Guetter bien le juge / Eyes on the judge!

http://www.missfarah.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/output_thumb.gifAvez-vous des collègues ou des adversaires qui ne vous écoutent point?  Ils ou elles tombent amoureux ou amoureuses de leur propre parole.  Hélas, durant un colloque au Barreau du haut-Canada, j’ai témoigné une conférencière qui monologuait sans cesse.  Elle ne regardait jamais à l’audience, et ne savait que personne ne suivait ce qu’elle disait depuis dix ou quinze minutes de torture.

(English below)

Imaginez-vous donc, en banc, le ou la juge au tribunal.  L’avocat qui parle à la mitrailleuse, ou qui ne prend aucune pause durant ses discours, peut bien perdre votre attention.

J’ai même entendu qu’un juge qui, après plusieurs jours de témoignage expert, demanda au témoin le signification d’un acronyme dont il témoignait depuis le début.  Les avocats et le témoin ne l’ont jamais expliqué, et le juge craignait que son ignorance d’un sujet technique soit découvert.  Alors, ça se peut que l’avocat se rendît compte qu’il lui fallait demander au témoins ce que cet acronyme voulait dire, si l’avocat guettait mieux le visage du juge?

Lorsque vous parle à quelqu’un, dans n’importe quelle circonstance, il faut prendre le contact visuelle.  Beaucoup de malentendus peut être résolus si vous croyez que l’autre ne vous suit pas.  Ou si vous prenez des pauses pour vous assurer que l’autre a noté votre énoncé, vous pouvez être sûr d’être compris.  Devant un tribunal, vous n’arriverez jamais au moment gênant ou le juge vous demande: “Le témoin a vraiment dit cela?  Je ne l’ai pas remarqué.”

Au début de l’audience, restez silencieux pendent que le juge arrange ses affaires.  Le juge doit éventuellement se lever la tête.  Voilà votre signal de commencer.  Si vous croyez que le juge essaie de suivre votre parole, stoppez, puis attendez encore qu’il se lève la tête encore.  Et continuez.

(C’est la même méthode qu’a utilisée la maîtresse d’école, lorsque vous étiez petit … cliquez sur l’image des ‘yeux’ en haut et découvrez…)

~  ~  ~

Do you have colleagues or adversaries who never listen?  They just drone on, in love with their own voice.  Alas, during one conference at the Law Society, I listened, then looked around the room, as a speaker never looked up once from her notes.  She read from them, and did not speak to the audience.  For 10-15 minutes of aural torture, she never knew she had lost the room long ago.

Imagine yourself now, behind the bench, trying to follow the submissions or the questioning of counsel.  Counsel who talk too fast or too nervously.  Counsel who read verbatim from notes and never pause to see whether the court is following.  If counsel doesn’t seem to care whether you get the point, you don’t receive much encouragement to take it all down.

On the other end, there is the judge who, after several days of expert testimony, finally broke down and asked counsel and the witness the meaning of an acronym about which the witness had been speaking from the outset.  Neither counsel nor the witness had thought an explanation of the acronym would have helped, and the judge did not want to reveal his or her ignorance of the technical subject.  I reckon watching the judge’s facial expressions more closely may have permitted counsel to realize that he should ask the witness what the acronym or term of art actually meant.

During any kind of dialogue, it is always important to keep visual contact with your interlocutor.  You get a sense, from facial expressions or return glances, whether what you have to say is registering.  Some judges are strict in the application of the basic premise that it is counsel’s job to ensure comprehension, not the judge’s role to make sense out of verbal chaos.  If the judge is writing or is expressing lack of comprehension, either with what you are saying or what a witness is saying, take a pause.  If necessary, go over the testimony.  The risk is that the judge will admonish you for repetition.  Better that than not having your witness’ evidence understood.  Don’t keep talking if the judge is trying to keep up with you.  Unless you have learned traditional shorthand, you wouldn’t be able to take it down either. Do you really want to arrive at the point where you make submissions and the judge asks, “Did the witness really say that?  Let me check my notes.”

At the beginning of a hearing, or your part of it, don’t say a word until the judge raises her head and makes eye contact.  If the judge is filling out administrative forms or reading notes from the registrar, she does not want to hear from you.  She has to look up eventually.  Take that as your cue.  If, at any time during the hearing, you feel the judge is pressing to keep up, just stop and let her finish taking her note.  She’ll appreciate the chance to catch up, and let you know by looking up again.  Then you can continue.

(It’s not so different from the thinking behind the methods used by your grade school teacher, long ago.  Click on the ‘Eyes’ graphic above, and discover why eye contact is so important to getting someone’s attention.)

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