We Don’t Shake Hands Here

Did you know that, by tradition, barristers don’t shake hands?

By way of clarity, incidentally, I should explain that in England we have two branches of lawyer – solicitors and barristers.

Barristers are the ones who wear the black robes and the white, horse hair, wigs.


Should you, perchance step inside the Central Criminal Court (more often referred to as The Old Bailey) to witness one of the criminal trials therein, you will witness barristers doing what barristers do exceedingly well – advocating on behalf of their clients.


From a Jack the Ripper perspective, major suspect Montague John Druitt, was a barrister, whose chambers were situated at 9 King’s Bench Walk in the Inner Temple – one of London’s four Inns of Court.


However, were you to have been a 19th century barrister and were you to have met Druitt – and, for that matter, were you to meet any barrister of the Victorian era – the last thing you would do would be to extend your hand in greeting in order to shake him by the hand.

You see, traditionally,  barristers don’t shake hands with one another.

There are several reasons as to why this should be so.

One is that, by not shaking hands it is being demonstrated that the prosecution and the defence are not colluding with one another.


Hand shaking originated as a means of demonstrating to the person that you were meeting that you were not going to pose a threat to them. By gripping each other by the right hdn you were showing that your hand wasn’t on the hilt of your sword and that you were, therefore, not going to draw said sword and run the other person through with it!

Since barristers were gentlemen they trusted each other implicitly, and, therefore, there was no need to demonstrate that you bore no ill will towards each other and so there was no need to shake hands.

Well, it sound convincing to me!


However, the custom is now dying out and, as a consequence, you can find yourself in a socially awkward situation should you be a barrister who happens to encounter a fellow practitioner of the art of advocacy.

To shake or not to shake, that is the question.

Do you risk offending your colleague by not proffering your hand in greeting, or do you risk offending said colleague by proffering a hand in greeting.

Can you see the awful dilemma that faces today’s barristers?

Apparently, the answer to the dilemma is to extend the hand nervously and see if the other side reciprocates.

Decisions, decisions!