Saturday, 28 November 2015

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Jury of public opinion has passed judgement

It probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise to learn that some judges are distanced markedly from most other people’s grasp of reality.


Thankfully that isn’t true of the majority. If such were the case, our courts wouldn’t function, our faith in law and order would be shot, we’d have no reason to believe victims of crime could rely on wisdom standing firmly to keep right on their side.

So, when Judge Peter Bowers told a repeat housebreaker that burglary took a huge amount of courage, it was reassuring to witness an instantly deafening surge of public outrage, endorsed solidly by the Prime Minister.

Judge Bowers told an offender who raided three homes in five days: “It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody’s house. I wouldn’t have the nerve.”

Handing 26-year-old Richard Rochford, from Redcar, a suspended 12-month term, the judge said: “I’m going to take a chance on you.”

He’s now under investigation by the Office for Judicial Complaints and if criticism is upheld, his case will be referred to the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor, who will consider if disciplinary action is needed.

It might seem a long-winded process for deciding whether a judge – whose purpose is to uphold the interests of the law-abiding over the inclinations of the lawless – is out of step. But when judgement is to be passed on the judging, perhaps it needs to be.

However, it’s pretty clear to the wigless, robeless, common or garden householder, that the last thing any burglar needs from a court is praise and admiration from the person he fully expected to be his jailor.

And really, when all said and done, it was never this misguided judge’s call to “take a chance” on a criminal accepting jaw-dropping leniency as his cue to see the light, turn over a new leaf and burgle no more.

Those who had been victims of Rochford’s crimes – weren’t they the ones best qualified to decide whether this drug-abusing housebreaker deserved a chance? Didn’t they deserve a chance to see the violator of their homes demonstrably punished for wrongdoing?

Judge Bowers wouldn’t have the nerve to burgle, he said. That tells us nothing – except that his judicial boots are probably on the wrong feet.

Most of us refrain from smashing into other people’s houses, not because we’re not brave enough but because we know it to be wrong.

Neither would it occur to us to snatch a child, beat up an old lady, drive away a stolen car, thieve from strangers to feed our cravings. That doesn’t mean we lack courage. It means we respect the rule of law that underpins a cohesive society and inclusive community.

Thankfully Judge Bowers has shown himself, in his extraordinarily warped thinking, to be way out of step with his many right-thinking colleagues.

As my grandfather used to say: he’s like a chamber pot handle – on the outside. And for that small mercy, we must be grateful.


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