Judge hangs up wig and gavel

JUDGE Roger Connor has tried many of Milton Keynes's most serious criminal cases during the past 20 years. But last Thursday he hung up his wig and gavel to spend more time in the garden and on the golf course, although he will continue to sit as a deputy circuit judge. Deputy News Editor Richard Cooper spoke to Judge Connor about his views on crime and punishment, the incident of a pistol in a fast food box and why a 'good woman' is the best form of rehabilitation.

After just a few minutes in Judge Roger Connor's company, one is struck by his cheerful character.

Yet when you consider that during the past 22 years he has had to deal with some of the most horrific aspects of human behaviour, it is quite a feat.

"It can be very depressing day in day out listening to ghastly things that people have done to each other," he said.

"But I hope in common with all other judges one has enough outside interests to keep it in perspective."

He says a sense of humour helps, but it has got him into trouble. On one occasion he had to be disqualified from a case for laughing at an inappropriate moment during a defence counsel's speech.

And Judge Connor frequently encounters bizarre behaviour.

"It happened at a magistrates court I was at, although I was not sitting at the time," he said.

"It was a private prosecution for assault and the defendant was in the dock and the man prosecuting the case walked into the court room with a Kentucky Fried Chicken box and removed a pistol with which he shot the defendant.

"Luckily for the defendant it was old ammunition and it bounced off his teeth."

As a judge he has to ensure a case is tried fairly – and inevitably sentencing criminals comes with the role.

"It's never a pleasure to send someone to prison, but it is part of the job," he said.

"It would be silly to pretend there are not judges who do not give the same sentences.

"I am not a conspicuously lenient sentencer, particularly with cases of a sexual or violent nature."

However, he strongly disagrees with sending defendants with serious mental health problems to prison and says, "it is a disgrace that we do".

"The current overcrowding of our prisons is worrying because I see no sign that the Government are doing anything about sentencing policy and neither are they building any more prisons."

However, he is in favour of Drug Testing and Treatment Orders, whereby defendants are given treatment for their addiction instead of a prison sentence, providing they stay clean.

"DTTOs are wonderful when they work. People who have been addicted to highly addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine for many years and have been financing their dependency by committing offences, can as a result of a DTTO be rehabilitated.

"So it is a very good thing in the right cases. The trouble is the failure rate is very high. The secret is only to make orders when the defendant is sufficiently motivated."

Judge Connor believes there is light at the end of the tunnel for most criminals and that it is often a phase they go through in their youth.

He said: "I know of a lot of cases of people who have acquired substantial criminal records and have been wholly rehabilitated.

"It is quite often called the 'pram in the hall syndrome'. Typically young men offend from the age of 13 to 20, 21 and the influence of a good woman comes into their lives and happily they stop offending.

"What is worrying are those who go on offending into their 30s and 40s."

One trend that does worry him is the increasing amount of drink-related violence.

"It is conspicuous that we get a lot of cases of violence that occur at two o'clock in the morning outside nightclubs and other drinking establishments," he said.

"I struggle to understand why people think it is a good idea that people should be allowed to drink at two o'clock in the morning."

After working for 50 years since the age of 16, Judge Connor feels it is time to relax and concentrate on his hobbies although he will miss being the resident judge at Aylesbury Crown Court.

"It is quite useful to be a judge in many ways - it occasionally gets you a better table in a restaurant," he added.