“More than impertinent” barrister Ian West slammed for his behaviour
Courtrooms, despite being places where justice ought to be taken seriously, are often the scenes of comical farce. Whilst Rolf Harris unconvincingly sought to win over the jury in his case by singing Jake the Peg and imitating his wobble-board, the case of a barrister named Ian West revolves around whether his “impertinence” towards a judge ought to lead to disciplinary action.
In April 2014, at a preliminary hearing in the case of a former postmaster – Mr Ingham – who faced allegations of theft and perverting the course of justice, West managed to incur the wrath of the presiding judge – His Honour Judge Kelson Q.C.
After the judge suggested a conference between with the defendant over interviews in the case might be useful, West argued that no such meeting was required and took a very different tack:
“MR WEST: I have had all the time I need. I know that it is going to be a not guilty trial. I do not need to go through the short summaries of the interviews with him to change that position. He tells me he is not guilty. We need to fix a trial date. I do not need any more time, thank you.
JUDGE KELSON: Do you not think it is an important part of preparation for this hearing to go through at least some of the evidence with a defendant rather than just take his bare assertion? At what stage…
MR WEST: Who is saying I took his bare assertion?
JUDGE KELSON: At what stage were you proposing going through the evidence with him?
MR WEST: When I have got it.
JUDGE KELSON: I will put this case out till later today when you have conducted a proper conference with your client and we will revisit the case.
MR WEST: I will decide how long I spend in conference with him.
JUDGE KELSON: Mr West, we will come back to this case after two o’clock.
MR WEST: We can come back to it whenever you like but I…
JUDGE KELSON: Don’t be rude, Mr West. That was very rude. Don’t be rude. All right. We will revisit the case at two o’clock. Thank you”.
West then attempted to argue that the solicitor who was with him could only stay for a short period but Judge Kelson was having none of it and the exchange continued:
“JUDGE KELSON: Two fifteen, Mr West…
MR WEST: … With my client without a solicitor…
JUDGE KELSON: … Possibly later; in fact probably later, the longer you go on, but certainly you will be here at 2.15pm.
MR WEST: You are assuming that.
JUDGE KELSON: Mr West, you will be here at 2.15pm. Now mind your manners and sit down. Sit down.
MR WEST: Excuse me.
JUDGE KELSON: Sit down, Mr West, or I will take this further. Sit down.
MR WEST: In what…
JUDGE KELSON: Sit down, Mr West.
MR WEST: I am not used to be spoken to…
JUDGE KELSON: You are an impertinent barrister.
MR WEST: I am…
JUDGE KELSON: Do as you are told or sit down.
MR WEST: I am apparently…
JUDGE KELSON: Sit down. Very good. Mr Ingham, we will come back to this case”.
At 2.15pm that afternoon, Ian West decided not to go back to the court and following a no doubt heated telephone call finally returned to explain his failure to appear the next morning.
At the hearing, West “made it pretty plain” that he had not seen the point of the afternoon’s sitting and asked for an apology from Judge Kelson. In return, the judge answered:
“I think you are an impertinent barrister. Yesterday I thought your behaviour was appalling in open court. I think leaving court when you were required here in the afternoon was monstrous. You will receive no apology whatsoever from me”.
West was fined £500 for contempt of court. He refused to accept this and the case went to appeal at the London Criminal Appeal Court. They upheld Mr West’s appeal against the fine but decided his “serious misconduct” was “in total disregard of his duty to the court”. He may now still face disciplinary action.
This type of exchange is far from unusual. It’s plainly better to turn off Coronation Street and head to a courtroom if you want to watch some real drama.
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