How hard is it to have a judge reprimanded or removed from their post in England and Wales, given that they are unelected, are appointed for life and enjoy an overall immunity from being sued?…
Alongside this, they are given immunity from prosecution for any acts they carry out as part of their judicial function; nor can they be sued for defamation for anything they say about parties or witnesses during the course of a trial. A judge can only be removed from office if it is proven that they are unfit to be a judge.
This is where the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office come in. An independent statutory body which handles complaints from the public and supports the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice in their joint responsibility for judicial discipline. If you have experienced or witnessed any bad behaviour on the part of a judge then you are entitled to report it to the JCIO who must then investigate.
Why District Judges are the worst of the breed
Between 2017 and 2018 the JCIO received 2,147 complaints from the public about members of the judiciary. The majority of these complaints relate to ‘Inappropriate behaviour and comments.’ Over half of all complaints made concern the behaviour of District Judges.
District Judges are the biggest target for complaint due to the fact that they have a reputation for being rude, aggressive and bullying towards defendants; mostly because they sit alone at magistrates’ courts, the proceedings of which are not recorded or scrutinised in the same way they are at Crown Court. Also, it is not unusual for a District Judge to hear cases where the only other person in the courtroom is the defendant. This is why it is advisable to always bring somebody to court with you so that they can act as witness throughout the proceedings by sitting in the public gallery. Unfortunately, family court is often heard in private, which makes it the worst court of all for experiencing the bad behaviour of a judge.
What you can complain about
You can make a complaint to the JCIO about the conduct of judges and coroners. This includes judges in Crown Court and the Appeal Court, and of course, District Judges that hear cases in magistrates’ court. The JCIO do not deal with complaints about magistrates themselves, as they are handled by regional advisory committees. A full list of advisory committees can be found here.
For a complaint about a judge to be valid it must be made within 3 months of the date the event occurred and contain the following information:
- Your name and address
- The name of the judge (or enough information to help the JCIO work out which judge it is)
- The court and date of the hearing
- Details of exactly what you’re complaining about
The most important thing to know when making your complaint is that you can only complain about the type of behaviour that would constitute misconduct. That in itself is the reason that around 95% of all complaints made to the JCIO are rejected. So before setting out your complaint you should ensure it falls within the narrow parameters that the JCIO will deal with. Unfortunately, that isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. On their website, the JCIO list 18 different examples of what you CAN’T complain about as opposed to a mere 4 examples of what you CAN complain about.
For example, there is no point complaining about how a judge refused to listen to anything that you had to say, or made decisions in spite of evidence you gave or objections you made. The JCIO will simply claim that talking over the top of people is a necessary part of the proceedings. However if a judge shouted at you, got angry or made you feel fearful of speaking out with his threatening manner, then that would be grounds for complaint. That is the type of intimidatory behaviour that would amount to misconduct if upheld.
You should also bear in mind that you cannot complain about being found guilty, or any sentence that was given. Nor can you complain about any unfair orders that were made against you, the judges refusal to grant bail, or for that matter, any other decision made as a necessary part of proceedings. These are all matters for appeal, not a matter for complaint.
Making your complaint
To make your complaint you must first register your name and email address on the JCIO’s complaint portal:
Your complaint will be dealt with entirely on this platform, although you will receive external emails notifying you of any updates to your complaint.
Once a case worker has been assigned to your complaint, they will decide whether or not it involves matters that could potentially be construed as misconduct. Be warned though, that the JCIO have an appalling record for delays. They promise a 15 working day response time to initial complaints, and monthly updates thereafter, but it is not unusual for them to fail to respond at all. If you do not hear from them within 15 working days of making your complaint then telephone them on 0207 073 4719 and insist that they provide you with a case worker right away.
How the JCIO investigates complaints
In the first stage of investigation the case worker will send a copy of your complaint to the judge and ask for their comments.
The JCIO will then ask you if you have any witnesses who will be willing to support your version of events.
If you are complaining about a judges’ behaviour in magistrates’ court then you should bear in mind that, unlike Crown Court, none of the proceedings are recorded. No transcripts are available and all that exists of the proceedings are the contemporaneous notes made at the time. This means that unless you had family or friends seated in the public gallery, it will be very difficult for you to prove your word against the judge. And don’t bother asking your solicitor to act as witness! They are not going to want to rock the judicial boat, especially when there is a potential they will have to face that judge at some other hearing down the line.
After the JCIO have assessed the evidence, they will decide whether or not the complaint be upheld and if the judge should be reprimanded. Unfortunately, the chances of any disciplinary action being taken against the offending judge is very slim. On average, only 2% of all complaints made to the JCIO result in disciplinary action being taken. But you must take into account that the JCIO rejects over 95% of all complaints on the grounds that they do not contain any allegations of misconduct on the part of the complainant or that the complaint is out of time, vexatious or otherwise falls outside of the JCIOs remit to investigate.
What to do if you are unhappy with the JCIO
If you do not agree with the JCIO’s decision, or you believe they handled your complaint badly (or they did not respond to you at all) then you can appeal to the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman (JACO). You must contact JACO within 28 days of being notified that your complaint has been dealt with and closed.
The complaint form for contacting JACO can be found here:
You should then email it to: email@example.com
Or mail it to:
Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman
9.53, 9th Floor, the Tower
102 Petty France
Telephone: 020 3334 2900
Other ways of holding a judge to account
It is important to note that you do not have to be the witness or defendant at court to make a valid complaint against a member of the judiciary. Any member of the public gallery, or court staff, can also bring a complaint.
If you should find yourself in a situation where the JCIO refuses to uphold your complaint, perhaps because it was your word against the judge’s, then there are still plenty of opportunities to make further complaints.
Why not go back to the court as a member of the public gallery and monitor the behaviour of the offending judge during other hearings? If you witness any misconduct on his part during the trial, then make a complaint to the JCIO and name the defendant as a witness to this behaviour.