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Judges have been misjudged

By River Reporter Nov 24, 2011

By Lisa Schink

After seven years of research, a Kingston academic has published a book suggesting that the ‘pompous crusty old man’ reputation judges have is far from true.

Dr Penny Darbyshire was given unprecedented access to every tier of the British judiciary, sometimes even staying as a guest in judges’ homes.

She concluded that judges were certainly more ordinary than their stereotype.

Dr Darbyshire, who has been teaching at the KU law school since 1978, said: “The media tends to perpetuate this stereotype of judges by the way they report some of the daft things they occasionally say. But I know from work-shadowing and meeting literally hundreds of judges that they’re actually hard-working and much more ordinary than the stereotype. Their hobbies include such things as gardening or walking and the main topic of conversation in judges’ dining rooms is football.”

During her research, she interviewed 33 judges and shadowed another 40 closely at their work in courtrooms while deliberations were made at the Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court. In order better to understand how judges they think, she travelled with High Court judges and stayed with them at their lodgings.

She said: “Judges are far more in touch with issues of society than ‘ordinary people’. Because they see all of human life paraded before them in court, they have a really acute awareness of social problems.

“They see photos of bodies kicked to death in crack houses or beaten babies in maggoty cots. But they perceive themselves as trying to make the world better and help in people’s lives by making the right decisions.”

The book Sitting in Judgement: The Working Lives of Judges was launched in October at a special reception at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which was attended by many members of the judiciary, including the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. “

This research reveals the practical day to day realities, not the myths nor the theories nor the misconceptions,” the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said.

“It tells us a great deal about the stresses and strains of judicial life and provides penetrating insights into the attitudes of judges, to their responsibilities and the way in which they approach them,” he added.

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