Judge - Architect - Judge

Richard Devlin

Abstract


Professionals are often creatures of habit, and over time those habits come to form us. Educational experiences and group norms frequently channel conventional patterns of being and doing. Such processes have virtues - they can promote coherence, continuity, cohesion and efficiency. However, they can also result in conformity and stultification. Judges are one profession with a very defined concept of who they are and what they do. They are governed by principles such as independence, integrity, and impartiality. These are fine values but they risk becoming taken for granted assumptions slipping out of the judicial consciousness. It might be helpful for judges to consider some challenges faced by another profession - architects.

Marcus Vitruvius argued architects must be guided by three principles: commodity, firmness and delight. Function (or commodity) comes first because a primary purpose of most architecture is to accommodate a building's function or purpose. Judges are also concerned with function. Most law - family, contract or criminal - is very much about ensuring protection. Because of innumerable legal rules it is helpful for judges to keep the bigger question of function foremost in their minds as they exercise powers of judgement.

Louis Sullivan's assertion "form follows function" connects to the second of Vitruvius' principles: firmness. Once a building's function is determined, the form and structure best achieving that function must be considered. Judges also need to think about how "form follows function." They need to reflect on how the structures of law - rules, principles and precedents - frame capacity for judgement.

Beauty or delight is Vitruvius' third principle. Many architects seek an aesthetic. Beauty, of course, shifts over time and space, but the yearning remains pervasive. Judges too must also go beyond function and structure. Justice also shifts in time and space, but a larger yearning to pursue the good remains perverse.

Co-authored: David Matthews


Keywords


Judicial Ethics

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