Putting an end to a long-held myth.
Byline: STEVE ALLEN
I'D like to knock a commonly held legal stereotype on the head - judges don't use gavels in UK courts.
Despite this, the small ceremonial hammer regularly makes an appearance in TV legal dramas, they adorn the covers of legal texts and solicitors often use them in to promote their services (yes you, Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co) and even on their Christmas cards (Season's Greetings, the former SGH Martineau).
Just as you'd be hard pressed to find a journalist in a trilby hat with a press card stuck in the ribbon, or a detective in a trench mac with the collar turned up, you won't find judges calling our courts to order with a dinky wooden mallet.
On its "Traditions of the Courts" web page, the judiciary seeks to nail this myth once and for all: "Although they're often seen in TV programmes the one place you won't see a gavel is an English or Welsh courtroom - they are not used there and have never been" However, despite such efforts, the visual cliche has become so ubiquitous it's still hard for some to believe. You can't even buy a judge's costume on the internet (don't ask) without it including, along with a robe and wig, a gavel.
For the doubters, I urge a visit to inappropriategavels.tumblr.com, a blog and corresponding twitter account (@ igavels) dedicated to shaming those who promote this legal stereotype.
Recent offenders include the BBC drama department (a serial offender), the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, Financial Times and the Ministry of Justice, which should know better. If you are looking to buy a gavel, Wolverhampton-based Gavel and Block stock a selection suitable "for judges". Apparently, gavels also make popular retirement gifts for people in the "law enforcement professions".
As a litigator, you'd expect me to be familiar with the customs of the courtroom. But I still find it disappointing the workings of our courts are so mysterious to the layman that such myths are allowed to perpetuate.
It's true American judges do use gavels, which explains their presence in US-based legal dramas and films. But in the UK gavels are the exclusive preserve of auctioneers, masters of ceremony and quiz hosts. Sorry to bang on about it.
Steve Allen is head of the Birmingham office at Mills & Reeve