It is commonly regarded that a presiding judge is the ultimate authority in the courtroom. If they go overboard, that would be subject to investigation (judicial conduct or crime) afterwards. However, while the court is in session, to what extent can the judge commit offences before being stopped by law enforcement, cuffed, and dragged out of the bench to cells?

I was watching ...And Justice For All (1979) the other night, and this question got inspired by the scene at 14:35 where Judge Rayford pulls out a pistol and shoots at the ceiling as a means of putting the courtroom in order (there was a brawl going on):

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If a judge:

  • pulled out a machine gun,
  • started shooting everybody,
  • took hostages,
  • barricaded the courtroom,
  • while formally continuing the court "session,"

legally, would law enforcement be permitted to intervene?

If so, is there a bright line dividing when a presiding judge can and cannot be subdued?

2 Answers 2


When an arrest would be lawful

A police officer may arrest you if:

  • They suspect on reasonable grounds that you have committed an offence or are about to commit an offence

  • They have a warrant for your arrest

  • They have stopped you for a breach of the peace (threatening violence, or provoking someone else to be violent)

  • They believe on reasonable grounds that you have breached your bail conditions, or

  • They need to serve an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) on you

There is no 'unless you are a judge in a courtroom' exception.

but mostly universal.

  • 1
    The listed conditions also do not include the exception "unless you are an ambassador representing a foreign country, having been accredited to Australia in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," yet such an exception exists. Therefore the absence of any mention of judicial immunity here is not convincing evidence that judicial immunity does not exist and does not protect judges from arrest.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 10:38
  • @phoog No, diplomatic immunity covers immunity from prosecution; not immunity from arrest. An ambassador who starts shooting in the street can expect a police response.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 10:42
  • That is incorrect. The convention says: "The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention." (Art. 29). The police can stop the ambassador from shooting in the street, but they can't make an arrest.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 10:57

Judicial immunity is limited to civil liability. It doesn't insulate a judge from criminal liability. A law enforcement officer (or a citizen making a citizen's arrest) could arrest a judge in the same way as the person making the arrest could arrest anyone else committing a crime.

  • "they could arrest" should go between "as" and "anyone". As it stands, "as anyone else committing a crime" modifies the verb phrase "could arrest", and so puts "anyone else committing a crime" in the role of subject of that verb phrase. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 3:39
  • 1
    @Acccumulation I think it was clear enough as written but revised the language for extra clarity.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 12:23

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