HHJ Dodds has been dubbed ‘Britain’s rudest judge’ ~ Alex Aldridge, LEGAL CHEEK,
Former head of 15 Winckley Square seems to have been heavily influenced by Kevin the Teenager and Alan Partridge
A judge who told a court how “bitterly resentful” he felt about spending his weekend “reading this codswallop” has been formally reprimanded by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) — and hastily dubbed “Britain’s rudest judge” by the Mail Online.
Family judge His Honour Robert Stephen Dodds — who is the former head of 15 Winckley Square Chambers in Preston — was criticised by the Court of Appeal in January for his conduct and case management, with his behaviour labelled as “gratuitously rude”. Subsequently Liverpool law firm Jackson Canter made an official complaint against him to the JCIO.
Having been referred to the judicial watchdog for his behaviour in four cases, Lord Chancellor Michael Gove and Lord Chief Justice John Thomas agreed that Dodds’ actions in three of those cases amounted to “serious misconduct”.
So what did Dodds do that made him so much ruder than the nation’s other grumpy judges, of which there are many?
Well, for starters there was the aforementioned “codswallop” line, as the judge — evoking the spirit of Harry Enfield’s comic creation Kevin the Teenager — told a hearing involving a girl’s bid to discover the identity of her real father:
Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop?
In the same case — which saw the Dodds, 63, refuse a bid from the girl for a DNA test to establish who her father was — he warned lawyers, “You may want to put your crash helmet on,” before bellowing:
If she told you that the moon is made of green cheese will you say, ‘Yes, S, no, S, three bags full S?
In a remarkable performance — which ultimately led to his judgment being overturned by the Court of Appeal where Lady Justice King called his “unrestrained and immoderate bombast” both “deplorable” and “unacceptable” — Dodds went on:
For heaven’s sake, in this day and age especially, just because the lunatic says, ‘I want, I want’, you do not have to respond by spoon-feeding their every wish.
In another case, Dodds slammed lawyers who wanted a young boy to live with his grandparents in Poland. Recalling Alan Partridge at his very best, he told them:
This is a game of chess, not draughts.
Finally, Dodds’ extreme grouchiness meant that, in another family case, everyone in court “crumbled under his caustically expressed views”. Dodds’ reaction to this was to blast the mother for looking “upset and bewildered” by his rant.
Despite being disciplined, Dodds will still be allowed to sit in family court sessions.
Meet the rudest judge in Britain: Legal chief disciplined after stunning parents and lawyers with series of withering put-downs in sensitive family cases ~ MARTIN BECKFORD, HOME AFFAIRS EDITOR FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY,
- Judge Robert Stephen Dodds has been formally disciplined over outbursts
- In court he referred to a paternity case as being brought by ‘lunatics’
- The judge will still be allowed to continue sitting in family court sessions
A senior judge has been formally disciplined over an astonishing series of ‘gratuitously rude’ outbursts in court.
Judge Robert Stephen Dodds stunned parents and lawyers with his withering put-downs when considering sensitive family cases.
But even though judicial watchdogs have ruled that his brutally blunt comments amounted to serious misconduct, the judge will be allowed to continue sitting in family court sessions.
In one hearing, involving a 13-year-old girl’s bid to discover her real father, he seethed: ‘Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop?’
He also referred to the case being brought by ‘lunatics’.
In another case everyone in court ‘crumbled under his caustically expressed views’ – before he blasted the mother for looking ‘upset and bewildered’ by his diatribe.
And in a third, he mocked the intelligence of lawyers who wanted a young boy to live with his grandparents in Poland, telling them: ‘This is a game of chess, not draughts.’
In his most blistering outburst, Liverpool-based Judge Dodds, 63, refused the bid from a teenage girl, known as ‘S’, for a DNA test to establish who her father was.
Disciplined: Judicial watchdogs have ruled that Judge Robert Stephen Dodds’ brutally blunt comments amounted to serious misconduct.
Although it was considered an ‘uncontroversial’ application, it was refused by the judge who warned the lawyers: ‘You may want to put your crash helmet on’, before raging: ‘If she told you that the moon is made of green cheese will you say, “Yes, S, no, S, three bags full S?”
‘For heaven’s sake, in this day and age especially, just because the lunatic says, “I want, I want”, you do not have to respond by spoon-feeding their every wish.’
He said he was ‘appalled that it was thought that public funds could be expended upon such nonsense’.
Three appeal judges said a mother was wrongly denied the hope of getting her son back by the behaviour of Judge Robert Dodds in the family court in Liverpool (pictured)
But his judgment was overturned, with Appeal Court judge Lady Justice King calling his ‘unrestrained and immoderate bombast’ both ‘deplorable’ and ‘unacceptable’.
She said his outbursts left lawyers ‘feeling browbeaten and impotent and, rightly, as though their clients have been denied a fair hearing.’
In another case, Judge Dodds dismissed an 11-year-old boy’s bid to return to his mother ‘within minutes’.
Lady Justice King said the judge’s rudeness so stunned the family and lawyers they could not explain that the situation was ‘more complicated than the one the judge clearly saw’.
The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said Lord Chancellor Michael Gove and the Lord Chief Justice had issued an official reprimand.
STATEMENT JCIO 34/15 25 November 2015
STATEMENT FROM THE JUDICIAL CONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS OFFICE – His Honour Judge Robert Stephen Dodds
A spokesperson for the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said: “His Honour Judge Robert Stephen Dodds, a family court circuit judge, was criticised by the Court of Appeal in relation to his conduct and case management of four court cases – Re A, Re P, Re S and Re S-W.
The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have considered the matter in accordance with the Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2014, and have issued HHJ Dodds a reprimand after finding that his actions in relation to Re A, Re S-W and Re P amounted to serious misconduct.
There was no evidence of misconduct on HHJ Dodds’ part in relation to the case of Re S”.
Notes for Editors Media queries in relation to the JCIO should be made in the first instance to the Judicial Press Office – telephone 020 7073 4852 or via e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Office, including details on how to make a complaint against a judicial office holder, you can visit the JCIO website at: http://judicialconduct.judiciary.gov.uk
‘Gratuitously rude’ judge stays in post after conduct probe ~ John Hyde, LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE, 27 November 2015.
Judges have bad days too ~ Marilyn Stowe BLOG, December 1, 2015.
Judicial errors and indiscretions are, of course, gleefully seized upon by the media. So it was over the weekend, when a reprimand for misconduct by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (‘JCIO’) that was issued against a family court circuit judge led to a headline in a certain national newspaper which began: “Meet the rudest judge in Britain”…
Well, I’m not at all sure that His Honour Judge Robert Stephen Dodds is the rudest judge in Britain, but it does at least seem that on the occasions where the JCIO found that his actions amounted to serious misconduct, Judge Dodds was having a bad day.
The JCIO investigation concerned Judge Dodds’ conduct in four cases: Re S-W, Re A, Re P and Re S. Serious misconduct was found in the first three of those, but there was found to be no evidence of misconduct on the part of Judge Dodds in relation to Re S.
I have in fact already written here about Re S-W. That was an appeal by a mother against final care orders made in respect of her three children. The Court of Appeal found that Judge Dodds had adopted a “ruthlessly truncated process” that was “fundamentally unprincipled and unfair”. It therefore allowed the mother’s appeal and remitted the case back to a different judge for a re-hearing.
Moving on, Re A was an appeal against the “peremptory dismissal” by Judge Dodds of an application for a direction for DNA testing made on behalf of a 13-year-old girl in support of her application for a declaration of parentage. The language used by Judge Dodds in this case was really quite remarkable, suggesting to me that he was utterly exasperated with what he considered to be an unmeritorious and unnecessary application. Referring to the girl’s application he said:
“The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum … For heaven sake, in this day and age especially, just because the lunatic says, ‘I want, I want’, you do not have to respond by spoon feeding their every wish”.
He went on to comment: “Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop?” Needless to say, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. Lady Justice Black made the following comment:
“…the unrestrained and immoderate language used by the judge must, I am afraid, be deplored and is wholly unacceptable. Such bombast can only leave advocates seeking to present, on instructions, their cases to the court feeling browbeaten and impotent and, rightly, as though their lay clients have been denied a fair hearing.”
Lastly, Re P was another care case, involving a child of Polish parents. The parents were appealing against a decision of Judge Dodds to make a care order without giving proper consideration to the possibility that the child might live with other family members in Poland. When counsel for the mother raised that possibility, Judge Dodds dismissed it in short order, concluding with the words: “If you do not like it, there is always the Court of Appeal. Good luck.” Judge Dodds also suggested that counsel for the mother and the solicitor for the guardian (who also raised the question of investigations of relatives in Poland) were not thinking the matter through with sufficient intelligence by saying: “…this is a game of chess, not draughts. Any fool can play draughts and move one step at a time. It takes rather more skill to play chess where you have to think several moves ahead.” The Court of Appeal found that Judge Dodds had been in error, that the case had been conducted in a manner that was inappropriate and that Judge Dodds had ruled out at an inappropriately premature stage an option which should have been given normal assessment and full consideration. Accordingly, the care order was set aside and the case was sent back for re-hearing before a different judge.
Now, I’m not going to condone what happened in these cases, or attempt to trivialise what were extremely serious decisions with extremely serious consequences. However, as I said here previously, judges are only human. Sometimes they make mistakes, just like anyone else. Sometimes they express feelings that they shouldn’t, even if many judges have similar feelings. And do not forget that they are under great pressure for speed and efficient use of resources, as Lord Justice McCombe pointed out in Re P. In short, judges have bad days too.
The JCIO statement regarding Judge Dodds can be found here. The judgments in Re S-W, Re A andRe P can be found here, here and here.