An Unseen Actor Speaks
Smile at us, pass us or greet us; then, if you like, forget,
For we are the unseen actors, that have not spoken yet.
The interns, law clerks, jurists, of less than judicial rank,
Whom judges and arbitrators have nonetheless reason to thank.
We are the unobtrusive – we could almost be said to ‘lurk’;
But make no mistake about it, we’re doing important work.
We stand well back in the shadows (except for the Registrar),
If you meet us around the building you may not know who we are,
But still it seems that we’re valued: this Volume tells us so;
We don’t get many plaudits, so at least that’s nice to know.
We are the backroom people, who are neither heard nor seen,
But we help the judges with language, to say what they really mean,
And we summarise the facts too, a job which needs very much patience,
But it has to be done – and carefully- when you’re bringing peace between nations;
We have to deal with the Agents, which is sometimes not much fun
When it’s we who get the reaction to what the Court has just done.
We keep tribunals running; we see that deadlines are met;
And once our judges start arguing, they would still be arguing yet,
If they could not agree at some stage it is time for the Court to adjourn,
And that of course is the moment when it’s good to be able to turn
To the staff for their willing assistance; though they say it’s not open to doubt
That deciding’s a judicial duty, not something that can be farmed out.
See, the judgment’s judiciously worded, each sentence clear and exact,
With State susceptibilities all handled with highly suitable tact,
So even the losing party is bound to be persuaded. . . .
You don’t think it was the judges, then, who wrote all that, unaided?
But with dissenting and separate opinions, we leave judges to have their say;
(Though if they did ask us to write them, they might be better that way),
We have to be ready and able to work in more languages than one,
And be equally tactful in each of them, that’s sometimes not easily done:
But still we do usually manage to make everything clear to the Bench:
Though we find that what’s specious in English sounds no more convincing in French.
Then preparing the minutes of meetings, we don’t just transcribe, but instead
We write what we think that each judge who spoke will be thinking he ought to have said.
We’re not called ‘Excellency’; we don’t wear a formal gown,
We’re not invited to parties in the embassy part of the town,
We don’t hob-nob with ambassadors and such, but all the same,
We have our own entertainments: spectators see most of the game.
The judges you see get the kudos, but the actors unseen have their fun:
And once the decision’s delivered, we take pride in a job well done.
From: Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication (CUP 2019)