Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2007
RT HON SIR IGOR JUDGE, MR MIKE WICKSTEED AND MR PETER
It is not a separate, free-standing organisation.
Mr Wicksteed: No, and I do not think Peter would
want it to be.
Q221 Lord Rowlands:
Lord Mackay in his evidence said to us "if a person was sufficiently
fit to be a judge of the bench in England and Wales he or she
should have sufficient judgment to know when they should speak
and when they should be silent in matters with the media".
Does the creation of your office say that is not quite the case,
it needs backing up or supporting or what?
Mr Farr: On that one, if I may lead, it is not
always the case that a judge is conscious that they are speaking
to the media; sometimes they are making sentencing remarks and
so forth and it is picked up by the media and becomes a story,
and in those situations, particularly where they are not expecting
to be prominently featured, they are very appreciative of the
support that we are sometimes able to give them. It is not always
the case that the judge is aware that they are going to become
Sir Igor Judge: If I may say so, the provision
is not of a spokesman. For example, if there is a sentencing decision
which looks as though it is going to hit the headlines, it is
very useful for the press office to be supplied with every single
thing that the judge has said from the start of his sentencing
remarks to the end of them, so that if some editor is choosing
to pick out one phrase, at least the reporter can be provided
with the full story so that the phrase can be put in context.
That may or may not affect the way in which the case is reported,
but that is an example of the value of having a press office.
Q222 Baroness O'Cathain:
May I go back to something Mr Farr has just said in response to
Lord Rowlands' question? Obviously, I read through all the information
and thank you very much for giving us this, it has been very good
information and the website is terrific by the way.
Mr Wicksteed: Thank you.
Q223 Baroness O'Cathain:
In the bit about media support in this little booklet you say
"We are always grateful to hear of judges involved in things
that might interest the media, e.g. speeches, articles, or who
have views on media coverage." That indicates to me that
they could be getting very close to becoming part of the media
circus, if they get in touch with you to say "There is an
interesting point here, why not actually explore this in the media?"
Would that happen?
Mr Farr: If I may, I do not think that is so
much the issue, their awareness is that they are operating in
a very public arena, there is a lot of interest, there is likely
to be coverage of a particular case that they are hearing and
they are therefore conscious of everything they say being gone
over with a fine toothcomb. They want to flag up where there is
a fact that the media are interested and so, for example, we regularly
send out judgments and summaries of judgments on behalf of the
judges because we know there is a media interest in them and,
of course, if they have the full wording of the judgment or the
sentencing remarks there is a much better prospect of the media
being able to report it accurately and fairly.
Q224 Baroness O'Cathain:
I see, so you are there as a service to them so they do not actually
put their foot in it.
Mr Farr: I would not put it like that myself.
Q225 Baroness O'Cathain:
Sir Igor Judge: Because if we were going to
put our foot in it we would put our feet in it, I am afraid. For
example, if a judge is going to make a public speech then the
sensible thing is for the press office to have it and then there
is no argument, but I do not invite Peter or Mike to look at the
speech I am going to make and say, "how will this go down
with any particular element of the media?"
Q226 Baroness O'Cathain:
It is just giving it as a fait accompli, this is the speech I
am going to make, and you could not say there is a complete howler
there, do not do it.
Sir Igor Judge: I would be pretty horrified,
but on the other hand if there was a real howler I would not mind
somebody just raising a little red flag.
Baroness O'Cathain: Thank you.
Mr Wicksteed, would part of your communications brief be to make
judges in general and particular judges more human, more media-friendly,
are you looking for human interest stories that such and such
a judge played the organ for eight hours in his village church
for charity? Are you trying to get human interest stories out
Mr Wicksteed: The quick answer to that is no,
not at this stage of the game. We are a new office, this is a
new concept really for the judiciary and it is really part of
a culture change, as is the whole Constitutional Reform Act, and
we are part of that culture change. It will take a long time for
it to bed down, but in the meanrtime what we are here to do is
to make sure that the work that they do in court is well and accurately
reported broadly speaking.
Sir Igor Judge: I must say, if I may, "no,
not ever" would be my answer to the question as to whether
they really should be saying Mr Justice X is particularly good
as a tenor in the local village choir. I really do not think that
is what Mike or Peter's job is.
Just a supplementary and then I will bring Lord Rowlands in; is
it part of your practice to put the senior judiciary through media
Mr Wicksteed: We have provided media training
for those who are going to be interviewed by reporters for those
who want it, but it is not a regular practice, we do not have
regular sessions, and that is a service that I think we should
be in a position to provide them with because giving an interview
to a national newspaper can be quite a complicated thing sometimes,
especially if you are not used to dealing with journalists at
Is that "prepping" a judge for a specific interview
or is it generic training?
Mr Wicksteed: It tends to be generic. What we
did produce, and I have brought copies with us if you would like
to look at them laterin LCD was a booklet called The
Media: A Guide for Judges and that gave quite a lot of information
on how judges could interact with the media; it was put out to
all judges serving at the time and passed out to newly appointed
judges. That is what that Ryman's bag is, and I will pass it up
to you later. It is very, very generic in terms of the information
we give out.
Chairman: Thank you very much; we will
look at that with interest. Lord Morris.
Q230 Lord Morris of Aberavon:
I am very interested in the comments made regarding the service
of providing, where required, the full wording of a judgment at
the request of the press. Could you give some rough indication
what proportion of the press office's work that is; it would seem
to me to be very important to get the odd expression which may
be not quite fortunate into its right perspective. As Sir Igor
said, once the words are uttered it is impossible to reclaim themI
think that comes from Virgil, but never mind.
Mr Farr: I would not like to put it in percentage
terms, but it is certainly a reasonable proportion of the time.
