Can you hold a judge to account?

Posted on 18/12/2013

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The wheels of government turn pretty slowly. And never more slowly when trying to hold a judge to account it would seem.

On the 26th December 2012 I wrote to the Ministry of Justice complaining about the conduct of one  Justice Coleridge:

I would like to make an official complaint about the comments of Sir Paul Coleridge and his objection to equal marriage, which clearly prevent him from being able to serve as a fair and impartial judge.

On 30th November, the Lord Chancellor and the President of the Queen’s Bench Division (on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice) ruled that Sir Paul Coleridge’s involvement with the Marriage Foundation was not incompatible with his judicial responsibilities and therefore did not amount to judicial misconduct.

This is fair: while the Marriage Foundation has, rather oddly, refused to speak out in favour of extending the freedom to marry to *all* couples, mixed-sex and same-sex, the Foundation hasn’t explicitly come out against equal marriage either.

However, Sir Paul Coleridge was to be a keynote speaker at a homophobic event to be held on 23rd May 2012, set up by the World Congress of Families (US) in partnership with Christian Concern (UK), which was explicitly against lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying, and which the Law Society did not permit to be held at their London HQ because it included no speakers and no panels to discuss the benefits of same-sex marriage. This distinctly suggested that Sir Paul Coleridge’s promotion of the Marriage Foundation was strongly linked with the Foundation’s refusal to support equal marriage.

I note that in the 30th November OJC statement “Mr Justice Coleridge has agreed that a lower profile role within the organisation would be more appropriate for a serving judicial office holder.”

The front page of the Times for 26th December opens with the headline “Judge joins Church attack on gay marriage ‘shambles'”.

It would appear that Sir Paul Coleridge does not intend to take a “lower profile role” within the organisation, and that the Marriage Foundation will not support equal marriage at all.

I ask you to re-open investigation into the conduct of Sir Paul Coleridge. A High Court judge should not be publicly stating he considers some families inferior to others and deserving of legal discrimination.

Go me. That was pretty eloquent for someone who was hungover after a Christmas Day spent revelling with gay relatives.

Today – almost a year later – the Ministry of Justice replied. They said:

I am writing on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice to inform you of their decision on your complaint about Mr Justice Coleridge.

The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have considered the details of your complaint, the comments from Mr Justice Coleridge and the advice of the Nominated Judge. They have also considered the informal advice given to Mr Justice Coleridge last year. They have concluded that Mr Justice Coleridge’s decision to participate in an article for the Times Newspaper on 26 December 2012 and a later article in the Telegraph Newspaper on 24 July 2013 amounted to judicial misconduct. They have issued Mr Justice Coleridge with a formal warning.  A note of this sanction will be recorded on Mr Justice Coleridge’s personal file and may be referred to in any future conduct matters.

Well that’s OK then. The fact that a judge who is openly prejudical against gay people is still allowed to sit on the bench is apparently fine by the Ministry of Justice.

That the reprimand only midly chastised the judge for “participating” in an article for the Times, rather than the substance of the complaint only makes it worse.

But, it was enough to anger Justice Coleridge who has now decided to quit the bench because of the lack of support from the Ministry of Justice. Worryingly, he claims in the Telegraph that other judges actually back his stance:

I would like to refute the erroneous suggestion that my fellow judges are opposed to what I have been doing. With one or two exceptions they have been very, if quietly, supportive.

So while one judge may have been caught out and given a slapped wrist, there could be many more who will continue to oppose equal marriage.

Whatever you make of the leaders of this country, at least they can be held to account. Good luck doing the same with a judge.

Posted in: homophobia, politics