This week at Chelmsford Crown Court Judge Patricia Lynch QC reacted angrily when sentencing John Hennigan for his ninth breach of ASBO, when he told her she was a ‘a bit of a c*nt’. The Judge responded that he was ‘a bit of a c*nt himself. Being offensive to me doesn’t help’.
In response Hennigan retorted that she ‘should go and f*ck herself’. The Judge replied ‘You too’.
In many years of appearing at the Crown Court outbursts like these from a disgruntled defendant are extremely rare. A response by a Judge is almost unheard of. It is quite remarkable that Crown Courts deal with the most violent, offensive and most anti-establishment members of society, yet 99.9 per cent of the time Defendants are well behaved whilst learning their fate. They may eff and jeff in the cells afterwards but very rarely in court.
Before the Court they almost always show respect and deference when ironically it is lack of respect or deference that landed them in court in the first place.
Why is that?
Perhaps it because they know the game is up and they are facing somebody who can deprive them of their liberty but courts are designed that way. Judges sit on a higher level that everyone else and wear different robes. Judges are taught how to keep control of the court which includes advice on how to walk into court. They are told that in those 10 yards from the door to the Bench not to be seen carrying anything, not to walk too quickly or slowly nor make eye contact.
Contempt of Court
Instances of misbehaviour or lack of respect are usually dealt with by a Contempt of Court charge which carries a term of imprisonment. In this instance Judge Lynch either impulsively or deliberately stooped to a different level to make her point. Not something to which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would approve (a slanging match does not fit comfortably within the administration of justice) but at least it shows the Judge to be human.
It also shows the Judge to be somewhat unimaginative just returning the insults. I cannot claim I heard the following exchange but a different Judge on being called a c*nt responded… ‘After court I am going to go home, walk my dog, have dinner with my family before going out for a drink. After Court you are going to be spending the first night of many in a prison cell. You then need to ask yourself the question ‘Who is the c*nt, me or you ?’’
I’m sure the MoJ would disapprove of these words but at least such retort is original, inventive and tinged with humour. It may even have caused the sentenced Defendant to reflect on his behaviour with those words ringing in his ears as he lay in his cell that night. Just a thought.
Max Saffman – Specialist Criminal Lawyer
Written by Max Saffman. Max is a specialist Higher Court Advocate and has extensive experience of the full range of criminal law cases including murder, firearms offences, robbery and serious drugs conspiracies.