NEWS: The judiciary needs to explain itself to the public and media

What can the PR industry do for judges? I ask because the judiciary, from Lord Chief Justice downwards, keeps sentencing itself to public odium even though I have four times over the past 18 months tried to help it arrest its slide down the league table of public esteem. Have I got it wrong?

What can the PR industry do for judges? I ask because the judiciary,

from Lord Chief Justice downwards, keeps sentencing itself to public

odium even though I have four times over the past 18 months tried to

help it arrest its slide down the league table of public esteem. Have I

got it wrong?



In appealing to the higher court of the PR industry, you should perhaps

know that I have never been accused before any court and always seek to

uphold the law. I have, however, frequently criticised Lord Chief

Justice Taylor for whitewashing the fans who caused the Hillsborough

soccer disaster, which he investigated, and castigating the police

instead.



This evidence of my law-abiding independence may explain why - months

before I found Sir Richard Scott’s recent report into our trade with

Iraq a greater indictment of the judiciary’s faults than the

Government’s - I was asked to speak at conferences of stipendiary

magistrates, recorders or judges on managing the media.



My case can be summarised in a sentence: you won’t improve your image

unless you improve your product and its presentation. I argued that the

public - and the media which reflect its attitudes - think that judges

are too lenient. They should therefore anticipate sentences likely to be

thought too soft with a proper explanation, ideally on paper, so

reporters have no excuse for failing to understand their argument. If

the press ignored or distorted it, they should pursue editors. They were

entitled to a fair hearing.



My line was generally supported by Richard Ferguson QC, chairman of the

Criminal Bar Association. But I know of only one judge who has written

to a newspaper to explain his decision - after it caused a fuss. The

judiciary seems pretty supine in the face of provocation.



The problem is made worse by the activities of the more senior judges.

Lord Chief Justice Taylor is entitled to argue, as he did last week,

that mandatory life sentences for those convicted a second time for

serious violent or sexual offences or minimum sentences for burglars and

drug dealers would be neither just nor work. But he would carry greater

conviction if the public did not feel that we have a wet bench which is

getting above itself.



It is not the function of judges to tell governments how to run the

country. Yet Sir Richard Scott did just that in arguing across 1,800

pages for more open government. And judge after judge, in finding

against the Government’s administration of policy, gives the impression,

rightly or wrongly, that he thinks its policies are wrong. Hence my PR

advice to judges: improve your product. And stick to law. Policy is for

ministers who have taken the trouble to secure election. Is this good

advice or not?



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.