Outspoken Yorkshire judge courted controversy

Outspoken defiance made Yorkshireman James Pickles the most famous judge in England and a tap-room topic in his own right.

In 25 years on the bench he strove to be firm and fair but, above all, independent.

"A judge who kept glancing nervously at MPs, the press or anybody would

be a bad judge," he said.

Judge Pickles flouted the voluntary code that the judiciary do not speak out in public, and he criticised the legal system for being infected by conservatism, complacency and conformity.

The decision to jail a young mother for helping shoplifters and send her 10-week-old baby to prison with her capped a succession of controversial sentences and clashes with the legal establishment.

In 1985, the judge was threatened with the sack for saying Lord Hailsham, the then Lord Chancellor, was a "brooding quixotic dictator" born with a golden spoon in his mouth.

Twenty Labour MPs signed a motion calling for his resignation when he freed a child molester on probation.

He was also criticised by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, after

he jailed a young mother who refused to give evidence against her former boyfriend.

MPs and women's groups were furious and the Court of Appeal quashed the decision.

But the judge was unapologetic: "The only sentence people really take notice of is loss of liberty."

He called for legal brothels and relaxation of the drug laws, saying they served only to hound people and encouraged robbery by pushing up prices.

He offended many by saying: "I like to look at page three of the Sun newspaper," at the same time insisting he supported women's liberation.

The nephew of Wilfred Pickles, the broadcaster, he was born on March 18, 1925 and called to the Bar in 1946. His application to become a QC was turned down three times.

He became an assistant recorder in 1963, a Crown Court recorder in 1972 and a judge in 1976 after the Lord Chancellor had rejected earlier applications.

In newspaper articles and his 1987 book, Straight From The Bench, the first of its kind by a serving judge, he aired his views on the delays, secrecy and old-boy network of the judicial system.

The resulting dispute with Lord Hailsham ended with a relaxation of the Kilmuir rules which prevent judges speaking out in public without the Lord Chancellor's permission.

Judge Pickles had pushed back the frontiers and went on making his own judgments on when it was right to speak out.

"I have things to tell the public that they are entitled to know," he said.

"If I sense that they want me to shut up, I will."

He retired in 1991, but continued to be in the public eye by writing a newspaper column and appearing on television. A book called Judge for Yourself came out in 1992, and a novel, Off the Record, the following year.

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