Three judges have been removed and a fourth has resigned following an investigation into an allegation that they viewed pornographic material on office computers.
The naming of all four is an unexpected blow to the reputation of the judiciary, as well as a humiliating public rebuke to the individual ex-judges.
The disciplinary inquiry was revealed by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, which found that there had been “inexcusable misuse” of IT accounts.
“Three judges: district judge Timothy Bowles, immigration judge Warren Grant, and deputy district judge and recorder Peter Bullock have been removed from judicial office following an investigation into an allegation that they viewed pornographic material on judicial IT equipment in their offices,” a statement from the JCIO said.
“The lord chancellor [the justice secretary, Chris Grayling] and the lord chief justice [Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd] were satisfied that the material did not include images of children or any other illegal content, but concluded that this was an inexcusable misuse of their judicial IT accounts and wholly unacceptable conduct for a judicial office-holder.
“A fourth judge, recorder Andrew Maw, was also found to have viewed similar inappropriate material via his judicial IT account. The lord chancellor and the lord chief justice would likewise have removed recorder Maw had he not resigned before the conclusion of the disciplinary process.”
The judges were not exchanging images or believed to be linked in any way. The JCIO declined to say whether the pictures had been discovered during a routine internal audit of computer files or through a different procedure.
Maw worked at Lincoln county court, Bowles at Romford county court, Bullock on the north-eastern circuit, and Grant at the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, first-tier immigration tribunal, based at Taylor House, in central London.
Viewing pornography is not illegal, but doing so on office equipment is considered such a serious act of misconduct that it undermines public confidence in the judiciary. Dismissal was seen as a necessary punishment for judges whose private lives are not expected to raise questions about their impartiality – or judgment.
There is no appeal within the JCIO’s disciplinary procedure, but dismissed judges can make a judicial review challenge. It is not known whether any of them disputed the findings or attempted to argue that they had inadvertently clicked on an unsolicited email or online link.
District judges earn £115,000 a year; first-tier tribunal judges are paid £113,000. Although well rewarded, the four departing judges are relatively junior in the overall hierarchy of the bench. High judicial salaries are traditionally defended as a necessary measure to forestall temptations of bribery or corruption. They do not, evidently, preserve the recipients from their own folly.
The revelation is likely to provoke outrage and astonishment on two levels: that judges have been viewing pornography in, presumably, the privacy of their private rooms behind the court and that they did not realise anything downloaded would remain as incriminating evidence in their computers’ memories.
If losing four judges simultaneously is an indication of technological naivety, it may reinforce criticisms of the judiciary that its members are older and do not reflect the composition of society. Maw was 65 last year.
Lord Neuberger, president of the supreme court, has suggested that a career judiciary with fast track promotions would enable judges to enter the profession at a younger age, perhaps at 35. “As a junior tribunal member or possibly a district judge [they could] work their way up,” he has proposed. Overall, 24.5% of court judges are women and around 5.8% are from ethnic backgrounds. Eight of the 38 judges in the court of appeal are women.
The most recent, high profile victim of judicial misbehaviour was judge Constance Briscoe who was found guilty of perverting the course of justice in the Chris Huhne speeding points scandal. She was sentenced to 16 months in prison last year.
Grant, who now works as an immigration law specialist at a north London solicitors’ firm, issued a statement pleading for privacy. “I am aware of the statement … by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office,” he said.
“I do not wish to comment save to say that for some years before, and during, the period covered by the conduct which formed the subject of the complaint laid against me I was suffering from severe and undiagnosed depression.
“I request that the privacy of my family and myself be respected so that we are allowed to continue with our lives.”
Immigration judge Warren L Grant
According to his online LinkedIn profile, Grant, who is still working as a solicitor, was educated at the Royal Newcastle Grammar School and Cambridge University. He has an interest in jazz. His immigration decisions have been criticised in the past by the organisation Women Against Rape.
• District judge Timothy Bowles
Bowles sat at Romford county court. He was appointed to the south-eastern circuit in January 2002.
• Recorder Peter Bullock
Bullock, who was on the north-eastern circuit, came to attention of the national media when he imposed a bankruptcy order in 2005 at Newcastle county court on Jimmy “Five Bellies” Gardner, the constant companion of the footballer Paul Gascoigne.
• Recorder Andrew Maw
Maw, who sat at Lincoln county court, resigned last year when he was 65. He had become a solicitor in 1973, was appointed a deputy district judge in 1983, a district judge in 1994, assistant recorder in 1996 and a recorder from 2000.