County judge takes swipe at Government in retirement speech

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An outspoken Northamptonshire judge used his final speech to take a swipe at government interference in the judiciary.

At a valedictory organised to say farewell to Judge Richard Bray, the vociferous judge also managed to criticise police bosses for ‘massaging’ crime figures and aimed yet another blow at former home secretary John Reid for telling judges not to send offenders to prison because the country’s jails were full.

Judge Bray, a circuit judge for 21 years and a recorder for the decade before that, had already made a name for himself over the years for being openly critical of government bodies, not least in 2013 when he described the country’s borders as a ‘leaking sieve’.

In his final speech at Northampton Crown Court on Friday, Judge Richard Winston Atherton Bray - a former Rugby School and Corpus Christi College scholar - accused police officers of using cautions to prevent criminals from being sent to court.

He said: “It is not up to the executive to tell the jurisdiction what to do, it is up to the executive to make sure they have enough spaces in prison.

“It is right that judges should be able to make decisions without fear of influence from government. That now seems potentially at risk. We are almost being treated as if we are civil servants and distributing power and influence on behalf of the Government.

“Those who want to become judges have to sit exams and attend interviews where they have to spout political correctness like civil servants. We’ll soon have full inspections of judges.

“I’m proud of the fact I was appointed by The Queen not by the civil service.”

“Over the years I’ve seen a number of Government initiatives. We’ve had suspended sentences introduced, abolished then introduced again.

“All this tinkering about is more to do with money and votes rather than criminal justice, while all the while the prison population has continued to rise.

“The final solution the Government has reached is by preventing courts from being given the chance to send offenders to prison and make their savings that way.

“We’ve now got warnings, reprimands, cautions, conditional discharges that prevent people from appearing in court. The figures have been massaged. Robbery is now classified as ‘theft from a person’, burglary is downgraded to criminal damage. Cautions and reprimands are used to save police time.

“Magistrates’ courts are withering away and have been closed down as the number of criminal cases decreases.

“But you ask the people who walk about the streets of towns and cities at night if crime has gone down and they will give you a very different picture.”

Colleague Judge Rupert Mayo said: “He was my friend, faithful and true. He came, he saw, he cracked.”

Judge Bray’s pupil, barrister Matthew Lowe said: “We will miss his intelligence and shrewdness. In particular the strategic type of intelligence that was able to outmanoeuvre and stay two steps ahead of any crafty defendant.”

Mr Lowe said Judge Bray inmates of Woodhill prison believed it was a rite of passage to be “Brayed”.