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The Cherie Booth sentencing remarks had the makings of a great “Bad Law” news story.
These are stories which usually present a legal issue in a way which suggests the law is either being misused or misrepresented. Here, the potential greatness of the story lay in just how it confirmed various prejudices about her: that she would abuse her position as a judge to discriminate in favour of someone religious.
Instead of finding that she had abused her position, I was able to show – using publicly and easily available materials – that the sentence was within guidelines and was indeed perhaps at the harsher end of the applicable scale.
It was an exercise which took me a few minutes. It was astonishing that others didn’t do this, and chose the alternative of writing “venting” and “flaming” comments about Miss Booth.
But one doesn’t need a legal qualification to look at CPS guidance or the sentencing guidelines. One just needs a willingness to want to be better informed before forming a strong opinion.
There was perhaps a legitimate question as to why she made the comments on sentencing in the first place.
But many judges make trite admonishments when handing down sentence; anyone is free to go into a Crown Court or Magistrates’s Court and cringe at hearing them.
But on the far more serious allegation against a judge (even a part-time one), that of discrimination, there was simply no evidence of partial treatment.
And all this could be established in minutes.
However, the National Secular Society and others chose not to work it out for themselves and required the taxpayer to do it for them. So they complained to the Office for Judicial Complaints.
And unsurprisingly, some five months later, the OJC has found that there is no evidence of improper conduct.
I am myself a secularist, and I am hostile to New Labour; but neither of these things should mean that one should fall for a “Bad Law” story, still less become outraged and demand regulatory intervention.
When presented with any “Bad Law” story, the first step is straightforward: look at the relevant available materials.
If it appears there is a misuse of law rather than a misrepresentation, then that is the moment to complain or to campaign.