Irvine considers PR team to improve judges' poor image

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The Independent Online

Judges may be given a public relations manager by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, after a series of judicial gaffes and a report showing that perceptions of the judiciary are far worse than the legal profession feared.

Judges may be given a public relations manager by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, after a series of judicial gaffes and a report showing that perceptions of the judiciary are far worse than the legal profession feared.

The Paths to Justice report, published today, is the biggest public survey of the civil justice system in England and Wales. It found that most people regard judges as "old, inconsistent and out of touch with reality". It said that while those who had direct experience of judges were "broadly positive" about them, the vast majority of people were not.

This, said the report's author, Professor Hazel Genn, was because the public's understanding of what judges do is too reliant on tabloid newspaper reports and television programmes such as Kavanagh QC and Rumpole of the Bailey . Lord Irvine has seen an advanced copy of the report and is considering its conclusions.

Last week, Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, attacked the portrayal of judges in the tabloid press. He said that if public perceptions of the judiciary were undermined then so was the rule of law. His comments came in response to a report by expert witnesses who said judges were "sexist, racist, unable to grasp technical detail and sleepy after lunch".

Professor Genn said one of the proposals of the Paths to Justice report, which was researched by the Nuffield Foundation, was to appoint someone to educate the public on the role of the judges. The proposal was backed by Judge Pearl, director of studies for the Judicial Studies Board, which is responsible for training the judiciary. He found the conclusions "very worrying. It seems that the public's perception of judges and lawyers are not shaped by personal experience but by tabloid experience."

The report, for which 4,125 adults were surveyed, also said that many people felt alienated by court procedure.

Judges are under no obligation to volunteer information about themselves, such as their homosexuality or membership of the Masons, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday. In a case that sets out the first conflict of interest guidelines for the judiciary, the court said that a judge could not be disqualified on the grounds of religion, ethnic or national origin, sex, age, class, economic means or sexual orientation. Neither was educational or employment background, or membership of bodies such as the Masons, any grounds for objection.