His Honour Judge Burgess

Speaker report by Phil Willey

The Rotary Club of Beeston

On 11 April the guest speaker was His Honour Judge John Burgess, Resident Judge and Honorary Recorder at Derby courts.  The photo shows Judge Burgess (R), Rotarian Jill Clarke (Centre) and President Bruce Liddle (L).  He spoke about how he became a judge.

Having been trained at bar school and called to the bar he practiced as a barrister for some years before deciding to apply to join the Judiciary.  He said that writing the letter of application was a daunting prospect but he was accepted and then spent a few years as a recorder in a lower court before being appointed a judge.  The appointment of a judge ends up with a dinner with the Lord Chief Justice.  An oath has to be sworn ’to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour or ill-will’, which is very similar to the oath taken by people called for jury service. During a probationary period, when a mentor is present, the seriousness of cases tried increases from affray, burglary and theft to assault, grievous bodily harm and, eventually, murder. Once appointed a judge’s main tasks in court are to preside and maintain order appropriate to hearing the charge(s), the pleas, the evidence for both sides, the summing up for prosecution and defence, and also to give, in a concluding summary, guidance to the jury as to how to weigh the evidence and how to come to a verdict.  Juries have to be sure of guilt either unanimously or by majority verdict.  Finally there is the task of pronouncing sentence within guidance given by the Department for Justice. Appeals against verdict and/or sentence are how the conduct of a judge is reviewed. The judge paid tribute to the rôles of jurors and magistrates without whose unpaid contributions the legal system could not operate.  Humour crept in to his talk when Judge Burgess spoke about one case, when a prisoner charged with burglary was asked how he pleaded and said ‘Not guilty’ and one of the witnesses immediately shouted out ‘Not guilty?  He’s wearing my shirt!’

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