Obituary: Judge Peter Stanley Price

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The Independent Culture
THE JUDICIAL career of Peter Stanley Price ended with the controversy which followed the sentence of 12 months' imprisonment, with eight of them suspended, imposed by him at Leeds Crown Court in the autumn of 1982.

The defendant had pleaded guilty to the rape of a six-year-old girl and because of time served on remand was released after 25 days. He was then seen on the street by his distressed victim. The case naturally caused a furore, with Stanley Price being castigated by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who told the House of Commons that she found it "totally incomprehensible".

In fact, what Stanley Price had done was to sentence according to the facts as he saw them. He believed the man should only have been convicted of indecent assault and, given his good character and work record and the fact that he had been beaten up in prison, he had imposed what was seen as a wholly inadequate sentence.

An immediate consequence was a directive from Lord Hailsham that only certain qualified judges should hear rape cases. There were calls that Stanley Price should be sacked and indeed he retired, a year early, the following February. Stanley Price's decision was one of the key factors in the lengthening of sentences to an effective minimum of five years in such cases.

He was born in 1911, shortly before his parents, Gertrude and Herbert Stanley Price, moved to South Africa, where they separated. His mother then returned to England with her son, just as the First World War broke out. He first attended Cheltenham and then Exeter College, Oxford, where he boxed for the university. He read Classical Mods before changing to Law, obtaining a First. He was called to the Bar by Inner Temple in 1936 and took up chambers in Leeds joining the North Eastern Circuit. He became a Master of the Bench in 1963.

As with so many of his generation his career was interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served with distinction as a paymaster lieutenant in the RNVR. He spoke both French and Italian, the first serving him well when he was a liaison officer during the 1941 Dieppe raid. Two years later, the second came into play when he joined the landing force in Sicily, taking part in the landings at Salerno and Naples.

After the war he returned to the circuit, developing a mixed practice with, perhaps, a leaning towards planning law. In 1958, two years after taking silk when he joined the London chambers of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster at 5 King's Bench Walk, he took part in the Trawsfyndd nuclear power station inquiry. Perhaps more importantly in legal terms, that year he appeared in the case of Woods v Martins Bank, successfully arguing, for an inexperienced investor who lost money as a result of advice by his local bank manager, that banks owed a duty of care to their clients when giving financial advice.

Those were the days when leading practitioners sat as Recorders on their circuits and in 1954 he became Recorder of Pontefract. The next year he was appointed Recorder of York. In 1958 he became Recorder of Hull and then from 1965 to 1969 the Recorder of Sheffield. He was also Deputy Chairman of North Riding Quarter Sessions for three years until 1958 and then Chairman until 1970, when the implementation of the Beeching Report abolished the office. From 1964 to 1969 he was a Judge of Appeal in Jersey and Guernsey.

He was therefore well qualified to sit at the Central Criminal Court where he was appointed a judge in 1969. That year he encountered his first high-profile case as a judge when he fined the son of the Duke of Leinster for operating what he described as a "bogus call-girl racket". He was never keen on what sociologists and judges call "the clang of the prison gates" - short sentences intended to shock the offender out of crime. Instead he believed, often to the chagrin of the police, in imposing probation and, in bad cases, community service orders.

He was not however afraid of sending those he saw as professional criminals to prison for lengthy periods. Sometimes, however, his sentencing even in professional cases was not seen as sufficiently harsh and in 1972 he came under fire from the Police Federation who regarded his sentences of five and four years for two Middle Eastern fraudsters for a pounds 13m banking swindle as an open invitation to "skilful foreign swindlers to come to this country".

He returned to the North-East as a circuit judge, where he had the reputation of a man who required punctuality and good advocacy. In the days when judges could be harsh on young advocates he admired those who would stand up to him. Indeed he was one of a number of his era who, despite their undoubted ability, were regarded as too much of an independent to be appointed to the High Court.

Privately he was a countryman. He planted trees at his Yorkshire home and at one time owned a wood in Lincolnshire which was home to the largest heronry in England. His other hobbies included shooting and dog breeding.

Peter Stanley Price, judge: born 27 November 1911; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1936, Master of the Bench 1963; Recorder of Pontefract 1954, of York 1955, of Kingston- upon-Hull 1958, of Sheffield 1965-69; Deputy Chairman, North Riding Quarter Sessions 1955-58, 1970-71, Chairman 1958-70; QC 1956; Judge of Appeal, Jersey and Guernsey 1964-69; Solicitor-General, County Palatine of Durham 1965-69; Judge of the Chancery Court of York 1967-83; circuit judge 1969-83; married 1946 Harriet Pownall (died 1948; two sons), 1950 Margaret Hebditch (nee Milkins; one daughter, one stepson); died 28 September 1998.

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