Most sentencing in our criminal courts is now contained in a little black book known as Sentencing Guidelines. Judges and magistrates are well used to making clear their route which led to their eventually pronounced sentence. Decisions on bail are also ensconced with guidelines based on the precept that all defendants, innocent until proved guilty, are entitled to bail. It is a matter of judgement that they should be remanded in custody when the bench has fears eg of interference with witnesses, committing further offences or failing to appear which cannot be allayed by any conditions offered by the defendant or on his/her behalf eg residence, tag, security etc. There are also situations where the judgement of the bench is to decide whether or not to accept jurisdiction on a matter which can be heard at either their own court or is more suited to being tried at the Crown Court. Even where such a case has been heard at the lower court a bench has the option to send the offender to the Crown Court for sentencing. In the light of all the above it is remarkable to read the reported comments last October of HH Judge Jeremy Richardson QC at Hull Crown Court. From his lofty perch he publicly criticised local Justices of the Peace for putting the case in the hands of his court. "Cases such as these should be resolved by the magistrates' court," said Judge Richardson. "Then, when issues are resolved, you apply your mind to the committal provision. "Crown court is purely a sentencing exercise. Stage one needs to be sorted entirely before stage two commences." He was not referring to a single decision. He made a generalised comment which in effect has denigrated his junior colleagues and IMHO has brought the judiciary into disrespect. The guidance on blogging to which I referred above contains the following, “They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.” It would seem, by that statement, that my criticism of H. H. Judge Richardson is more likely to damage public confidence in the judiciary than the remarks uttered by the judge himself. Two extracts from the Media Guide for the Judiciary might offer some illumination:-
“Making planned statements in open court.
Courts and most tribunals operate in public, and any comment made by a judicial office-holder in public session is regarded as open to reporting. This extends to comments made when there’s no reporter in the room, as long as someone has repeated it to them. Judges may occasionally read out statements in open court, for example commenting on misreporting of a case."
"Lord Mackay a previous Lord Chancellor has stated that” judges must avoid public statements either on general issues or particular cases which might cast any doubt on their complete impartiality, and above all, they should avoid any involvement, either direct or indirect, in issues which are or might become politically controversial”",This begs the question whether or not public criticism of magistrates by a crown court judge is politically controversial.