It has been a bit of a torrid 12 months for the minor judiciary. First, one goes away for conspiracy, and now three have been sacked for watching pornography on official computers. Another pre-empted his sacking by resigning.
As someone has pointed out, would they have been sacked if they had been watching an improving programme, such as David Attenborough examining the digestion of iguanas, or the cricket scores from Australia? Or was it the pornography that did for them?
And what sort of defence did they put up? Surely they could have argued it was part of their judicial studies. Far too often the judiciary is said to be out of touch. Now we have some of them actually getting down and dirty, and we complain about that.
One of the poor men seems to have issued a statement that at the time he was suffering from ‘severe and undiagnosed depression’. Will this give grounds for appeal to those on the wrong end of his verdicts? Surely he, at least, will be able to bring a claim in the employment tribunal?
The lord chancellor (not a lawyer, I note) must have been pretty cross. After all, many judges, even the most alcoholic of them, caught in compromising positions are allowed to resign on the grounds of ill health. Some never make it to the bench. One, I recall, became involved in a drunken fight with a taxi driver the day his appointment was announced. Previously undiagnosed ill health overtook him the very next day.
Before the present crop, I think there have been only three judges who were actually sacked. In 1830, Sir Jonah Barrington was dismissed for stealing the money that litigants paid into court. In 1993 Judge Bruce Campbell went after he was caught smuggling 125 litres of whisky and 9,000 cigarettes into Britain on his private yacht (pictured).
I think the last judge to be sacked was in 2009 when a South East District judge was given the boot for behaviour which included being rude to solicitors. Quite right too.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor