A She-Judge, 1830

From the Dublin Morning Register, 5 May 1830:


At half-past nine o’clock yesterday morning, one of the Court-Keepers’ maids, a plump, arch-looking girl, entered the Court, and ascended the Bench to arrange their Lordships’ inkstands, cushions etc. Having completed all matters of judicial accommodation, she sat down very gravely in the seat usually occupied by Judge Jebb.

A Reporter, who generally labors under the influence of a couple of glasses (spectacles), while mending his pen, threw a glance at the Bench and asked if her Lordship would go into law arguments today.

Her Lordship, gravely – “Not until my brother Judges come into court; they will be here presently, as I just left one of them dressing.”

Reporter – My Lord, will the Court hear motions today.

Her Lordship – I will hear motions in chamber only, here I will also try applications to make conditional rules absolute.

Her Lordship was in the act of leaving the Bench, when the Reporter asked if he would attend her Lordship in Chamber.

Her Lordship, with great quickness and gravity, replied:

‘Before entering into arguments in Chamber, I must first sit in error.”

Her Lordship then retired.

So many double entendres in this piece – and so much interesting information about 19th century court procedure.

A judge’s chambers were rooms off the court where the judge dressed and undressed, and retired between cases. ‘Dressing’ meant putting on and off legal robes, bands and wigs.

Motions were (and are) applications heard on affidavit to deal with procedural matters such as delivery of pleadings and discovery of documentation, which come up in the course of preparing a case for trial.

Chamber motions referred to applications heard in the judge’s chambers rather than in open court. They were applications requiring no argument, calculated for the dispatch of business, and the indulgence of the suitor in cases of not too special or difficult of nature, which, if not heard in chamber, might never, or not for a long time be heard.

The Irish Rules of Court still provide for some chamber motions today – an example would be Order 20 of the Circuit Court Rules which allows applications in chambers for the production of deeds or the sale of any goods or merchandise the subject of court proceedings of a perishable nature, and therefore desirable to be sold at once.

Motions in error were motions to set aside orders of a court which had been made in error. Unlike chamber motions, motions in error were heard in open court.

The story illustrates the presence of women in the 19th century Four Courts. Although the idea of a woman lawyer, never mind a woman judge, was as yet fantastical, and 19th century Irish ladies, unlike their English counterparts, were not inclined to attend legal proceedings for mere entertainment, there were nonetheless women housekeepers, court-keepers, currant bun and newspaper sellers within the Round Hall, a strong female contingent engaged in the process of transporting barristers’ bags, and even the occasional female lay litigant!

Amazing to think that the interchange above took place where Court 1 is today. The High Court which replaced the old courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Chancery and Exchequer now has many women judges and counting and a President of the same gender sitting just across the Round Hall in Court 4.

Judges still have chambers and sit on the bench but inkstands are no longer present – not sure about cushions! Times change but legal benches can still be hard on the posterior! Perhaps the girl above was sitting in the judge’s seat to test the quality of the cushions?!

I hope she did not get into trouble as a result of this story!

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