possible to handle different types of smaller and more commoditised work without meeting a lawyer or leaving your office.   And we’ve only just started, as external investment drives innovative models and ideas, with technology primed to transform even the most complex of legal requirements.

Image Source: Mark van Manen

Hopefully we can soon cast some less than loved legal traditions into the dark ages and a life of ceremonial symbolism?  If Maundy Thursday maintains the tradition of alms purses, future generations might recognise long forgotten legal traditions with similar symbolism, perhaps the application of ancient tip-ex to a ceremonial, hourly rate engagement letter?