In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

A Common Case

For judges and magistrates, the principle of impartiality is all. It is necessary, to the best of human ability, for those who judge court cases to interprets laws to a common standard, and not be perturbed by their personal feelings and prejudices. This is because a defendant must be trialled against the laws of the legislature, and not the beliefs of individual judges. Their duty is to apply the law, not their own values. This impartiality is the crux of our judiciary system, separating the creation and amendment of laws from their administration.

Yvonne Davies was a Justice of the Peace at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court, but chose to resign after a reprimand from the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC). Mrs Davies decided to address defendant Christopher Duncan about the death of her brother, who had used cannabis and also suffered from epilepsy, schizophrenia and depression. In court, Mrs Davies stated:

That was a horrendous time for the family. Cannabis is serious. It puddles the brain apart from anything else. You’ve got to stop using it, so jack it in.

Following four complaints, including one from cannabis legalisation campaigner Peter Reynolds, the OJC launched an investigation into Mrs Davies’ court conduct – the expression of her “personal views” – concluding:

The investigation found the views expressed in court were inappropriate. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice agreed and concluded that her combined actions fell below the standard of behaviour expected of a magistrate and have issued Mrs Davis with a reprimand.

Discounting Complaints

Rather petulantly, the former JP said it was “astounding that the views of a pro-cannabis campaigner were used to build a case against me. As far as I am aware, cannabis is still very much illegal in Britain”. Cannabis is illegal, but wishing to change the legal status of cannabis does not automatically discount Mr Reynolds’ complaint.

Are any dangers connected to cannabis sufficient to justify weakening the impartiality of our courts? (Photo: Reuters)

Are any dangers connected to cannabis sufficient to justify weakening the impartiality of our courts? (Photo: Reuters)

Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday column decided to focus on these events, declaring them part of the “Great Cannabis Con”. Mr Hitchens states Mrs Davies was “enforcing the law as it is written down, trying to do a bit of good by sharing her own grief”. By introducing “her own grief”, Mrs Davies was undermining the court, leading to questions of its impartiality. This impartiality should be vigorously defended, and it is not “a bit of good” to weaken it.

Ultimately, the views of Mrs Davies and any dangers of cannabis were irrelevant to the inquiry into Mrs Davies’ conduct. If Mrs Davies wishes to “hold the line against this evil”, which Mr Hitchens says deserves “praise”, then the correct place for this activism is not on a magistrates’ bench, but campaigning on the streets and in open forums.

Mr Hitchens and other commentators have portrayed the common case of Mrs Davies as part of a great acquiescence to cannabis and other drugs, but it was a simple matter of court misconduct. Instead of signifying a systematic weakening or “revolution”, the reprimand is a sign of strength in our courts.

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9 comments on “A Common Case

  1. handytrim
    July 1, 2013

    Is it of any surprise to find Peter Hitchens trying to champion prejudiced views and opinions disguised as facts, he’s based a career on doing just that working for an outlet that positively encourages publishing lies, propaganda and sensationalism. Maybe Mrs Davies should consider a stint as a tabloid ‘journalist’. I hear The Sunday Sport is always on the lookout for the more creative types.

    • Anthony Masters
      July 1, 2013

      I judge commentators based on their content, rather than their platform. I was surprised that Mr Hitchens believed that the principle of impartiality was worth puncturing in this case. I am unsure if Mrs Davies will take up campaigning in the future, but it’s certainly right that she is not doing so from the magistrates’ bench.

  2. Maharg Smith
    July 1, 2013

    Three former magistrates and The leader of a registered Political Party make a complaint.The complaint is found to be valid and an appropriate rebuke is issued.
    Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens accuses these four complainants of “attacking” the now former magistrate for “upholding the law” and then goes on to completely trash not a single judge or a single magistrate but the whole Judiciary form Chris Grayling down branding them as liars.He then goes on TV advocating the death sentence which would presumably would need to passed by the very same liars.
    Who would employ such a man? Well the Daily Mail would.

    • Anthony Masters
      July 1, 2013

      I do find it odd that commentators such as Mr Hitchens have chosen to focus on the identity of one complainant out of four, rather than the other three. Unlike Mrs Davies, I do not believe that the complainant’s identity invalidates their complaint. Even if there is some judiciary-wide conspiracy against the cannabis laws, this episode is not evidence of that.
      I believe you are referring to Mr Hitchens’ ‘The War We Never Fought’, which I can attest that it was printed, as I own it. I’ve yet to read it, as I’m currently reading Nate Silver’s book. Here is the Amazon link if you wish to purchase it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-War-Never-Fought-Establishments/dp/1441173315

      • Maharg Smith
        July 1, 2013

        I stand corrected could you please delete my mistake,
        Also worthy of note is Hitchens boast that he had beaten Reynolds in a debate.The truth of this is that there has been a few debates between these two and he has only won one

      • Anthony Masters
        July 1, 2013

        I have done so. That’s certainly interesting, I do wonder if a record of these debates and their results are kept in one place somewhere.

  3. Maharg Smith
    July 1, 2013

    Peter Reynolds has all the dates and details…peter@peter-reynolds.co.uk.
    Given Hitchens long history of losing this victory,if it can be called that,did seem a little incongruous perhaps his co-speaker was a particularly gifted orator?

    • Maharg Smith
      July 2, 2013

      I think that the print run was 40. Amazon are showing three left and 22 sold books now back on sale used.The book is a dismal flop and here is the PH reason why.

      ” I have many times tried, though my recent detailed and carefully researched book on the subject was ignored or crudely smeared in most of the media.”

      Richard Branson and George Soros have both spoken out about the harms of prohibition and PH sees this view which they are perfectly entitled to hold as some kind of a “conspiracy”.I suspect that the used copies will remain on the shelves for some time to come and I dont know if it was actually “printed” or if he found someone who he paid to print it like having work included in a book of poems for a price.Fifty shades of Grey it is not.

      • Anthony Masters
        July 2, 2013

        I wouldn’t want to speculate on the book sales until I’ve seen the statistics on the matter. The problem is that, given Mr Hitchens’ assertion that his book was deliberately ignored by editors for reviews, he can claim that poor book sales are evidence of that conspiracy.

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