'World's nicest judge' Frank Caprio advocates compassion at Sharjah forum

Frank Caprio champions direct communication between governments and people

Judge Frank Caprio during a speech at Sharjah International Communication Forum. Salam Al Amir / The National
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A renowned American judge who champions compassion in the courtroom has called on global governments to lead the way in creating a kinder society for all.

Judge Frank Caprio, who presided over a popular courtroom reality TV show in the US for 20 years, said during a visit to Sharjah this week that creating a culture of empathy and understanding among decision-makers was a win-win.

He said his visit to the UAE, where he delivered a speech at the Sharjah International Communication Forum, was motivated by a desire to further promote his message that understanding and compassion can unite human beings.

Mr Caprio retired from his role as Providence Municipal Court's chief judge in January after almost 40 years on the bench.

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In a world driven by conflict and division, people yearn for kindness
Judge Frank Caprio

The 86-year-old has been described as the "nicest judge in the world" for his thoughtful approach to dispensing justice – and he feels it is an ideology that can thrive outside the legal world.

"It's a win-win for the government and the public because people are happier when they see that the role of the government is to help them,” he told The National

As for the government he said, “this understanding influences people’s behaviour”.

“In a world driven by conflict and division, people yearn for kindness, something they found in my courtroom and can find here in the UAE.

"To have a good society, we need to have empathy for others and treat everyone the way we want to be treated," he told The National.

Mr Caprio's philosophy chimes with many, as he has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram alone and has built up a loyal audience on his long-running TV show, Caught in Providence, clips of which have gathered hundreds of millions of views online.

'A little compassion can go a long way'

"We profoundly affect people's lives, and we can't forget that one day we will all be judged by the hope we inspire and by the difference we make," he said.

One court ruling that brought him to prominence involved a woman who had parked her car in a no-parking zone, flouting a 6pm to 10pm parking restriction.

“She parked at 9:58pm, just two minutes [early], so I chose to dismiss the case,” he said.

He said this case happened when his court began to be filmed for public access television.

Veteran American judge Frank Caprio shares his philosophies on life in and out of the classroom with The National's Salam Al Amir. Photo: Adam Nofal

This decision not only won him recognition but also set a precedent for a more humane approach to the law, attracting attention from the media and the public.

Another case featured a 96-year-old man charged with speeding while driving his son to cancer treatment.

He dismissed the case. “We became friends and celebrated the man’s 100th birthday and his son's recovery.”

"A little compassion can go a long way in helping people solve real-life challenges," he said.

From the classroom to the court

Mr Caprio's career began as a teacher in Providence, Rhode Island.

On the effect of his rulings, he said: "What I do affects people's opinions for the rest of their lives about how the government treats its people."

His approach has reached beyond his courtroom, he told The National.

Courts in other US states have invited him to share his methods, and some even use his videos as teaching tools to instruct other judges on treating people with civility and compassion.

He said that his father, who was disappointed in the first judgment Mr Caprio issued when hr first assumed his role, returned to his court room a proud father.

"I'm proud of you, he said to me, he was happy.”

Among the highlights of his visit to Sharjah was an opportunity to explore the American University in Sharjah.

"I have never seen an educational institution this expansive,” he said.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 12:38 PM