Court napping, the magistrate who fell asleep at the bench

A magistrate has been removed from office after he fell asleep on the bench, causing an assault trial to collapse, the Office for Judicial Complaints said yesterday.

John Harrison, a former city councillor, claimed he was just resting his eyes during the first day of the trial at Lancaster magistrates' court in March last year. But after discussions with his colleagues and a court official he decided to halt the case after a day and a half.

An investigation was launched after the mother of the 17-year-old defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, complained about the magistrate's behaviour and an application to this effect was made by the defence solicitor.

The inquiry found the behaviour of Mr Harrison, who had been a magistrate since 1997, "risked bringing the magistracy into disrepute" and he was removed.

At the time, the magistrate told a local newspaper: "I was not asleep, but I rested my eyes for five minutes or so. It was just a normal reaction in the middle of the afternoon. The court was warm – the heating was on and the sun was pouring in through the window.

"I was still listening to the defence solicitor speaking to the defendant and I was able to take down some notes related to what was said." He added that he was considering raising the issue of humidity in the courtroom at a meeting of the Lancaster bench.

But in a statement yesterday, the Office for Judicial Complaints said: "Following a complaint about Mr Harrison's conduct in a Lancaster youth court a conduct investigation panel found that his behaviour risked bringing the magistracy into disrepute and recommended Mr Harrison be removed from judicial office.

"The Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor accepted the recommendation to remove Mr Harrison from the magistracy."

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