Sacked judges could be named after Guardian FoI case

The Guardian has won a partial victory in its Freedom of Information battle to reveal the names of misbehaving judges.

Justice secretary Jack Straw announced today that judges who are sacked for misconduct are in future likely to be named.

But he said each case would be considered on a “case by case basis”.

Details of disciplinary action taken against members of the judiciary have in the past been kept secret.

Ministers are facing a legal challenge by The Guardian newspaper over their refusal to release details of historic cases.

From today, the Ministry of Justice will usually reveal the names of the coroners, magistrates and judges removed from their posts and the reasons for their dismissal.

Straw said: “We will continue to give consideration to the disclosure of relevant information in cases that have attracted a high degree of interest from the public and media.”

The announcement coincided with the end of the first day of an Information Tribunal hearing in London.

The Guardian is appealing a decision by the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner to reject its FoI request for the names of judges sacked for misconduct.

Representing The Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “It is our contention in a nutshell that there is overriding public interest in every act by the executive to discipline or dismiss a judicial officer.

“The principle of judicial independence is one of the proudest principles this country has developed and given to the world.

“It can only be safeguarded if such actions and the reason for them are made publicly available.”

He added: “The press have a vital watchdog function of communicating facts of great public importance to the public.

“Imagine the headline: ‘Cabinet minister sacks judges’. That’s news and that’s exactly what we are talking about.”

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.

In the financial year 2007/08, 21 members of the judiciary were removed from office after facing disciplinary action – up from 16 in 2006/07.

The Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC), which handles misconduct cases involving judges, said the cases involved two tribunal heads and 19 magistrates.

One was removed for “inappropriate behaviour or comments”, 15 for not fulfilling their judicial duty, one for misusing judicial status, one for motoring offences and three for criminal convictions.

A magistrate was removed from office for countersigning a passport application which involved stolen documents and a fake identity, the report revealed.

Another magistrate was dismissed because of “association with a sex offender”, the report said. The magistrate had “failed to inform the local bench of the situation even after being interviewed by the police”.

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