History of the Gavel

Matthew Powell

Nearly everyone has seen one, either in person or on television and the judge’s act of banging the decorative wooden mallet in an effort to regain control of the courtroom is emphasized in every courtroom drama to hit the big screen.  The men that hold the treasured tools have decided on the most important matters and have heard hundreds of slip-and-fall, Tampa auto accident, and other tort cases.

The gavel is a symbol of authority and a reminder to all those who fail to respect the court official.  The gavel is not a new instrument and was not the invention of the American legal system, by which it is so commonly used.  In fact, there have been references to the term “gavel” being used as early as medieval times in England.  The term was used in reference to the sharp sound used to “seal a deal” in land court, when rent agreements were made.

What some may not realize is that are several rules that one must follow when yielding a gavel.  The guidelines are outlined in Robert’s Rule of Orders.  This publication was first devised by Henry Martyn Robert – an engineering officer in the US Army – when presiding over a public meeting.  About the gavel, it is written that he who has legal possession should never use it for the purpose of drowning out noise in the courtroom.  Instead, he should tap it with meaning at purposeful intervals as a reminder to those in attendance of the intent of the gathering.  Furthermore, he should not juggle the gavel, toy with it, or otherwise disrespect this instrument of law.

Matthew Powell

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