Former High Court judge “mystified” by formal warning

Family Law|May 20th 2014

Former Family Division judge Sir Paul Coleridge says he was “depressed” and “mystified” by a warning from the Judicial Conduct and Investigations Office (JCIO).

Sir Paul, founder of campaign group the Marriage Foundation, retired from the judiciary in April. He had announced plans to step down the previous year, shortly before receiving the formal warning. The JCIO investigates complaints about judges.

It said the former barrister’s decision to discuss his views with the Times and Telegraph newspapers was “incompatible with his judicial responsibilities” and had amounted to “judicial misconduct.”

At the time, Sir Paul described the decision as “a disproportionate and unfair reaction to a few lines in two newspapers.”

He has now gone further. No longer part of the judiciary, Sir Paul is off the leash and free to say what he likes and he has done just that in an interview with the Sunday Times.

He criticises the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who issued the formal warning. Sir Paul told the paper:

“He thinks I’m the one who brought the judiciary into disrepute. I’m not sure about that.”

Claiming that the investigation which led to his warning had been sparked by a “handful of complaints” from members of the public, Sir Paul continued:

“I think allowing this to get out of hand has done us [the judiciary] no good at all. I think I said to him in a letter this whole affair brings the judiciary into disrepute. It makes us look stupid. It makes us look risk-averse to the point of being ridiculous when half a dozen members of the public can provoke this kind of storm.”

The QC and former international legal advisor says he was “depressed, annoyed, mystified, exasperated” by the warning. His language took on an increasingly intemperate tone as he continued:

“Their proposal was to give me a warning. Don’t ask me what it means because I am not employed by the lord chief justice, am I? I’m employed by the Queen, if I’m employed by anybody. He [the Lord Chief Justice] is not my line manager. He’s not my boss.”

I respect Sir Paul’s achievements as a judge and think he was an admirable silk. I know that he is personally held in the highest regard by all who know him. People speak of his warmth and good humour. But I do think these comments were ill-advised. To sit as a judge in the High Court is a significant honour, but it is a role which comes with responsibilities. No other court has such an intense spotlight shone upon it by politicians and the media as the High Court and the conduct of every judge who sits within those hallowed walls must be impeccable. You have to play by the rules. You can be judge or a politician but you cannot be both. You cannot criticise the unmarried in a newspaper article one day and then sit in judgement upon them the next.

In my view Sir Paul’s departure from the judiciary had become inevitable. The formal warning was not the first time he had been investigated by the JCIO – he had previously been told that he could not publicly support the Marriage Foundation while working as a judge. And his complaints about the warning then provoked a third investigation by the JCIO.

I believe in marriage, but I am also a realist about the direction in which 21st Century society is moving and I have repeatedly called, for example, for the introduction of cohabitation rights in England and Wales.

Sir Paul clearly has his own views and now that he is free to devote all his energies to the Marriage Foundation, I am sure we will be hearing much about them.

Read the Sunday Times article here (subscription required).

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  1. Stitchedup says:

    “You can be judge or a politician but you cannot be both. You cannot criticise the unmarried in a newspaper article one day and then sit in judgement upon them the next.”

    In an ideal world I would agree but in the real world politics and the legal system appear to be inextricably linked.

    Is anybody honestly going to tell me that Starmer as DPP did not let his left wing politics and Women’s Aid influence his policies??

    Is anybody honestly going to tell me that Baroness Hale does not have feminist political views??

    Take a look at this article:

    In the comments section Erika Rackley, the author of the article writes:

    “I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Just to clarify one thing. The point is not whether or not judges should have recourse to their own viewpoints or preferences when deciding cases. They do and this is inevitable. It simply isn’t true, and nor can it be true, that all legal questions are predetermined by existing rules. And in such cases there really is nothing that a court can do other than make its own mind up as to what the law should be. And in turn the only way they can do this is by reference to their own values and perspectives. The only live question then is what sort of values judges should appeal to. The point of my article and the Feminist Judgments Project is to make an argument for the validity and benefit of feminist values in this context.”

  2. Luke says:

    An ex-Judge who is ‘mystified’ by this shows very poor judgement – it makes you wonder how he became a Judge and who selected him in the first place…

  3. Nordic says:

    While I agree there are many areas of family proceedings which clearly cannot be decided by application of rules, I find the lawless vacuum that passes for family “law” in this country utterly shocking. The degree of discretion afforded the courts is extreme compared to most other jurisdictions in northern and central Europe. Here judges are essentially set up as were they kings in a medieval court whom, as Erika notes above, are free to invent law on a case-by-case basis in accordance with their own personal values and background. By and large, these values reflect the upper echelons of society as far as the key “policy making” senior judges are concerned. The end result is a primitive and massively costly system which, absent any robust rules or meaningful guiding principles, actively encourages families to fight though the legal system with all what this entails of harm and distress to children and parents.

    As a senior judge, Coleridge has a stake in the disastrous state of family law. Yet rather than addressing some of the many obvious failings in this system, he chose to moralise and advance a naive and outdated view of the world. I find his comments offensive. Good riddance.

  4. Family law judge wins right to be addressed as ‘Ms Justice’ - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] is now official nomenclature On her appointment – 13 January 2014 – she asked the Lord Chief Justice, with the support of the President of the Family Division, if she could use this title, and he […]

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