Short Book of Bad Judges

Short Book of Bad Judges
Short Book of Bad Judges
Williams, G
Wildy Simmonds & Hill Publishing

As Graeme Williams states ‘readers of John Milton and Beatrix Potter will know, reading about bad characters tends to be much more fun than reading about good ones. I confess to thinking that Paradise Lost and the Tales of Mr Tod, and of Two Bad Mice are all more entertaining to read than Paradise Regained or the Flopsy Bunnies and I have found that the same is true about writing about judges'.

While there are plenty of books about Good English Judges: indeed their ‘goodness’ may well have been one of their authors’ main reasons for writing them, there is as yet no book specifically about Bad Judges in this country, though there are quite a few in the United States.

No doubt there are a number of reasons for this: the law of libel, within its limits, protects the living, and the old maxim ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum’ may protect the dead, at least for a decent interval ‘post mortem’.

In recent times there have been fewer Bad Judges than in the past, even though there are now more judges, at every level, than there were fifty years ago. The position today is no doubt the result of our modern, and on the whole very sensible and worthwhile practice, of appointing ‘new’ permanent judges only after they have attended judicial training, have sat as a judge in a part-time, temporary judicial post before appointment, and have performed in that capacity well enough to justify long-term judicial office.

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An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers

It is a rare pleasure to come across a book about judicial matters -- in this case judges -- which is (a) short and (b) thoroughly entertaining, erudite and a rattling good read. ‘A Short Book of Bad Judges’ by Graeme Williams QC displays these attributes in plenty and is to be highly recommended, especially to members of the Bar who have had to bear the brunt of rudeness --although not necessarily ‘badness’ -- from the Bench all too often.

“Badness” is not a word we are that familiar with, but in the context of this engaging book from Wildy, Simmonds & Hill, it’s certainly appropriate. ‘There are plenty of books about good English Judges,’ remarks the author who is experienced in these matters, “so far as I or Google know.’ ‘As yet,’ he adds, ‘there is no book specifically about Bad Judges in this country, though there are quite a few in the United States.’ (Bigger country; more judges and all that -- and elected too!)

So evidently this book has boldly gone where no other book has gone before, at least not in the UK -- and it is perhaps a good sign that this compendium of anecdotes about the antics of ‘bad judges’ over the last 150 years or so, is so short, although, as the author warns, it is by no means complete. However, one can at least infer from this that ‘bad judges’ have mercifully been in the minority.

What the book does reveal though, is the havoc that can be wreaked by a few bad apples. One example (and not the worst example by any means) was the well known case of Lady Ida Sitwell, mother of Edith, Osbert and Sacheveral, on who was passed a sentence of imprisonment by Lord Darling ‘when she was clearly the victim and not the perpetrator of a fraud.’

The portrait of this ‘Mr Charles Darling QC MP 1860, When Still at the Bar’…’ looking snooty’ says the author -- is one of the numerous illustrative portraits of ‘bad judges’ reproduced in the book. Similarly the ‘badness’ of this rogue’s gallery of bad judges -- nine men and one woman -- is illustrated throughout.

Reading though the text, one can discern arrogance, impatience, discourtesy as their defining or perhaps typical characteristics. But crucially one element is missing, says the author, and that is corruption and for this, he remarks, one should be thankful. Public confidence in the judiciary, he concludes, is essential to democracy and warns that ‘the price of good justice is eternal vigilance’.

With its wealth of anecdote, sometimes controversial opinions and startling revelations, this book does achieve that elusive un-put-downable quality for which all authors strive. One of its beauties is that it can be read in one sitting. Read it on a rainy day and you will be both enlightened and charmed.