Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 26/09/11

Contempt? Yes, And Quite Right Too ***Now Updated***

I'm sorry that I keep returning to this subject, but what the fuck is the matter with the English judiciary? Have you seen a group of people so far up themselves in this country these days?

It emerged today that a young man was sent to prison last Friday for a particularly heinous offence.

He took a picture of the inside of a courtroom with his phone.

Off with his head!

This happened at Luton Crown Court. The judge, one Barbara Mensah, was outraged at such a wanton breach of etiquette, and sentenced nineteen-year-old Paul Thompson of that town to two months in the slammer.

Yes, at a time when our prisons are already overflowing - largely as a result of judicial activism - she put someone in the jug for between three and eight weeks for taking a fucking photograph!

This little tyrant in knickers wittered, "This is a serious offence!"

Oh, get over yourself, dearie! He took a picture. Got that? A picture. No-one was robbed, no-one hurt or killed. He took a picture.

And you may have just cost him his home; his job (if he had one) or the prospect of one (if he hadn't) from having done time and having a conviction he will have to declare on all job applications for the next ten years; you could also have caused the death of his puppy; and you have just cost Us, The Hard-Working Taxpayer™, between 2300 and 6700 to keep this dangerous criminal mastermind locked up. Well bloody done!

Can we please have all candidates for the judiciary, at whatever level, forced to have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids the words, "Prison is only for people who are a danger to the public!"?

I suppose all we would get as a 'defence' of this disproportion is a lot of old cack about "the dignity of The Court" or "the majesty of The Law". The truth is that courts are there to serve a particular utility in a society - that of deciding on issues of criminal and civil law. They are not there as some sort of temples of Kabbalistic mystery where secret rites are conducted which are beyond the comprehension of the know-nothings (although this may be a point of debate). They are certainly not there so that upper-middle-class shysters who have been promoted above their conception of reality can dive into the dressing-up box and emerge looking like shabby penguins in order for them to display for the groundlings their total divorce from any sense of reality.

What strange metamorphosis comes over people when they are appointed to the judiciary in this happy land? We can see that the most egregious abuses of basic due process and proportionality in recent weeks have been carried out not by the lay magistracy but by so-called 'District Judges'. These used to be called 'Stipendiary Magistrates' until - in an equivalent to 'grade inflation' - some New Labour booby decided to give them a fancier title. They now seem to think that this makes them real judges, and that this entitles them to behave with the worst excesses of the professional judiciary (wrong sort of Facebook page? That'll be four years, please).

Or perhaps the job actually attracts unsuitable people, rather like prison officers, many of whom - I'm reliably informed - took the job because they wanted to be paid for wearing a uniform and being nasty to people, but didn't have the numeracy skills to become car-park attendants. There certainly seems to be a proportion of the judgery who appear to have graduated summa cum laude from some sort of School of Applied Sadism, and who get off in some way from the power they wield and - more significantly - from they way that they are allowed to wield it.

That this has taken place at a time when the man who currently has the job of doing Prime Minister impressions has drooled that he wants to see cameras brought into the courts - just so that the plebs can have someone else to turn their officially-approved hate upon - is so ironic that you could pick it up with a magnet from a distance of several hundred yards.

As for contempt, nothing is more likely to induce it with regards to the legal and judicial systems of a country than to see those administering them wilfully and - it seems all too often - gleefully abusing the powers that we entrust to them.

Postscript: The thought has just occurred to me that, with Legal Aid now being cut further and further back, thus denying access to justice to more and more people on low and average incomes, we are seeing the commodification of the whole justice system. It's perfectly analogous to Premiership football: fewer and fewer people can afford to attend a game, but everyone will be encouraged to watch the edited highlights later that evening.

Update: I don't usually revisit old stuff, but I think it right that I should refer you to this New Statesman piece by lawyer and author David Allen Green, in which he points out that Thompson had behaved in a disruptive and prickish manner throughout the hearing.

I don't think that this necessarily invalidates my central point, however, which is to decry the gleeful ease with which the judiciary routinely put people in prison for offences which could be dealt with more than adequately in more constructive (or, at least, less destructive) and less expensive ways.