Obituary: Judge James Pickles
Published: 22nd Dec 2010 17:48:43
It is not in the English legal tradition for judges to be celebrities. One of the handful to break the mould was Judge James Pickles.
From the mid-1980s until his retirement in 1991, and even for a while afterwards, Judge Pickles became virtually a household name for his forthright pronouncements and his readiness to joust with authority.
The circuit judge from Halifax was little known beyond Yorkshire until 1985 when he wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph calling for tougher punishments and criticising what he saw as government pressure on the judiciary to keep people out of prison.
At that time, judges were constrained from speaking outside of court by a set of rules laid down in the 1950s by a Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir.
By breaching the convention, Judge Pickles was considered to have committed a grave offence and the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, came close to sacking him.
There were further spats when Judge Pickles followed up the Telegraph article with one in the Guardian and then appearances on radio and television, including Wogan.
In 1989 he sailed even closer to the wind by switching from opinionating generally on the law, to commenting on cases in which he was personally involved.
His first misdemeanour was to do a BBC interview explaining why he had jailed a young woman for seven days for contempt, for refusing to give evidence against her former boyfriend on an assault charge.
This, while an appeal was pending.
Then he imprisoned a single mother for six months for a theft offence, a sentence which was criticised by the Court of Appeal when it substituted a probation order.
It was at this point that Judge Pickles did something unprecedented for a serving judge. He held a press conference in a pub, appropriately named the Inns of Court, to defend himself.
As if that was not daring enough, he called the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, who heartily disapproved of him, "an ancient dinosaur living in the wrong age ".
The Lord Chancellor by now was Lord Mackay and, like his predecessor, he seemed set upon dismissing Judge Pickles.
However, he had to settle for a "serious rebuke" when the judge threatened a judicial review of any sterner sanction. In 1991, with his pension secure after 15 years on the bench, Judge Pickles retired, to the enormous relief of the legal establishment.
He continued to make waves though, advocating the decriminalisation of cannabis, writing a weekly newspaper column, and taking a role in a sparky Channel 5 programme, The People versus Jerry Sadowitz.
He also gave full rein to his views in two books, Straight from the Bench (1987) and Judge for Yourself (1992).
His claim to have been the man who scuppered the Kilmuir rules gagging judges may, like many of his assertions, have been overblown.
But it is true that post-Pickles, judges have enjoyed an access to the media which they did not have before him.
At 13:55:59 in ScotlandThe "Yes" and "No" campaigns in the independence referendum have set out rival visions of the NHS in Scotland.
At 13:51:38 in ScotlandA comedian who was named best newcomer at last year's Edinburgh Fringe has scooped the Foster's Comedy award for best show at this year's festival.
At 13:34:09 in SportBritain's Jonathan Brownlee beat brother Alistair in Stockholm to strengthen his chances of winning the ITU World Championship Series.
At 13:19:55 in EnglandA man who sparked a police search after telling his girlfriend he had been kidnapped was later found at a house party.
At 13:15:42 in EnglandTynemouth's Longsands beach has been a popular visitor destination for more than 150 years.
At 13:14:44 in HeadlinesAt least 25 people have died in a gold mine collapse in the Central African Republic, officials say.
At 12:57:32 in EnglandA man in his 50s has died after he was hit by a car in south London.
At 12:54:08 in EnglandRobbers have taken a "substantial sum" of money from a security guard making a collection from a supermarket in Wolverhampton.
At 12:52:42 in ScotlandWater is being restored to properties across part of Glasgow and South Lanarkshire after supplies were cut off due to a burst main at Glasgow Green.
At 12:49:38 in Northern IrelandThree prominent loyalists have appeared in court charged with the attempted murder of two men in north Belfast earlier this week.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2010. Obituary: Judge James Pickles [Online] (Updated 22nd Dec 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/117591/Obituary-Judge-James-Pickles [Accessed 23rd Aug 2014]
News In Other Categories
Britain's Jonathan Brownlee beat brother Alistair in Stockholm to strengthen his chances of winning the ITU World Championship Series.
BT has warned millions of customers it is increasing its prices by up to 6.5% from December this year.
A utility company is still trying to restore gas to more than 750 homes in Blaenau Gwent after water got into gas pipes on Thursday.
The "Yes" and "No" campaigns in the independence referendum have set out rival visions of the NHS in Scotland.
A comedian who was named best newcomer at last year's Edinburgh Fringe has scooped the Foster's Comedy award for best show at this year's festival.
A man who sparked a police search after telling his girlfriend he had been kidnapped was later found at a house party.