We are constantly looking ahead to what cases are coming up and
whether we can provide material for the media on the cases, but
of course a lot of the time is spent in dealing with enquiries
both from journalists and from the media themselves, and preparing
for announcements and speeches and other matters in due course.
A fair proportion of our time, therefore, is preparing and so
Perhaps, Sir Igor, I could ask you something which is very topical
in the Committee's mind which is that you yourself are a very
senior judge with wide experience. I wonder if you would be prepared
to characterise your reaction or that of any of your colleagues
to the recent statement from the Home Secretary, which was issued
together with the Attorney-General, which ostensibly was a clarification
of sentencing guidelines, but in relation to the overcrowding
of prisons. I can see that that might be innocently interpreted
as a reminder of the status quo, which was basically the gloss
that was put on it subsequently, or it might have been seen as
a tap on the shoulder saying watch out, the prisons are very overcrowded
so be sure to follow the guidelines very closely, please. I just
wondered whether it was seen as a steer or a reminder by you and
Sir Igor Judge: There is a certain amount of
misunderstanding about the sequence of events. The Home Secretary,
the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General in the National Criminal
Justice Board, of which I am a member, produced a statement relating
to the overcrowding of prisons. I showed that statement to the
senior presiding judge, Lord Justice Levison; he took the view,
in the exercise of his function, that that was an appropriate
statement for him to send out to judges. It was not sent out by
any minister, nor was any minister asking Lord Justice Levison
to have it sent out. He sent it out saying this is in effect the
information that has been given to the National Criminal Justice
Board, and then Lord Phillips issued a further statement. I myself
never saw that statement as an attempt to impinge on the way in
which judges should approach sentencing. The issue of overcrowding
in prisons is one which we have addressed and was addressed last
week in a judgment that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Latham
and I gave. There has been a certain amount of uncertainty, I
think is the way to put it, about the way in which those events
I am grateful to you because you are clearly in a position to
know what the facts are and that is very helpful to the Committee,
but can I just be absolutely clear, there was no question of these
very senior ministers saying we would be grateful if this could
be passed on to all the judges.
Sir Igor Judge: I am a member of the National
Criminal Justice Board so they will have known that I will have
got it and I saw it. I decided to pass it on; I think they would
have assumed that I would have passed it on but I decided that
I should pass it on and it was not for them to tell me whether
to do so or not, and then it was for Lord Justice Levison to decide
whether or not it was something that he thought it appropriate
to have circulated to judges, and he did.
It is very helpful to have that. What do you think the effect
was on the recipients in this perfectly proper way as you describe
it? Maybe you know what the reaction was.
Sir Igor Judge: I do not know what they all
thought, but by the time 24 hours had gone by it would have been
very difficult for anybody to know what the actual facts were.
Certainly those who thought that the Home Secretary was seeking
to influence their sentencing decisions would have been absolutely
outraged; that is not something that judges are prepared to stomach,
and so if there were misunderstandings, there were. But the facts
are as I have given them to you. I think the judges now understand
the sequence of events because they will have had their letter
from Lord Justice Levison saying this is the statement prepared
by the NCJB. I should add that we are very worried about overcrowding
in prisons; it is an issue which troubles judges.
To get it right, these very senior ministers could reasonably
have assumed that you would see that it was passed on, that would
have been a reasonable assumption on their part.
Sir Igor Judge: That would have been a reasonable
assumption; I would have been failing in my duty if I had not
passed it on.
Chairman: Good, thank you very much.
Perhaps we can move on. Baroness O'Cathain.
Q235 Baroness O'Cathain:
Thank you. The DCA website says that your organisation was drawn
up "to enhance public confidence in judicial office holders
in England and Wales". Although it has only been going for
a short period of time, do you have any evidence that it is actually
achieving great success or just modest success or no success at
Sir Igor Judge: If you are asking me, the ambition
is rather a large and wide one. Enhancing public confidence is
a most difficult concept and it is particularly difficult, if
I may say so, for judges who actually are not in the business
of trying to sell themselves to anyone. If our judgments do not
speak for themselves there is nothing that the Communications
Office or the press office can do. There are much deeper problems
about the way in which our judgments are reported, about public
attitudes to judges based on the way our cases are reported, so
my answer to your question is I am very troubled about the target.
As to whether it is being achieved or not, I do not know how you
tell but there are various statistics which show that the public
tends to trust judges rather more than it trusts, shall we say
for the sake of argument, politicians.
Q236 Baroness O'Cathain:
That would not be terribly difficult.
Sir Igor Judge: Mike Wicksteed might be in a
better position to add to that.
Q237 Baroness O'Cathain:
Have you had surveys done or do you intend having a survey done?
Mr Wicksteed: At this stage of the game, no,
we do not. The concept of enhancement sort of indicates that there
is a problem. To my way of thinking there is not a problem and
I have attached to the material that I provided Committee members
a couple of surveys that were conducted last year, one from YouGov
and one from Mori. Those show that the judiciary are third in
both cases in terms of, broadly speaking, public trust. We do
not take credit for that and as you can see from the Mori poll
that has been the case now for many years; I think it goes back
as far as 1983. The terminology may not be quite right, but our
objective is more than the public-facing confidence in the judiciary,
our objective also contains a requirement to support internal
communication with the judiciary. That is extremely important,
that the Lord Chief Justice and the senior judiciary can get messages
down to judges, magistrates and tribunals of the judiciary.
Q238 Baroness O'Cathain:
Does that mean that the Lord Chief Justice is going to spend even
more time doing what in effect is media relations?
Mr Wicksteed: No, I do not think so.
Q239 Baroness O'Cathain:
Or preparing for media relations.
Mr Wicksteed: No.