Thanks to a controversial amendment to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, judges in England and Wales may soon be using gavels just like their American counterparts. The amendment has been put forward by the cross party Legal Heritage Committee of the House of Lords. It is said to be supported by a 2015 academic research paper* which concluded:

“Litigants in civil cases overwhelmingly reported that the decisive smack of wood on wood signalling the conclusion of proceedings brought a sense of finality to the litigation, and a sense of closure for the parties.

Nothing says ‘funct off’ — or functus officio to give the Latin term its full spelling — quite as effectively as the loud retort of a gavel constructed of prime West Coast cedar wood or New England maple.”

In 2014 the Ministry of Justice’s Panel on Procedure (POP) launched a consultation the results of which were inconclusive. However, a survey conducted last year in the wake of the Brexit vote found that support for the iconic wooden hammer had increased.

The wording of the proposed new clause is subject to change but currently provides:

(1) Rules of Court shall provide for the use, in the courts of England and Wales specified in subsection (2), of a gavel of construction specified in subsection (3).

(2) The courts in which a gavel shall be provided and used shall be —

(i) The Crown Court;
(ii) The County Court;
(iii) The Family Court;
(iv) The High Court of England and Wales;
(v) The Court of Appeal (Civil Division);
(vi) The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).

(3) The construction of the gavels used under this section shall be as specified in Regulations to be made by the Secretary of State in exercise of the power conferred by section 69(b).

(4) The online court shall employ a virtual gavel, as provided for and specified in the Rules of the Online Court.

Note. The Regulations made in accordance with subsection (3) are the Wooden Gavel (Construction and Use) Regulations 2017 (SI No 911).


Find out more

According to Wikipedia,

A gavel is a small ceremonial mallet commonly made of hardwood, typically fashioned with a handle and often struck against a sound block, a striking surface typically also made of hardwood, to enhance its sounding qualities.

*The research paper cited above is Marshall EE and Cummings J, Hammered by Law: the pros and cons of the gavel in the courts of North America (Wisconsin) (95 Wis LJ 445 (2015)).