A coat-of-arms hangs on the wall behind the judge’s chair in BC’s courtrooms. Going back to colonial times, it symbolizes the sovereign’s authority in the courtroom. Featuring two slogans: “Dieu et Mon Droit”; and “Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense”, it is not the official coat of arms of the British monarch but rather a version of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom.
Coats-of-arms became popular in medieval times before most people could read, to indicate the importance of certain people, officials and businesses. Dating back to the 12th century, members of the King’s court (the royal entourage) began to act as judges. The royal coat-of-arms was their symbol of authority. Even today, the importance of the coat-of-arms is acknowledged by lawyers who bow to the judge when they enter or leave court. Whether they know it or not, the lawyers are not bowing to the judge but rather to the coat-of-arms on the wall, showing their respect for ‘the court’.
The British brought their royal icons to North America: the robes, wigs and the royal coat-of-arms of the United Kingdom. A proclamation in 1856 prescribed the use of this coat-of -arms in BC courts.
“Dieu et mon droit” is a French phrase that can be translated as “God and my right”. It is actually the motto of the English sovereign, and is said to have originated in 1198 when Richard the Lionheart adopted it as a password. It was also the King’s declaration that he owed no duty to the King of France.
Last but not least, the French phrase “Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense” is partly concealed by the lion and the unicorn on the coat-of-arms. The motto of the chivalric Order of the Garter, it is loosely translated as, “Shame on him who thinks evil”.