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Why shouldn’t judges tell personal stories?

Penelope Gibbs
28 Jun 2013

A judge was recently reprimanded for telling a cannabis cultivator to “jack-in” drugs. An experienced magistrate in Manchester, Yvonne Davies’ brother had died through drug addiction and she used her experience to warn the offender. The magistrate Mrs Davies sentenced Christopher Duncan for growing cannabis, told a little of her story and said “That was a horrendous time for the family. Cannabis is serious. It puddles the brain apart from anything else. You have got to stop using it, so jack it in.” She was reported to the Office for Judicial Complaints who found her views “inappropriate” and issued her with a reprimand. She has now resigned. I was shocked by this story. Perhaps the tone was a bit strong but why on earth should a judge not suggest someone stops taking drugs – they are illegal after all? The principles of restorative justice suggest that if offenders can understand the harm they cause, they are less likely to commit crime. So why not bring some of those principles into the courtroom?