I was spectating in court late last year when practitioners at both ends of the bar table copped it from the bench for having the temerity to say ‘good morning’ when making their appearances.
His Honour did not immediately reply to the greetings of both counsel. After a prolonged silence, the magistrate stared directly ahead and said,
“I will remind all practitioners with business before the Court this morning of what Justice Palmer said in Wilson v Department of Human Services  NSWCA 1489 about unnecessary familiarity in the courtroom. It is inappropriate in our adversarial system to commence submissions with anything other than, ‘May it please the Court’. Now … “
The magistrate was an unfamiliar one (to me, anyway, and I assume to the practitioners involved) but the issue was obviously a sore point with him, if his immediate knowledge of the citation of Wilson’s case was any indication. I hadn’t read the case before, or even heard of it. (My more learned colleague has since referred me to this excellent discussion of the case, from then-president of the Bar Association of Queensland, RJ Douglas SC.)
In my view, that case turns on its own facts, and is more directed towards the appropriateness (or otherwise) of theatrics by counsel to win the tribunal of fact over to their side. The judgment was – as has been pointed out – more critical of disingenuous greetings directed at the opposing side’s witnesses. The reference to greeting the bench was in the context of when one side does and the other doesn’t.
In any event, I see the occasional greeting or exchange of pleasantries as a harmless part of normal human interaction, especially in summary or pre-trial matters when the days can be long.
What do you think?