Monday, May 7, 2012

Hanging out with judges at the Guild Hall

Retired Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube and Lady Brenda Hale
This weekend was the annual meeting for the IAWJ (International Association of Women Judges).

I went to hang out and listen to some of the sessions (and spend some time sitting beside 'my' judge, the most fabulous retired Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube).

 The event was oversubscribed (i should have taken care of registration MONTHS in advance), but I got on the waitlist, and I was able register on the day, though I was told that the tickets for the Gala Dinner at the end were totally gone.

Fine!  No problem!  I was just so happy to be able to sit in the sessions and listen and watch. You can check out the program on-line  (click on the left-hand links to "Conference Program" and "Social Program").
"The Three Graces" (Connie Backhouse joins the judges)

Frankly, it was amazing: something like 600 judges from 103 nations.  It was like a mini-United Nations of Justice!
There were close to no academics there (less than a handful of us)...but what a richness of women judges! 

The world is not the place it was when I first started law school.

 It was completely inspiring for me to be there to see such diversity. 

It was also quite a thing to be able to sit there to see the ways that judges share their experiences and insights with other judges.
Three more graces with a theme colour?

 One of the really enjoyable parts of the event were the  'having coffee in the halls' part of the conference.

I have been taught by, mentored by, or watched from afar or in court MANY of the women judges from the Canadian delegation, and it was great fun to chat in the halls with them between sessions. 

At one point, a group had said they would see me the next evening at the Gala dinner.  I told them that they would NOT see me, since the tickets were all gone.  Ten minutes later, Lucie-Anne LaVigne returned with a ticket in hand!  Another judge had to leave early (Shiranee Tilakawardane from the Sri Lankan Supreme Court...whom deseves a huge thank you for me!), and had given her the ticket to pass along to some needy person.    SCORE!!!!!  

my mom's choice of necklace
All the way home on the tube that evening, I found myself humming the song "I've Got a Golden Ticket" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Well.... i will confess to a moment of trauma when I got home and started thinking about the words "formal attire or traditional dress" which were inscribed on the ticket. 
For a year of sabbatical in London, I came with only one piece of checked baggage and one piece of carry-on. 

I remember standing in front of the closet at home wondering what I should bring in case I needed to go to any chichi events during the year. 

I had decided that the odds of that happening were low, so closed the suitcase without anything in the way of elegant evening wear... I figured a black skirt and black boots could carry me.  ouch.   ah well!   

List of important trials held in the Guild Hall
As usual, my mom (who is visiting from Calgary) stepped into the gap, sending me out the door with an over-the-top necklace and a beautiful embroidered scarf to camoflage the less impressive bits!   So, (after one last quick check of the emails!) off I went.
What can I say?  The Guildhall is quite something. 

Built in the 1440s, the Guild Hall is, apparently, the only non-Church building in London to have survived the Great Fire of 1666.
It has also been the site of many famous trials, including that of Lady Jane Grey! 

To say the building (and its contents!) was amazing would be an understatement. 

Napoleon on the walls
There was an impressive collection of paintings on the walls, but not enough time to study them all! 

As it was, the people watching was taking up lots of my time.  Such a gift to see the range of colour and vibrancy of attire in those who wore traditional dress!  A feast for the eyes!

We moved from the champagne reception into the banquetting hall for the main event. 

Some lovely (and perfectly timed) welcoming remarks, along with the granting of the IAWJ Award for work in support of Human Rights. 

The Banqueting Hall
This year it went to my former boss, Claire L'Heureux-Dube! 

Perfect recipient, and I was so delighted to be there to witness it! 

What a treat for me to be there to stand on my feet and see her recognized for the years of work and passion.... and such an amazing location to have it happen in! 

 I am only sad that I didn't have my picture ready to take a picture of her getting the award.   

Indeed, I was too shy to bring out my camera until half way through the night when I had watched the judges themself turn into unstoppable camera-philes. If they could do it, so could I!

That is when I quickly snuck back to the cloakroom to recover my camera from my coat pocket!

The banqueting hall was like an amazing cathedral.

The walls were covered with statues and memorials.
Duke Wellington on the wall

Memorial to Admiral Nelson

Gog or Magog?  the view from my seat at dinner
I was seated at one end of the hall, just below the statue of (either) Gog, or Magog, two giants who were supposedly defeated by Brutus, and then chained to the gates of his palace (which was at the site of the Guildhall). While it was a bit wierd sitting at an angle that made me worry I was looking up his skirt/kilt, it was an impressive view!

I was sitting with the judges from Taiwan, who were absolutely delightful dinner companions!

I came home with a CD of beautiful Susie Chien songs, and they all signed the liner notes for me with their names in chinese characters.

Again, it would be an understatement to say that the meal was lovely.  It was perfect. 

trumpet fanfares
But it was not just the food, but the the broadest sense of the word:  There were fanfares before each course... not your everyday trumpets, but the long ones with banners hanging from them. 

They were on the balcony just above us, so I couldn't get a great shot, but you can see the end of the trumpets if you look closely (between the stained glass and the clock).  I am not sure, but suspect they were the state trumpeters of the Band of the Life Guards.
opera singers on the balcony

The sound was amazing!  There is simply NOTHING better than music delivered in a space that amplifies the sounds... notes that echo and reverberate, or just seem to hover in the air.

And then,.. to push it over the top, there was a musical program between courses: a mezzo and a soprano, singing gems of music (''O mio babbino caro',  'the flower duet', nessun dorma, etc) from a balcony half way down the room. 

Talk about feeding the soul alongside the belly!

still beautiful the next morning
Because I live here in London and could give them a good home, I was told I could take some of the flowers (which covered the tables) home with me. 

Funnily enough, this was no problem, because I had stuffed a plastic carrying sac in my purse on the way to the event.  This was because, on the tube on the way home the previous night, the person sitting beside me on the tube had thrown up, splashing my shoes (this is one of the risks of riding the tube at night when people are coming home from the pub, having tossed back a few too many pints!).  


Kiwi checking out the blooms on the glass table
Before leaving home to head to the tube (to get to the Gala), I decided to follow the advice of a fellow traveller I had seen hand a bag to someone in order to throw up into (better they should throw up in a bag than on the floor on or my shoes).  Smart, thought I! 

In this case, the bag got put to an even better use, and gave me the pefect way to safely transport all the blooms home. 

So... three bunches of flowers are have been sitting on my kitchen table, filling the room with the delicate scents of rose and peoney.  Sweet!  


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