Bad and Very Bad judges

15 May 2014 by


9780854901418A recent, short (71 pages), and interesting book on the phenomenon of the bad judge, by Graeme Williams Q.C: details here.   You may not be surprised to read that, libel laws being what they are, all the subjects of Williams’ book are in their graves. But, as the author points out, the lessons derived from their badnesses live on.

A number of themes emerge.

The first is that bad judges are often clever judges, but people temperamentally ill-suited to listening patiently to other people – which is unsurprisingly a large part of their job.

The second is that some of the most disastrous appointments are truly political ones. Mercifully we now have a sophisticated system of judicial appointments which is currently divorced from the rough and tumble of politics – though with the politicisation of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and the shrilling-up of the press debate about “unelected judges etc etc” we need to keep a beady eye on that. We also have judicial training and all judges will have sat as part timers before they get appointed, so the worst instances of unsuitability get weeded out before they get the full-time job.

Now to instances of being  a Bad Judge which Williams tells us about. One splendid example is Judge Bruce Campbell, who in the 1970s pleaded guilty to attempting illicitly to import a substantial quantity of whisky (125 litres) and cigarettes (9,000) secreted in his yacht – a sort of unlawful judicial booze cruise. He tried to resign, but Lord Hailsham was having none of that, and peremptorily dismissed him – thus losing him his pension.

A rather more typical example of a judge with Bad Judgment, is the 19th-century Lord Chancellor, Lord Westbury. Very clever and precocious (Oxford at 14), got into Parliament, became Attorney-General, and then in 1861, became LC. Cleverness and naivety was his downfall. He fell out with leading churchmen over some abstruse religious dispute, and described a judgement of his religious opponents, as a

well-lubricated set of words, so oily and saponaceous that no-one could grasp it. Like an eel, it slips through your fingers.

Splendid abuse, but not really for the LC to say, in Parliament – saponaceous, as you all will know, means “soapy”. Also a splendid way to lose friends.

His fall was because of his inadequate response to certain abuses amongst various officeholders in his department, which was weak, involved accepting their resignations (and thus they kept their pensions), and then appointing one son to one post and the debtor of another son to another post. Summed up beautifully by one contemporary as a response of “fatuous simplicity”.

But the resonant cases are the political appointments. Start with Darling J, whose main claim to fame up to that point had been to win an unpromising by-election in 1888 for the Conservatives. He got severely up the nose of  a Birmingham newspaper who called him

the impudent little man in horsehair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness

– for which the journalist was done for contempt of court. He retired from the High Court Bench in 1923, and 2 months thereafter was given a peerage, and started sitting in the Lords in its judicial capacity. Of course – if you have strong political support.

Or Lord Chief Justice Hewart, appointed in 1922 straight from the political office of Attorney-General to be LCJ, without any judicial experience at all. Skill-sets nicely summarised by a contemporary:

He lacked only the one quality which should distinguish a judge: that of being judicial. He remained the perpetual advocate.

His grumpy face adorns the front cover of the book.

Let me not spoil all Williams’ stories. But I cannot resist Judge Ramshay’s career, appointed in 1850 by the Earl of Carlisle as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, seemingly because Ramshay’s father and grandfather had been the Earl’s land agents. Ramshay got into trouble quickly, and was suspended for offensive language in Court. The Lord Chancellor lifted his suspension, and Williams described Ramshay’s instant response to being allowed to sit as a judge again:

He celebrated this outcome by ordering some 150 cases to be listed for hearing at 9 a.m. five days later, but did not himself attend Court until nearly 1pm. (Not the way to gain the approval of the local lawyers, or their clients).

Well quite. A welter of litigation then followed to get rid of him; he challenged the Earl’s decision to do so, unsuccessfully, and challenged the appointment of his replacement in court. All to no avail – and, as Williams puts it:

At which point Ramshay disappears from history, leaving a striking record of Judicial Badness behind him.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts:

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: