Two judges are very much in the news. The first is the aptly named Judge Block, the infamous judge now long gone whose only claim to fame was sentencing Mick Jagger in 1967 to 3 months’ imprisonment for possession of 4 amphetamine tablets. That sentence of imprisonment lasted less than 24 hours before Jagger was released from Brixton Prison pending an appeal.
The second more illustrious judge is the splendidly named and recently retired Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a former Court of Appeal judge, who has accepted the poisoned chalice, possibly to his everlasting regret, and has agreed to chair the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire.
Whatever else, he brings to the task over 20 years of judicial experience, and with the obvious exception of some hooligan elements of the Labour Party and self-interested lobby groups, the appointment has been generally welcomed.
That said, the press muckrakers point to a case in 2014 when he upheld the decision of Westminster Council to rehouse a single homeless mother 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. His decision was overturned by the Supreme Court. The report of the appeal does not relate if it was the distance that was deemed unfair, or the relocation to Milton Keynes, the land of the concrete cows. But when questioned by some newshound about this decision, Sir Martin made an obvious yet incisive comment applicable to all judges, high or low:
“The case is one of many that I have decided over my time as a judge,” Sir Martin said. “I have been a judge for over 20 years and, particularly in the Court of Appeal, one deals with an enormous range of work, much of which involves local government or central government. One simply reaches the conclusion that you think is right, applying the law as you see it, and that is the work of a judge. You can’t pretend to get every case right, at least in the eyes of the Supreme Court.” And perish the thought, even the Supreme Court gets it wrong from time to time.
No jurisdiction this side of the pearly gates can guarantee that judges are going to get it right all the time, indeed, it’s absurd to even think so. When I first started out at the Bar in 1974, instances of judges getting it wrong were legion. Less so today, where judicial appointments are rigorously vetted, to ensure if possible that the right candidates get the nod.
Those of you who know and love me will know that many years ago, I was considered unsuitable for judicial office because some minion thought I was intemperate. Me! Intemperate! Outrageous!
In his judgment to come on the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire, I doubt if Sir Martin will be all things to all people, and my advice to him is to drop the chair like a hot brick. I suspect he is too much of a professional to do so, in which case he deserves our thanks, or at least the thanks of decent fair minded people, but there will be elements who will seek to undermine him and to question his every decision.
Back to Judge Block. He got it horribly wrong when he sentenced Mick Jagger, but getting it horribly wrong doesn’t, or shouldn’t, disqualify him from judicial office. We hope he learned from his mistake, and moved on.
Judges have an unenviable task, underpaid and overworked, and a knighthood is poor recompense. Time to show some gratitude, and time to support them in the difficult tasks ahead without constantly carping and belittling them.
Judges are the ultimate bastion of our democracy.