The Huffington Post reports today that Justice Clarence Thomas, often described as the silent member of the US Supreme Court , has suggested that his fellow Justices should ask fewer questions of the advocates and not “‘beat up on them”.

Justice Thomas has not asked a lawyer a single question during argument in the US Supreme Court in nearly four years. For him, the written submissions seem to be sufficient. Judicial questions are largely unnecessary.

This itself raises the question as to what is the benefit of oral advocacy? On one view, the opportunity for judges to ask questions is the whole point of a hearing.

Here in the UK, has found no shortage of  Supreme Court advocates and observers who speak up strongly in favour of judicial questions. Seeing the arguments tested by the judges, or even seeing the different members of the court use their questions to probe each other’s positions is frequently the most interesting part of a case.

In fairness to Justice Thomas, we may not be comparing like with like. The questions from US Supreme Court judges are sometimes famous for a level of vigour that might seem out of place across the Atlantic. Friday’s editorial by the Dallas Star-Telegram said, of its first glimpse of the UK  Supreme Court, “The discussions are dry, indeed, without the aggressive, even entertaining questioning that often punctuates U.S. Supreme Court sessions”.

“Dry”? We beg to differ. Our Supreme Court may have a different style, but judicial questions are no less probing as a result.

However it is done, and with the greatest of respect to Justice Thomas, we hope that our own Supreme Court judges do not become shy of asking advocates the difficult, uncomfortable questions. If the first few cases  are anything to go by, it seems unlikely.