“Beyond the Fringe” was a great show. Many of the sketches still resonate today. Some of my favourites feature the great Peter Cook musing on judges and miners in “Sitting on the Bench”. There were some brilliant reflections – “I would much prefer to be a judge than a coal miner because of the absence of falling coal” and “I could have been a Judge but I never had the Latin for the judgin’”.
Peter need not have worried. Court room Latin has been fighting for survival for centuries. Legal Latin came to Britain with the Emperor Claudius and never went home despite several attempts to get rid of it. In 1730 Parliament passed a law forbidding the use of Latin in the court room only to concede a few years later that there were no suitable English words to replace those that the new law banned. I sympathise. “Inter alia” is much snappier than “amongst other things”.
In 1998, whilst serving in the Lord Chancellor’s department Geoff Hoon M.P. accused Latin of contributing to “the mystification of the law which we are trying to get away from”. Lord Woolf also weighed in against the use of Latin as a “lingua franca” in the law. In his final report to the Lord Chancellor on access to civil justice he suggested that such phrases as “in camera”, “ex parte” and “subpoena” should all be replaced.
But Latin has clung on grimly and has recently been given a fillip by none other than the Master of the Rolls in Simcoe v Jacuzzi UK Group plc.  EWCA Civ 137;  All ER (D) 107 (Feb). Following the compromise of a claim for damages for personal injuries arising from the repetitive nature of the claimant’s work, an issue arose as to whether the defendant was liable to pay interest on the costs agreed from the date when the proceedings had been compromised (as the claimant contended) or from the date on which the costs were agreed (as the defendant contended). The District Judge held that interest on costs ran from the date of assessment of those costs. The claimant appealed.
The appeal was transferred to the Court of Appeal under CPR Part 52.14 as it “raise(d) an important point of principle”. The Court of Appeal in, I think, a useful and important judgement, allowed the Claimant’s appeal and held that interest on costs would run from the date when the proceedings had been compromised – see - of the judgment.
However, in outlining the rival contentions the Master of the Rolls said (see  of the judgment):
“The claimant’s case is that the normal rule under CPR 40.8(1), i.e. the position if paras (a) and (b) do not apply, is that interest runs on costs from the date on which judgment is given for costs to be assessed – i.e. from the incipitur date. The defendant’s contention is that the normal rule under CPR 40.8(1) is that interest runs from the date on which costs are agreed or assessed – i.e. from the allocatur date” (my emphasis).
Presumably “it is begun” and “it is allowed” just didn’t cut it!
So there is still a place in the courts for Latin – and for judges!
As Peter Cook pointedly observed in “Sitting on the Bench”:
“Being a miner, as soon as you are too old and tired and sick and stupid to do the job properly, you have to go. Well, the very opposite applies with judges”.
[Image – protectthehuman.com]