Judge at boiling point: drinking bottled water at the bar a sacrilege

Sydney Morning Herald
December 5, 2005

By Michael Pelly Legal Reporter

ONE OF the state's most senior judges has declared war - on water bottles.

Writing in the latest edition of the Australian Law Journal, Peter Young says he has come to accept such "sacrilege" at the "sacred bar table".

But the next time he lectures on court etiquette, he says, there will be "a section headed in bold 'No bottles at the bar table"'.

It seems the head of the equity division at the NSW Supreme Court cannot see why counsel cannot make do with the regulation glass and carafe.

Justice Young said that in NSW, no one can walk between the bar table and the bench and that "no member of the bar would even think of placing a hat or briefcase on that sacred piece of furniture".

However, he wrote in his editor's column, earlier this year he looked down from the bench and saw "a green bottle of the type that one gets in restaurants at an astronomical price containing mineral water from an Italian spring. What was I to do? My sensibilities had been shocked.

"How could one listen to a serious argument from a person who did not know how to behave towards the bar table?

"However there was no precedent for making a scene and ordering my petite female court officer to seize the offender and eject him."

Justice Young said his "rational spirit" kicked in.

"After all, it [the bottle] is demurely placed next to the regulation water carafe.

"Is it any worse than the lady solicitor we had the previous week who would regularly take a plastic water bottle out of her bag and take a swig while counsel were addressing?

"And what of the witness who said she hoped that the cross-examination would end soon as she was running out of lollies?

"And remember how, in the 1960s in suburban courts of petty sessions, the bar table at lunchtime became a table tennis table for the court clerks."

The judge forgot about the "immediate problem" but said "once one has let such an infraction pass, it may be repeated".

Any lawyers attending Justice Young's promised lecture on etiquette might be best off leaving their water bottles - especially the imported variety - outside.


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