Archer's fall: Judge who became a benchmark for tough justice

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The Independent Online

Mr Justice Potts has a reputation for being a tough judge who does not suffer fools gladly. In the Archer trial he also demonstrated an immunity to the "fragrant" charm of the wives of millionaire novelists.

Mary Archer's testimony 14 years ago in her husband's libel battle with the Daily Star helped to win over the trial judge, Sir Bernard Caulfield, who famously described her as "fragrant, elegant, radiant, delicate".

But at the Old Bailey, just a quarter of a mile down the road from her High Court performance, Mr Justice Potts was less willing to indulge the woman who had once said that if her husband had been confronted by a prostitute he would have run "100 miles in the opposite direction".

When Lady Archer was shown the diary in question, alleged by the prosecution to be his real appointments diary, and asked if it was familiar to her, she told the court that neither herself nor her husband – who had chosen to remain silent throughout the trial – recognised it. "You are giving evidence, he is not," warned Mr Justice Potts who, in sentencing Archer yesterday, said he had found the whole case "distasteful".

If anyone in the Archer team thought that the judge might be a soft touch, then they had only to remind themselves that it was in the same court two years earlier that he had handed two life sentences to Anthony Sawoniuk, the 78-year-old Nazi war criminal.

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Potts showed similar robustness when he refused to approve an application by the fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir to have the multimillion-pound fraud charges against him dropped by arguing he would be unable to receive a fair trial. Mr Justice Potts said that to allow the dismissal would be an "affront to the public conscience".

The judge will be 70 next month and the Archer trial could be his last big case. The compulsory judicial retirement age is 72.

Sir Humphrey Potts was called to the Bar in 1955 and has been a High Court judge since 1986. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and St Catherine's Society, Oxford. In 1984, he was admitted to the Hong Kong Bar where many commercial barristers have spent time working as lawyers. He has served on the Mental Health Tribunal, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Parole Board.