Judges – On The Whole, Rudeness Is The Remarkable Exception These Days.

Judges – On The Whole, Rudeness Is The Remarkable Exception These Days.

In many of my Blogs I have provided links to the transcriptions of various Judgments of the Court.

For example:- The judgment of The Honourable Mr Justice Fraser, in my most recent Blog, about the terrors of working for the Post Office, was a document of the length of a novel and it was a model of clarity.

Again, in the case where the liability of Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC to its employees in respect of a malicious act of a computer hacker was considered (currently awaiting a final appeal decision) the words of The Honourable Mr Justice Langstaff are thoughtful and clear and where the Judge felt that there was room for doubt he was fair to say so and to give leave – without being asked to – for an appeal. -Link here

And it is true that in the vast majority of cases in the higher courts, this is the standard.

Lower down the legal system, sometimes this is not the case.

Even so, rude and hostile judges are still so rare that examples tend to make the news.

There was one such case in 2019 which made the local press -Link here- and professional press headlines -link here-

This was the case of a court being asked to decide about the care and housing of a young child – a baby girl of one year old. The case was heard over five days and it’s not surprising that most of the witnesses, experts and family members, and judge alike, had strong feelings and a deep emotional investment in arriving at the right decision.

The decision to be reached was in essence a choice between foster placement leading to an adoption plan for the baby, or placement with grandparents.

The main problem with the second choice was the existence of a brother of the baby, a youth of 14 whose medical and behavioural problems meant that his presence in the same household as a one year old child would be a “threat to her safety and wellbeing”.

And whilst the boy was in residential care when the hearing was taking place, he was the subject of a settled “care plan” which included returning to live with those grandparents shortly.

The eventual decision of the Judge, District Judge Mian, was that the baby could not safely live with the grandparents and this fourteen year old, and so a placement was ordered for the baby girl as a preliminary to adoption.

On appeal, the Appeal Court agreed that, on the evidence, the decision of the lower Court – of DJ Mian – was actually cogent and well-reasoned. ”It would be difficult to criticise the Judge’s approach to the discretionary elements of the case.”

So what’s the problem?

As a reading of the press reports, and of the Appeal Court Judgment shows, the problem was not that Justice was not done. The problem was that justice was not seen to be done.

Have you ever experienced a situation where a meeting gets out of hand? Where you are simply trying to put across your point of view in a reasonable way. And everyone else is being obstructive and refusing to let you speak, or refusing to give any weight to your views. And the emotion ratchets upwards and everyone gets crosser and crosser and you can’t understand why no-one else in the room can see that you are the only person talking sense? According to you, of course.

(Brexit anyone?).

The hearing fell apart. Because the grandparents who represented their own views, and the social workers who spoke for the interests of the baby girl, clearly did not believe that the brother ever would come to live with the grandparents.

So they were discounting that possibility, and all of their submissions to the Judge were that the best place for the baby was with the grandparents because the perceived risk to the child if brother came to live there too was not an actual problem. Because he NEVER WOULD return. May I call that “Position A”.
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But the Judge took the view that her hands were tied, because a Court had approved a care plan for the brother which was in force, which in her eyes meant that the case had to be decided on the basis that he CERTAINLY MUST return. My label, “Position B”.

And so the Judge was effectively trying to forbid any witnesses’ submissions on the basis of Position A. But the witnesses considered Position B preposterous and found themselves unable to accept it even as a hypothesis.

So round and round they all went, day after day, like teddy-bears in the nursery rhyme.

Which made the Judge crosser and crosser. Swearing and shouting. Storming Out of the Courtroom, unable to speak because she was shaking with rage. Turning her back on the Court. Scornfully mimicking the advocates and witnesses. Oh dear.

The fact that the Appeal Court could find no fault with her eventual written judgment didn’t make it all right. As they told her, you simply cannot run a Court hearing like that.

And of course, and wouldn’t you know it, by the time the Appeal Court heard the case, the 14 year old had confirmed his refusal to leave residential care to live with the grandparents and his own case had been reconsidered and he will now live until adult in a suitable residential placement away from his family.

Here is the Appeal Judgement transcript – Link Here –

So as the Appeal Court said, at paragraph 28, it is easy, “when you have hindsight and the irony of the situation is not lost” – Precisely what the Judge was being urged to consider and had refused time and time again to consider, “has come to pass.”

Very sad for all concerned. This is not an incompetent or usually rude Judge. But things went badly wrong.

If we are actually looking for rude Judges, the contemporary prize seems to go to the now retired His Honour Robert Stephen Dodds.

The Court Case Judgement which led the webzine Legal Cheek to dub him “Britain’s Rudest Judge is here -Link Here- . Once again, the Appeal court does not find his Judgment necessarily wrong in relation to the facts and justice of the case. But the manner of it certainly was.

But do you not feel cheered to read of a Judge who can tell the open Court “Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop”?

I hope that His Honour lives long to enjoy many codswallop-free Saturdays in his retirement.

At least there is no Judge practicing in the English Courts now who is in the terrifying league of the late Hanging Judge Jeffreys. His reputation has survived over some 350 years.

An extract from a learned paper – link here-

“There was a fiendish exultation in the way in which he pronounced sentence on offenders. Their weeping and imploring seemed to titillate him voluptuously; and he loved to scare them into fits by dilating with luxuriant amplification on all the details of what they were to suffer.”

Crikey.

Here’s the song – Peter Tosh reminds us that we may one day meet a Higher Judge. –Link Here –

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