Law - world - USA - US view of the UK
But there's at least one he'd like to try. "It
was fascinating to me that you don't get objections (from
the lawyers). It's not considered good form.
They whisper to the other party: 'Would you
They're very courteous to each other. I never saw any of the
stuff that goes on in our courtrooms where lawyers get mad
at each other," Blockman said.
A judge for almost seven years, Blockman, 57,
of Champaign, was among a group of about two dozen judges
and lawyers from the Illinois Judges Association; the John
Howard Association - a prison watchdog group; and some faculty
from the Loyola University College of Law, who visited England
at their own expense from May 8-18 to get a taste of the legal
"I'm not sure what I could bring back (to
my courtroom). Here's a system we developed from, yet we're
so different," observed Blockman, who practiced law for
21 years before his election in November 1996.
Civility notwithstanding, Blockman said he
didn't think British attorneys had anything over their American
Anyone licensed to practice law in the United
States can enter a courtroom. In England, only barristers,
specially trained for courtroom practice, can be in a courtroom.
A solicitor is an "office lawyer," Blockman said,
and generally requires fewer years of education and training.
"The lawyers we have are just as skilled
as advocates. I think our people are just as good. What struck
me is the civility" shown in the British courtrooms,
In Champaign County, Blockman administers family
court, including divorces, the enforcement of child support,
custody issues and the like. A family law judge in London
invited him to sit on the bench for a day there.
"What went on during a regular day was
the same as what would go on in my courtroom, people fighting
over custody of children. They also hear abuse and neglect
(of children). We don't handle that in family court,"
Another major difference is that family court
in England is closed to the public.
"The idea there is this is a family matter and it's not
of public concern. Nobody is allowed in except the lawyers.
They had some movie star getting a divorce. There were lots
of photographers waiting outside for him," Blockman said.
About the only proceedings in Illinois courts
that the public cannot view are matters involving abuse and
neglect of juveniles or juvenile delinquency hearings. However,
reporters are allowed to cover those hearings.
Because the family court proceedings are closed,
the judges and lawyers don't wear the horsehair wigs and robes
that are an integral part of the 700-year legal tradition
of England, Blockman observed. Lawyers and judges in other
civil and criminal courtrooms wear both. Higher ranking judges
wear different colored robes over the traditional black robes
that everyone wears.
Because the wigs run about $1,000, Blockman
said it's easy to spot the more veteran barristers. Their
wigs have dulled over time and they don't want to spend the
money for a new one.
Blockman said judges in England are appointed
to their positions, but he said it never was clear to him
who does the appointing. There is a move to get more women
on the bench, he said, adding he didn't see many women in
the courtrooms as judges or lawyers.
"They were shocked that we would have an
elected system. They couldn't comprehend that," said
Blockman, the lone Democratic circuit judge in Champaign County.
British judges' pay is based on rank and seniority.
In Illinois, all circuit judges earn the same. "Their
equivalent of our circuit court judge is paid comparable to
us, although I wouldn't want to live in London, because it's
expensive," he said.
Another difference between the systems is that
the English have no
jury trials for civil cases, except for libel.
"Judges decide damages, and they're very
conservative, so you
don't have nearly the amount of personal injury suits that
we do," he
And their guilty pleas in criminal cases, he said, involve
the judge reciting about two sentences to the defendant: "Are
you guilty?" and "If you want to appeal, your attorney
will explain how." Criminal defendants in both state
and federal courts in the United States get a detailed explanation
of their rights and their ability to appeal.
"They don't have the same appeal process
as we do. Theirs is so much more expedited. We've got all
the collateral appeals," Blockman said.
The group also visited a law school and a women's
prison and a juvenile prison, both in the countryside outside
London in old English manors.
"After the war, a lot of the landed gentry
couldn't keep up these huge homes in the country, so they
converted a lot of those to old folks homes or prisons or
other institutions," Blockman said. He said his group
was really impressed by the number of programs for juvenile
"There were 12 buildings, each a classroom
of sorts for woodworking, brick building, heavy machinery
operation, etc. The kids had to sign up for classes. If they
complete the course, they get the equivalent (credit) of what
they would get from their local high school. It's designed
to help them get jobs. They put a lot more of their resources
into their juvenile facilities than we do," Blockman
Still, he said, England suffers from an even
higher rate of repeat offenders than our country. "Everyone
lamented the fact that once they get out, they don't have
the resources to set the kids up. We talked to a number of
the kids. They seemed to like being in the prison. Once out,
they were thrust back into the same situations" that
got them in trouble, he said.
Blockman said there was heavy security
inside and outside the London courthouse, but he wondered
if some of that might have been related to the trial of two
women accused of terrorist activity that was going on while
You can reach Mary Schenk at (217) 351-5313 or via e-mail