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Forensic respect

Silken phrases

The Guardian has published the letter, from Jonathan Sumption QC, that persuaded the court of appeal to alter the text of its ruling on the Binyam Mohamed case. I was struck by a curious finesse:

I am bound to suggest, which I do with genuine and not just forensic respect, that such grave criticisms of a public service and those who work in it should be made only if the issue is fairly raised in advance and the Court has an exact knowledge of the relevant circumstances.

That Sumption finds it necessary to say that he is making his suggestion with genuine and not just forensic respect would seem to imply that, in the ordinary course of things, forensic respect by itself (presumably, respect of the Court?) is a counterfeit thing, an aping of the outward forms of respect that masks a lurking contempt. ((Compare the possible use of with all due respect to mean “with only that amount of respect owing to you, and no more”.)) Can this really be true?

  1. 1  Ricardo  February 11, 2010, 12:35 pm 

    Actually, when people say “with all due respect” they are merely flagging the fact that they are about to be deeply disrepectful. Individually, the words have lost their meaning.

  2. 2  TC  February 11, 2010, 1:07 pm 

    I interpret that line to mean not “superficial respect” but “structurally necessary respect”. That is, the lawyer must respect the judge because the court demands it. Here, Sumption’s respect goes beyond what is necessary into something “genuine” and, perhaps, personal.

  3. 3  Hich  February 11, 2010, 2:31 pm 

    With TC on this, though I think there is a further underlying subtext which basically amounts to:

    Sumption QC always makes his suggestions with both genuine and forensic respect but on this particular occasion feels it proper to explicitly highlight the “genuineness” because of the specific wider context of this case (a context in which commentators/members of the public might be inclined to question said genuineness).

    Of course, as Ricardo pointed out, the very fact of articulating his position in such a manner might well have aroused the very suspicions he was trying to pre-empt…

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