I recently had a mildly unsettling experience at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
When the clerk called me in he mentioned that HHJ McMullen QC followed the old tradition of a relaxed dress code in hearings during August, so if I wanted to take my jacket off I could. (This tradition is new to me, but I assume it stems from the fact that, in The Good Old Days, courts used to shut down in August.)
This might not sound particularly disturbing news, but minutes before a hearing is due to start, it’s the sort of thing that can grab a larger share of your attention than it deserves. “Is it really appropriate to take my jacket off? Will it look too informal? But if I don’t will the Judge think I’m a prat?”
I decided that the room was rather warm; that the clerk was in his shirt-sleeves and that I could hardly get in real trouble for following a suggestion made by the Judge.
So I took my jacket off. The judge was also without a jacket. So far as I can tell, it made no difference whatsoever to the hearing or the result.
The point of this post is two-fold.
First, if you have a hearing in the EAT in August in front of HHJ McMullen, be warned that you too may have to resolve the perplexing jacket dilemma.
Second, I think it’s worth saying that almost everyone suffers these weird social wobbles from time to time. High stress, unfamiliar or hierarchical environments are particularly likely to push us off balance. It almost never matters and other people hardly ever notice – with the clarity of hindsight I can see that HHJ McMullen couldn’t possibly have cared less whether I was wearing a jacket or not.