Stalker case judge condemns media

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The Independent Online
The sensitivity of the judiciary came to the fore for the second time in weeks yesterday when Judge Quentin Campbell, who presided in the latest "stalking" trial, attacked media reporting of his handling of the case.

Activating the hitherto rarely used right to issue a statement through the Lord Chancellor's Department, Judge Campbell said he wished to correct "errors of both fact and misrepresentation" in the coverage of the trial of Dennis Chambers, who chose to represent himself and cross-examined his alleged victim, Margaret Bent, in person before being acquitted by a jury.

The judge said that "written reports, and an artist's impression in Tuesday's edition of the Times, indicated that the defendant was permitted to cross- examine the principal witness from `within inches'.

"This is incorrect. At all times I was acutely aware of the potential distress that might be caused to this witness and I took steps to ensure that such distress was minimalised."

The strongly worded rebuttal follows a similar complaint by Judge Alastair McCallum in July after he was condemned for saying a police officer should have had a "sound ticking off" for indecently assaulting female colleagues. Judge Campbell's upbraiding of the media appeared to be equally directed to complaints from legal commentators and victims' organisations that he should not have allowed Chambers to leave the dock. It has been argued that this is advantageous to the defendant because it can raise his status in the eyes of the jury and intimidate witnesses.

The judge said the layout of the courtroom made it impractical for Chambers to cross- examine from the dock.

"I therefore arranged for him to sit on the opposite side of the courtroom to the witness box, about 25ft from the witness. Security officers were positioned between them.

"I ordered him to remain seated so he would appear less intimidating to the witness.

"I permitted the witness to answer the defendant's questions by directing her replies to the jury so that she did not have to look at him during cross- examination. I directly controlled the cross-examination, which lasted about 30 minutes."

In a reference to his summing up, the judge said: "I would like to remind the media that as a judge I must operate within the existing law. For all these reasons, I believe the many critical comments which have been levelled against me in the media this week are unjustified."

The judge's attempt to set the record straight raises the issue of the difficulty of representing the configuration of witnesses in a court artist's drawing. But it will not dampen the pressure by organisations such as Victim Support and, latterly, Labour for courts to be empowered to ban suspected sex attackers and stalkers from cross-examining their alleged victims.

Janet Anderson, the shadow minister for women, has urged Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to bring in such a reform.