Updated | George Bathurst-Norman, the judge at the centre of the controversial acquittal of five activists against the 2008/9 Gaza war, has been officially reprimanded by the Office for Judicial Complaints.
At short notice, the judge assigned to try a politically sensitive trial at Hove Crown Court on 28 and 29 June 2010 was unable to sit. To avoid an adjournment, His Honour Bathurst-Norman agreed to replace to him.
A number of complaints were made about some of the observations he made during the trial and summing up. An investigation found that a number of these observations did not arise directly from the evidence at trial and could be seen as an expression of the judge’s personal views on a political question. This was an error.
Five activists were recently acquitted for causing £180,000 damage to an arms factory after successfully deploying the defence of lawful excuse. But did the judge’s politically coloured summing up of the evidence to the jury render the trial a miscarriage of justice?
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantee a “fair and impartial tribunal”, and it is sometimes claimed in courts that a judge or judicial panel are biased and therefore cannot preside over a fair trial. While not often successful, the complaints are always taken seriously. As any law student knows, justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done.
To this end, judicial impartiality has been much in the news of late. Cherie Booth QC, an observant Christian, was apparently rapped by the Office for Judicial Complaints for reducing a defendant’s sentence on the grounds that he was a “religious man” who knew what he did was wrong. Meanwhile, in a less successful challenge to a judicial decision, Lord Carey failed to convince the Court of Appeal that a judicial panel of special religious expertise was needed in the case of a Christian marriage councilor sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples.
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