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With all due respect?

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2012 86 (04) LIJ, p.86

A little laugh before resolution

WADR was amazed to read a recently released report suggesting that humour plays a serious role in the Victorian legal system. Amazed for the obvious reason that the report authors had suggested the law could be anything but fun.

As we all know the law and humour have been linked for centuries. For example, Mark Twain said that “it is interesting to note that criminals have multiplied of late, and lawyers have also; but I repeat myself”. And lawyers themselves are funny. There is even a joke about lawyer jokes to prove how light-hearted they are: “Lawyers don’t think lawyer jokes are funny and the man in the street doesn’t think they are jokes”.

So, given this rich history, it is unsurprising really that the Monash University law faculty, RMIT University and the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration research found over two-thirds of mediators at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) used humour in mediation sessions. (The remainder avoided humour or used it sparingly and only when the disputants introduced it or when it arose incidentally.)

VCAT mediators who used humour said it helped “lighten up” disputes, release stress and break up “charged situations”. One mediator said he successfully used humour with clients from multicultural backgrounds to “change the dynamic of the dispute”.

However, it was also found that not all clients appreciate a little off-beat jocularity after another mediator (one of the quarter of mediators on the watch for potential cultural issues before attempting humour) recalled having a bit of witty banter backfire. She said that she often used the line “what did you do in your last life to deserve this one?”, until she came across someone who believed in rebirth and found herself needing to apologise for the quip.

Project researchers spoke to 16 of the 60 mediators on the various VCAT lists. According to the academics, the mediators’ views of their use of humour were a good match with the available research into the therapeutic and intellectual effects of humour in situations of conflict. Another researcher said humour was ideally suited for mediation because it is a way of creating an atmosphere of cooperation as “the essence of a joke usually involves the bringing together of two things that are initially contradictory”.

Phew, whoever thought being funny could be so serious.

And speaking of serious, a member of a jury two weeks into a trial ended up in the dock of the same UK court she should have been attending as a juror on charges of contempt of court.

The reason?

Playing Sudoku? Performing internet searches about the case and accused? Discussing the performance of witnesses with members of the press?

No. Michelle Rogers, according to the Daily Mirror newspaper, was arrested after failing to appear for jury duty after becoming bored with the case.

Ms Rogers told police, who arrived at her Castleford home, that while she had sat through two weeks of evidence, she could sit no more.

Ms Rogers originally told the constabulary she could not go to court as she did not have the bus fare. However, she changed her tune after being offered a lift to the courthouse.

“I don’t want to go. I can’t be bothered, I have been there for two weeks already and it’s really boring,” Ms Rogers said.

When officers told her they had no option but to arrest her, Ms Rogers replied: “I don’t want to go and you cannot make me”.

Judge Guy Kearl told Ms Rogers, as she stood in the dock, that “it is part of your civic duties (and) your duties as a citizen to attend this court”. She was eventually excused, however, and the hearing rescheduled – at a cost of around $(A)30,000.

Enjoy laughing at the failings, foibles and faux pas of others? Of course you do. Then why not contribute to WADR? By email to, by fax on 9607 9451 or by mail C/- LIJ, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000.


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