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why is it bad to be angry in court ?

‘Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret’.  Ambrose Bierce

‘The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good’. Dr Samuel Johnson.

Part of the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage and handle the emotion of anger (one aspect of the application of emotional intelligence),  when advocating, or indeed negotiating, is the pursuit of self-control, not to become emotionally involved, and to stay aloof and objective to one’s own motives and values of honesty and integrity.  Do not become embroiled in the chaos and subjective frustrations of your client to the extent that you adopt their problems as your own problems.  It is one case of many.  Your duty to act in their best interests, does not mean that you act in their perceived best interests.  They may have hired what they perceive to be a fighter, not a hired thug.  They are not one and the same.


In a leaflet produced by the encephalitis society there is reference to a pneumonic:



A  Anticipate situations that trigger anger.

N  Notice signs of anger building (increased heart rate, sweating, increased temperature)

G  Go through a temper routing (count to 10, breath slowly and deliberately)

E  Extract yourself from the situation that is making you angry.

R  Record how you aged.


What’s so bad about being angry?


A source close to a neuropsychiatrist relayed the facts that when we get angry, the heart rate, arterial tension, and testosterone production increases, and the left hemisphere of the brain becomes more stimulated…When we get angry, we show a natural tendency to get closer to what made us angry to try to eliminate it.


Dr. Bruce Banner once said: ‘Don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry’.


Scientifically, becoming angry is a negative trait invoking violence, becoming wild, irrational and illogical.


It necessarily follows that speaking gently and positively, is likely to invoke a degree of humility, whilst you remain calm and composed.  Learning not to become riled by a Judge or opponent, a clerk, a member of the public, another legal team, or a member of the press, or indeed your own client from time to time, and to rise above whatever troubles you, is to apply calm to a situation.  Showing restraint, is part of the course.  Remember:  You are instructed as a mere conduit for your client.  By that channel, you are not there to voice your client’s aggression, but rather to objectively convey and articulate in a manner which is irresistible to a Judge, a winning message that will win your client their case.


In order to prepare how not to be angry, accustom yourself to the practice of court advocacy in England and Wales being a polite contest, rather than a bar brawl, where occasionally the nature and tone of an argument can rapidly decline into a potential shouting match (to be avoided at all times).  Know that your opponent may try to rile you.  Know that a Judge may try to belittle you in front of your client, and that you must develop very broad shoulders not to take to heart the comments and insults that may fly at you on any one occasion when in a public court room including tuts of indignation, eye-rolling, condascending glances and stares.  Be prepared for as many eventualities as possible, and plan how you might deal with them in a calm and courteous way, including pausing and taking a moment before replying. 


Above all else when faced with such scruples whether to answer back or not to answer back to a Judge or your opponent, (generally it is a bad idea), remember that first and foremost you are an officer of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, and you must and will conduct yourself professionally.  Accompanying that air of importance and worth endorsed upon you, is a status that requires you to be courteous at all times, even when someone else in the room behaves reprehensively.  Remaining humble, brings with it an air of peace of mind, clarity, serenity: calm and composure.


Never lose your temper, even when exhausted, drained, disappointed, aggravated, shocked, confused, and terrified.  Instead, react slowly and deliberately, and speak gently.


Before those who fancy themselves as trolls, say that if you maintain such an attitude that you will simply give an invitation to be walked all over, I say….NAY! (in a polite and courteous tone).


Don’t be the Hulk.  Judges simply switch off to rants of anger and stream of consciousness which become inarticulate waffle.  It may please your client, 

but scores no points with the court.  If anything, you will lower your credibility with the Judiciary and earn yourself a reputation of being a hot head.


Gentle words have  force than crescendos of indignation.


Everyone deserves to be treated equally and sensitively at all times.  Remember the wise words of Dr Samuel Johnson: ‘The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do them absolutely no good’.


You need not feel you may be walked over.  You can be nice, but firm; pleasant but resolute; delightful, but determined; cordial, but tenacious; respectful, but unyielding. 


Learn to control your attitude to perceived triggers and drivers of anger.  It is a calm and collected mind that articulates an irresistible argument to a court.

Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate and principal of David Rosen & Co.  He is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a member of the ACFE Advisory Council, a member of RUSI, and a former strategic director  of the Board of the ACFE UK Chapter.  He is a Professor of Professional Practice at Brunel University where he lectures one day a week and is soon to commence a course on morals, ethics, scruples, and quandaries: MESAQ