QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
ADMINISTRATIVE COURT IN WALES
B e f o r e :
(on the application of JUDITH HEWITT)
- and -
DENBIGHSHIRE MAGISTRATES' COURT
The Defendant did not appear and was not represented
Simon Mintz for the Crown Prosecution Service as an Interested Party
Hearing dates: 28 July 2015
(Sitting at Mold Crown Court)
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Wyn Williams:
"As you will recall, you presided over the trial of [the Claimant] on 24 October 2014.
You found the case proven against her on both counts and the case now falls to be sentenced by you on 11 December.
On 15 October, I emailed you on behalf of the Defendant to respectfully ask whether you had been a member of the hunting and/or country sports fraternity and a member of your staff duly responded on 16 October to say that you had not.
Given the highly sensitive nature of the allegations against Ms Hewitt you would no doubt have appreciated that the perception of independence was vital.
During the course of the trial, evidence established that the Countryside Alliance was involved in furthering the investigation and ultimate prosecution of Ms Hewitt for offences allegedly against a terrierman connected to the Flint and Denbigh Hunt. You will recall three witnesses associated with that hunt gave highly contested evidence, Smith, Griffiths, and Lomax.
Since the trial, it has come to our attention that on at least two previous occasions in your capacity as a solicitor you have represented terriermen associated with the Flint and Denbigh Hunt. In 2001 you represented Craig Evans in the high profile case revolving around an assault upon the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. This assault was connected to the Hunting Act and Mr Evans' strong views upon these matters. In 2007, you represented William Francis Armstrong a terrierman with a Flint and Denbigh Hunt, in a case at Prestatyn.
Both of these matters were associated with hunt or pro-hunt campaigning issues.
The Countryside Alliance have publically stated, from as early as 2003 that they support anyone arrested or charged with breaking Hunting Act related law, especially at trial.
We are also aware that, not only did you represent these individuals in court, you also made supported statements about them to the media, including repeating the views of Mr Armstrong which question "why the authority so devoted resources to a prosecution [he] regarded as unnecessary" and in the case of Mr Evans, making a public statement that civil proceedings were considered against the Deputy Prime Minister.
May we please respectfully ask whether you have any other professional or personal associations with a hunting and/or country sports fraternity, something which was, at the very least implicate in our question of 15 October.
As a result of these matters coming to our attention, we respectfully require you to recuse yourself from the forthcoming sentencing hearing. The connections which we refer to above, in the context of this unusually sensitive case, especially as they indicate representation of staff who worked for the very hunt at the centre of Ms Hewitt's trial and in the case of Armstrong, in an identical position as the complainant, Smith, makes your position as sentencing judge untenable.
Indeed had we been aware of this before trial we would have made the same submission in relation to your possession as trial judge . "
The email then continued by setting out a brief description of the law relating to bias and independence.
"6. The District Judge openly confirmed that he had, some years ago when still in private practice, represented the two individuals mentioned in the newspaper articles .but maintained that any relationship he had with those individuals had been a purely professional solicitor/client one and that he was not now and had never been a member of or associated with "the hunting fraternity". He declined to recuse himself stating that he was more than satisfied that there were no grounds for doing so.
7. The issue was pressed at some length. Indeed, when asked, Counsel for the Claimant indicated that he would require 3 hours to develop his argument. When it became clear that the argument was likely to occupy considerably more court time than the sentencing hearing had been allocated, the District Judge said that he would, for what he described as "pragmatic reasons", enquire with the Lay Justices sitting in the courtroom next door if they would simply swap with him. Counsel for the Claimant agreed with that course of action.
8. The District Judge stressed that he doing what he was doing only for reasons of expediency and the efficient use of court time, both so that the Claimant's sentencing hearing did not come to a standstill and so that the court's other business might be attended to, and not because he was recusing himself or in any way accepting of the allegation of bias or the appearance of bias."
It became apparent at the hearing before me that the Claimant and her representatives had not seen the Affidavit of Ms La Grua even though it was sworn on 9 February 2015. That being so I indicated that I would permit Mr Farrell QC to adduce evidence about the matters referred to by Ms La Grua and make short written submissions in the light of that evidence. I have received a witness statement from the Claimant's husband dated 30 July 2015. Although he takes issue with some of the details provided by Ms La Grua he does not dispute that the District Judge arranged for sentencing to take place before the lay magistrates for reasons of expediency.
The Law Relating to Apparent Bias