Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tuesday: Funny Wigs and Baby Supreme Court

Alas, I've fallen behind again! I will try to catch you all up!
On Tuesday, our group went on a "legal walk." We walked all around the "legal" area of London. Our tour guide helped us learn how solicitors and barristers become solicitors and barristers. Then we visited the Supreme Court. One of the things I noticed that really surprised me was how the barristers differ from the solicitors.
Barristers are basically solicitors with more education. The solicitors are limited to speaking in the lower courts. If a case needs to be appealed or taken to the Supreme Court, a barrister will work with the case. Barristers go to school for 1 year. They join an "Inn," which is like a social group of lawyers. It would be like joining the American Bar Association. The Inns are all about networking. Barristers work mostly in appeal courts. The craziest thing about barristers is that they have to be dressed in the traditional "garb." They wear gowns and wigs. Our tour guide pointed out that there wasn't any major reason for this difference. She basically said it was originally to level the playing field. If everybody looks the same, the judgement is based on the person's argument and not on how they look. Not that it really matters, but I found it hard to concentrate on their arguments because I think they looked a little ridiculous....
After we watched a couple of appeals cases, we headed to the Supreme Court. I called it a baby Supreme Court in my title because it has only been in existence since 2009. Before that time, major issues of law were handled in the House of Lords. The Supreme Court handles any issues that impact a large amount of people. One of the issues we discussed is discrimination against homosexual people. Another issue that we discussed is the death penalty.
While we were talking in the Supreme Court, it really made me see that our two countries have some differing opinions on the two issues mentioned above. In our country, homosexuals are not a "protected group." They aren't protected under our civil rights acts. In the UK, they are protected. For example, if a private company wants to refuse service to a homosexual couple in America, they can. Private companies can discriminate against anybody as long as the group isn't protected under the Civil Rights Act. This is not true of the UK. If a private bakery refuses service to a homosexual couple in the UK, they are discriminating. (This is really simplified. There are several nuances with each situation.)
In the UK, the death penalty has been abolished for several years ( Since 1998 I believe). There are still a majority of states in the US that have the death penalty. Nebraska is debating it as we speak. We told our guide this and he was astonished. The death penalty hasn't really been debated much here since it was abolished. It's like the US is about 10 years behind the UK when it comes to making decisions on these controversial issues.
Another issue we talked about in the Supreme Court tour was freedom of religion. The UK has an established religion, while the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution says we have a freedom of religion. The UK's "official" religion is the Church of England. Even though they really don't, the UK could pass laws that mandate people be part of the Church of England for certain jobs. The church also comes into the schools in certain circumstances. People in America want to get the word God taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance because it "offends their religion."
These are only a few of the types of issued brought through the Supreme Courts in both the UK and the US. I think it is really interesting to see how the two countries differ on certain issues. Two countries, two differing views. I'm glad I got to see both sides of the same coin.
This is an example of a barrister wig. Image courtesy of Google Images

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