Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why "The Court Jester?"

A court of law is an offshoot of the monarchy, as I understand it, and both these types of court take themselves very seriously, as they should. But a frequent element of the early courts of kings and queens were jesters, or fools. 

A jester, or a fool, was - as I understand it - a device to both entertain the monarchy and keep it somewhat self-aware. If it isn't the origin of the phrase "speaking truth to power," it probably should be. 

From the eternal wellspring of Wikipedia we have this:

End of tradition[edit]
After the RestorationCharles II did not reinstate the tradition of the court jester, but he did greatly patronize the theatre and proto-music hallentertainments, especially favouring the work of Thomas Killigrew. Though Killigrew was not officially a jester, Samuel Pepys in his famous diary does call Killigrew "The King's fool and jester, with the power to mock and revile even the most prominent without penalty" (12 February 1668). The last British nobles to keep jesters were the Queen Mother's family, the Bowes-Lyons.
In the 18th century, jesters had died out except in RussiaSpain and Germany. In France and Italy, travelling groups of jesters performed plays featuring stylized characters in a form of theatre called the commedia dell'arte. A version of this passed into British folk tradition in the form of a puppet show, Punch and Judy. In France the tradition of the court jester ended with the French Revolution.
In 1968, the Canada Council awarded a $3,500 grant to Joachim Foikis of Vancouver "to revive the ancient and time-honoured tradition of town fool".[8][9] In the 21st century, the jester is still seen at medieval-style fairs and pageants.

So it was common. A smart addition for a court, one surmises. And the role has moved into the public realm. Problem is, once it's there, it's the rare king, or judge, who hears it.

Note the "without penalty" part. I sure hope so, since I hope to appear before judges again in the future. We shall see. 

In any event, it is my premise that the Canadian courts lack a jester. And so this blog will be an attempt to fulfill that function. 

It isn't easy to grasp, because the pace is glacial, but the courts are a live, evolving institution. At the heart of the institution is the judiciary. The role of judges is also changing, partly as a result of changing laws. In particular, the Charter upped the ante considerably, thrusting the Supreme Court of Canada, which had previously enjoyed, if I understand correctly, a rather technical role, into the public limelight and increasingly often at loggerheads with federal governments. 

But because almost any lawsuit that gets to the Supreme Court of Canada begins at provincial levels of court, the superior courts of each province are also now in frequent interactions with their respective provincial governments. This is why the courts are becoming very, very political.

Now, normally, in democratic systems, law-making bodies are elected; that is to say, you decide who makes your laws. Not you personally, of course, but all of us together. But the courts are not elected, and are in fact spectacularly well-buffered from public feedback. The problem with judges becoming political is that they are the only actor on the political stage who is immune to blowback. Not only are they immune - most of the time they are majestically oblivious to it.

Though remaining palpably convinced of their own virtue and beneficence - in other words, their haughty detachment from politics - the courts are nonetheless aware of some dissonance between what they actually hear and how much discordance there actually is "out there." This awareness is no doubt fostered by the trend to what is called "self-representation;' that is to say, people who appear in court in person. With litigants now no longer being perceived through the filtering device of a lawyer, their real feelings about whether justice is "being seen to be done" are becoming harder to ignore.

But the problem is, everyone - especially in court - tiptoes around judges and no one will tell them what we really think. While they may THINK they want to hear some feedback, it's my sense that hearing how disenchanted people really are will come as a bit of a shock. 

Just for the record, I have self-represented. It's not fun and not particularly rewarding. A lot of people are having far worse experiences with it than I have. And although we all seek to be respectful, I think the message is getting through the buffer that these bad experiences do not meet our expectations of justice. The judiciary is, I believe, looking hard for a way to evolve. I am confident that it will eventually do the right thing. I only hope it is soon enough.

All in all, we are incredibly lucky to live in a society where one can speak about public institutions and their failings and not face dire consequences from authorities or opponents. Part of the reason I feel a need to speak out is to preserve that culture. This isn't the case in theocratic, dictatorial, or even tribal cultures. But being able to speak out is only half the battle: the cycle closes when one is heard.

The only problem for me in the role of court jester is that I'm not consistently funny. But to the extent that I'm willing to speak out, it's possible that I amply qualify for the role of "fool."

Finally, the profile appearing on the sidebar was written for my other blog, "Education's gone rogue," found at edrogue.blogspot.ca. Until I can figure out how to edit the profile (and they said Blogger was easy!!!) it is more suitable for the latter than for this blog, but it will have to do.

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