Vale dicere to a brilliant District Judge

Posted: 26/04/2012 in Barrister, Magistrates, Pupil barrister

I’ve just found out from Bystander’s blog that District Judge Phillips is to retire this year.

It had two instant effects on me:

1) Feel old

2) Feel sad

DJ Phillips sits in West London. When you’re first on your feet he’s one of the Judges that young lawyers get told about.

I feel old because to me he was one of the Judges I cut my teeth in front of. From shopliftings in the West End to serious offences I had to deal with the first hearing on, perhaps on a wet miserable Saturday morning.

I feel sad because I’m so fond of him. Our first encounter didn’t go well, I was representing someone with a drug addiction. I can’t remember what I said, it was mention of my client’s addiction, I said either, ‘drug problem’ or ‘abuses drugs’ – something similar to that. He snapped at me, told me to change my words, whatever he said made it clear to me that the Defendant was more than just a drug problem, but was a person with a horrid affliction.

But from that point on we got on. I walked into his court one morning instructed late and somebody else was on their feet, he interrupted them, ‘excuse me a moment, Mr FTD, it’s been too long since you’ve been in my court, good morning to you.’ It was a kind nod in my direction.

And there’s nothing better than this, one day I walked in, my client looked very sheepish indeed, he was a young lad, ‘Right then X, you’ve got Mr FTD I see, good choice, but I’ve telephoned your Mum, you’ve been giving her some jip.’ His personalised approach made a massive difference, even Defendants were fond of him. I have no doubt that his approach has rehabilitated a number of young people who otherwise would have found themselves as repeat customers of the criminal justice system.

To me, I’m sad to see him go as he’s always treated lawyers like humans and clients too.

Bystander wrote that he was concerned by ‘idiosyncratic’ decisions of District Judges, when the lay magistracy felt constrained by guidelines. (You can read it here, )

My message is this, look past the thick glass of the dock and look at the human inside. And don’t assume all lawyers are pinstriped wallet fillers.

And Magistrates remember, guidelines are to guide you, not bind you – guidelines not tramlines.

Finally, best of luck with your retirement Sir, if I make a full innings in my profession then the first chapter of my story is dedicated to you.


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