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Judiciary watchdog sees complaints rise by 20% in first year of new discipline regime

The annual report issued by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has seen the number of complaints made against judicial office holders rise by 20% last year, with those concerning the High Court rising 88%.

A total of 2,432 complaints against the judiciary, magistrates, coroners and tribunals were received in the year to the 31 March 2015, a marked increase on the previous year’s figure of 2,018.

The number of office holders removed from their posts also increased from 17 to 32 and of these, 19 were magistrates, eight were tribunal judges and five were judges. Reasons for removal included not fulfilling their judicial duties (15); inappropriate behaviour or comments (nine); as a result of civil proceedings or criminal convictions (two); misuse of judicial status (one); professional conduct (four); miscellaneous (one).

The highest number of complaints were levied against the District Bench with 971, up 49%; while High Court received 152, up 88% and the Court of Appeal received 83% more with 55.

In addition, against office holders as a whole, 16 reprimands were issued and a further 26 holders received formal advice or a warning. One judicial office holder was suspended and there were 15 resignations during the course of disciplinary proceedings.

The JCIO report incorporates the first full year operating under the new rules and regulations governing judicial discipline that were introduced in October 2013.

High profile work by the body includes last year when it dismissed complaints against Peter Thornton QC, a senior circuit judge at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey), after claims in the Mail on Sunday, repeated by other media outlets, that the judge was an ‘apologist’ for paedophiles because of an article he wrote in 1982 in the National Council for Civil Liberties magazine. All complaints were dismissed by the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor in October 2014.

Commenting on the results, JCIO head Judith Anckorn said: ‘During the period covered by this report there were approximately 3,553 members of the full and part-time judiciary, approximately 19,360 magistrates and 6,226 tribunal members. In total, 75 cases resulted in formal disciplinary action, 17 more than reported in our last annual report. Disciplinary sanctions were issued to less than 0.2% of judicial office holders.’