Judge who escaped trial must pay costs

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The Independent Online
THE CROWN Court judge who avoided being retried for alleged mortgage fraud when the Attorney-General invoked an ancient legal device lost his attempt yesterday to recover his defence costs.

Judge Richard Gee, whose prosecution was controversially halted after a court was told he was a "broken man and a suicide risk", must pay the pounds 70,000 expenses he incurred before legal aid was granted.

Refusing his application, Mrs Justice Heather Steel told the Old Bailey that there had been a clear case for Judge Gee to answer, before his retrial was halted.

"But for his ill health, the law would have taken its normal course and he would have been retried," she said.

"This is not a case where I could order legal aid contributions to be reimbursed. Equally, costs incurred prior to legal aid being granted should not, in all the circumstances, be subject to a defence costs order".

Judge Gee was at the centre of attention last month when the Attorney- General, John Morris, stepped in and halted a prosecution against the judge, who was accused of a pounds 1m mortgage swindle.

Mr Morris invoked a nolle prosequi - a device first used in 1555 and used normally when a person is not well enough to stand trial - after psychiatrists warned that the judge was unfit and that his life could be at risk if he faced further proceedings.

Judge Gee, 56, who has homes in Belgravia, the United States and Portugal, and drives a Mercedes with the personalised number plates GEE 1, was originally arrested in November 1995, shortly after he returned from honeymooning in the Caribbean with Marilyn Gross, a New Yorker. He was later committed for trial, which was due to start in January this year. But last December he was diagnosed as suffering from a "moderately severe depressive illness" and his trial was postponed until March.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict after a record- breaking 13 days of deliberation and he was discharged in July, after the four-month trial.

In applying for Judge Gee's defence costs to be refunded yesterday, Stephen Batten QC maintained that a man was presumed innocent until convicted, and that the prosecution had failed to prove guilt.

He said the court might order any sums due or already paid to be returned if a man was acquitted, or the case was withdrawn.

Mrs Justice Steel said that while she accepted the presumption of the judge's innocence, she did "take into account it was never submitted there was not a prima facie case nor that the evidence did not support the charges made".

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