A judge has been upbraided by the Court of Appeal for threatening a 14-year-old girl with prison if she reacted to her mother being sentenced.
Judge Stephen John oversaw the trial of the girl's mother, Natasha Myers, in April. She was convicted of smuggling 11 grams of cannabis, two mobile phones, a SIM card and two charging cables into Wandsworth prison's visiting room in an "orifice", and then to her boyfriend, David Akende, who was an inmate. Guards spotted Akende with his hands down the back of his pants and found the contraband wrapped in clingfilm stuffed up his arse. Myers claimed that someone else gave Akande all his booty except the SIM card, which she admitted passing to him. As Lord Justice Hamblen delightfully described it in the Court of Appeal, "He inserted this into his anus whereas the clingfilm package was between the cheeks of his bottom".
But the CoA has overturned Myers' conviction on the grounds that it was rendered unsafe by Judge Stephen John's bizarre behavour during the trial. The day before Myers was due to give evidence, Judge John withdrew her bail, even though the prosecution had not sought it. His order meant that Myers was taken to the cells in front of her daughter, and with no time to put arrangements in place for someone to look after her daughter or her three-year-old. Guards were sufficiently concerned by Myers' distress that she was placed on suicide watch overnight.
The next morning Judge John told Myers' daughter to apologise for "being rude to him" when he withdrew her mother's bail. When she said sorry, he threatened to arrest her and imprison her if she reacted to his judgment:
JUDGE: Now I'm going to allow you to remain on terms. The first term is you're going to sit in the back row in the far corner of the court and you are not at any time to approach the dock. Do you understand?
JUDGE: And you are on no account whatsoever either facially or by words to give any reaction to the evidence or the speeches or my summing-up. Do you understand?
JUDGE: If you do, I'll have the officer arrest you and take you downstairs. And I don't care if you're 14; you'll go into a cell same as anybody else. Do you understand?
COUNSEL: Well your Honour it might depend on the reaction slightly.
GIRL: I beg your pardon?
COUNSEL: It might depend on the reaction.
JUDGE: Don't lecture me Mr Hadder. I'm speaking to her. Right, now are you prepared to accept those conditions?
JUDGE: Right, go and sit in that corner seat in the back row and bear in mind what I say.
COUNSEL: I'm grateful that you allowed her into court.
JUDGE: Yes. I'm not going to have the court disrupted by children who shouldn't be in court at all in my view.
Lord Justice Hamblen said, "it was not appropriate for the judge to threaten to send a 14-year-old girl to the cells at all, let alone for a mere facial reaction". As well as being likely to upset Myers, it potentially "handicapped her in the continued giving of her evidence."
Judge John was also criticised for badgering Myers "in a manner more akin to comment than to questioning" about how much gear she smuggled into Wandsworth up an orifice. One exchange gave the distinct impression that Judge John has no idea how items are smuggled into prison, or, more worryingly, is in possession of a back passage so capacious that he can't comprehend why other people would have an issue carrying around a Phones4U up their fannoir:
Q: Why were you not worried about the SIM card in the same way as you were about-
MYERS: Because a SIM card is tiny. Even though I know it's wrong, you're not allowed to bring it in. I know it's wrong but it's a lot smaller than a phone, a golf ball of - what you say? Cannabis, and all the other stuff. Like it's much smaller than that.
JUDGE: I don't understand; what does the size of it matter if it's a prison contraband that you're not allowed to take in? What does the size of it matter?
COUNSEL: Your Honour, she-
JUDGE: No I didn't ask you.
The Court of Appeal overturned the conviction.