There are so many charts nowadays I thought I might put together one of 20 magistrates who terrified me – and more particularly my clients, writes James Morton.
Starting at Number 20, I would put the chairman of a lay bench at a London court who had a virulent hatred of Roman Catholics. How ever did he get appointed, let alone become chairman? It took the combined efforts of the gaoler, the clerk and the probation service to get the case of a nun, convicted of shoplifting, away from him when she came up for sentence. At a previous hearing he had been threatening her with 14 days for a first offence. I met him later semi-socially and he told me a friend of his had been arrested. ‘The police are lying, of course,’ he said. I thought that was what I had unsuccessfully been trying to get him to understand for a number of years. Maybe I should put him up a few ranks.
Jimmy Cook, who once had been clerk to the Highgate justices, was never terrifying to deal with; defendants must have thought they were home and dry when they saw his cheery face. Until the last few words that is. ‘He would have smiled when he sentenced Jesus,’ was a perhaps unkind comment on him.
Cook was, however, much loved by his staff. ‘You’d go and ask him a question,’ one told me, ‘and he’d reply "It’s no use bothering me. I don’t know any law. Now give us a kiss sweetie and go and do some proper work".’
All the stipes at Marlborough Street terrified me in my early days. Two of them, George Robey, son of the music hall comedian, and former naval officer Leo Gradwell apparently loathed each other. They had to share a room and the last one to leave would turn the other’s family photographs to the wall. Frank Milton, later the chief metropolitan magistrate, said of them: ‘O to live in Soho, the land of the ponce and the sod. Where Robey speaks only to Gradwell, and Gradwell speaks only to God.’
I didn’t fare much better with another who was reputed to like the night ladies who frequented his court. He persuaded his wife that when he was on duty he had to remain within calling distance of the court, which required him to live in ‘a hotel’ in Shaftesbury Avenue.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor