Monday, February 18, 2008

Retired sheriff takes humorous swipe at regulation as judiciary fights reforms

Nothing like a spot of sour grapes to keep the day afloat for some ...

The Scotsman reports :

Proposed judicial complaints body prompts lighter look at possibilities


Ian C Simpson QC, a retired sheriff, takes a humourous look at what could happen with proposals to reform the complaints procedure against jugdes.



IT HAS been a challenging but stimulating first year for your board, set up to investigate complaints against judges and sheriffs. Our early relocation to Auchenshoogle proved to be a mixed blessing. While Auchenshoogle Castle is a spectacular setting for a workplace environment, the need to install appropriate, fit for purpose, office equipment led to unfortunate tension with Historic Scotland.

Acutely aware of the imperative to fully use our budget by year-end if we wanted the same allocation next year, we went ahead with the changes that were vitally necessary – open-plan space, fluorescent lighting throughout, cables for computers, male and female toilets for staff and the public, disabled facilities, status-appropriate space for board members and senior staff with carpets and furniture to match.

All this seemed more important than retaining inappropriate relics of feudalism, the Great Hall, the hole for pouring boiling oil on intruders, dungeons, and the like. It has, unfortunately, been necessary to set aside a contingency fund to cover the costs involved in our defence as we have been charged with a number of breaches of the planning legislation. We do not comment on this as it is sub judice, and, in the same spirit, we are holding as pending the 67 complaints we have uncovered against the local sheriff, Sheriff McTavish.

The relocation has been only partially successful in bringing employment to this remote area. We have attracted one local employee, and he on condition that he is not required to wear a commissionaire's uniform as he stands at the castle gates.

For the rest of our loyal, re-located employees we are actively addressing the issue of overcharging by local bed and breakfast establishments.

Our publication, A Guide for Girners, has been freely available in every court and we have received 2,609 complaints against judges and sheriffs. The complainers divide by class, gender and age along predictable lines. When number-crunching postcodes, we were surprised to find disproportionate numbers of complaints from the Riddrie area of Glasgow and the Longstone area of Edinburgh. Further consultation with appropriate agencies revealed that a large prison is situated in each location.

One statistic stood out: 2,590 complaints came from those who were case-losers; one came from a case winner.

The lady in question had been awarded a residence order in respect of her five children, described by the local social work department as "hyperactive and irredeemably feral".

The rest of the complaints relate to delays in issuing judgements, but our heavy workload has thus far prevented us from dealing with those.

Most of the complaints could be categorised as "sour grapes". We found some substance in a series of complaints that a High Court judge grinned broadly while sentencing, the longer the sentence, the broader the grin. His Lordship informed us that at moments of stress he suffered from trapped wind and the perceived grin was really a grimace. We dismissed the complaints against him, with a recommendation that he should take a couple of antacid pills before sentencing.

Great challenges lie ahead. Next year we hope to start investigating judges of the past. Lord Braxfield is reputed to have told one accused: "Y'er a very clever chiel, man, but ye wad be nane the waur o' a hanging." A suitable case for us, I feel sure.

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