Looking through the file of Helen Duncan – in 1944 the second last person prosecuted under the Witchcraft Act 1735 – I noticed that prosecutor John Maude was simultaneously defending Harold Loughnan for murder in the next court. It reminded me of the story of the judge who asked a woman who claimed to be suffering from double vision if she could still see her counsel. When she told him she could, he replied it was just as well – because one of him had left to appear in another case.
The stories about Maude himself abound. Tall, elegant and urbane with a drawling voice, he would sit in the Old Bailey robing room in his underwear, with long socks and suspenders, doing The Times crossword in ink. I only ever saw Maude when he was sitting as a judge at the Bailey but, in the days when judges there could be collectively described as ‘fierce’, he was an exception.
I remember watching him explain to a jury that one of the witnesses looked like a rabbit, ‘Don’t you think so, members of the jury? His nostrils twitched, just like a bunny.’ On another occasion, in the days when tattoos were regarded as self-mutilation rather than self-expression, he warned a jury against being prejudiced against a witness who sported a variety of insignia. After all, it was believed that King George VI had a discreet tattoo on his chest.
Lawyers should be grateful to Maude for his decision in R v Silver. Although, of course, not binding, he ruled that estate agents taking fees from letting flats to prostitutes did not amount to living in part off immoral earnings.
Maude is probably best remembered for alleged remarks he handed down in sentencing two men for indecency: ‘Go away and try not to commit this offence again. But if you feel you absolutely must, try not to do it under what I believe to be the most beautiful bridge in London.’
Another example of how the judiciary might be seen as out of touch came when he sentenced a man for affray after he had broken up a bar in the Kilburn area. Now, after a three-week lay down for reports, the man had renounced alcohol. ‘Promise me,’ said Maude, ‘you’ll never have another drink, not even the teeniest, weeniest glass of dry sherry before luncheon of a Sunday.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor