Three stories about comments made by judges in court have caught the attention of the media recently.
The Times reports today on page 24 that the Judicial Conduct and Investigations Office has received complaints about a judge who said that a woman who was attacked by her husband was not vulnerable because she was "plainly intelligent". The judge sentenced the man to an 18 month suspended sentence at Manchester Crown Court.
We also have the story again on page 23 of the Times of the judge in a rape case who warned that drunk women were putting themselves in danger. The survivor is now reported to have said that the judge was right.
Finally there is the story of the judge who warned teenage girls during a court hearing never to send pictures of themselves unless they were "fully clothed and in decent pose" - after he sentenced a man for grooming.
Judges have a difficult job and they are expected to be conscious of the effect of what they might say in court. It is true that their comments are often taken out of context by the media, so in the case of the judge who sentenced the perpetrator of domestic violence, we don't know what else was said during the hearing by that particular judge.
We lawyers are conditioned to approach cases in an objective way (there is a reason for that), and sometimes this approach may come across as callous, uncaring and arrogant to someone who has suffered appalling violence. It may also come across as patronising. I observed this many years ago, when a survivor of abuse was brought along to view a High Court case management conference in a child abuse litigation case and left furious at the cold and calculating way in which his and other survivors' cases had been handled. What might been described as efficient case management obviously came across very differently to him, and after all he was there at the time of the abuse - we weren't.
Likewise the judge who gave advice to teenagers, might be said to be stating the obvious but then again, can we expect children and young people to understand the level of manipulation employed by abusers on and off the internet? I think not, given that history demonstrates that many adults charged with child protection, struggle with the concept of the way in which abusers work.
However these case are supremely sensitive, and there's a message that goes out from the courts. All manner of intelligent people can be very vulnerable in a domestic violence situation. It's not about just getting up and walking out. Women can't be blamed for getting drunk. They should be safe in all situations. Finally many children and young people may have some appreciation of the risks of the internet, but we can't assume that they do.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer