30/Jul/2014 - Last News Update: 06:58

Obituary: Judge James Pickles

Category: England

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.

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2010. Obituary: Judge James Pickles [Online] (Updated 22nd Dec 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/117591/Obituary-Judge-James-Pickles [Accessed 30th Jul 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • The man who plays French horn with his toes

    Felix Klieser was born with no arms, so uses his feet to do most things. This includes eating, dressing, writing ... and being a professional French horn player.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Libel case of Mohammad Asghar and Abdul Mujahid adjourned

    A libel case brought by a Conservative assembly member has been adjourned and is unlikely to resume until next year.
  • Middle-aged drinking 'impairs memory'

    Problem drinking in middle age doubles the risk of memory loss in later life, research suggests.
  • Glasgow 2014: Georgia Davies - Gold makes work worthwhile

    Welsh swimmer Georgia Davies says winning Commonwealth gold in the 50m backstroke has made all the hard work she has put in since taking up the sport worthwhile.
  • UK to allow driverless cars on public roads

    The UK government will shortly outline measures to permit driverless cars to use public roads by next year.