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Flat Earth: Judge not . . .

THE wonderful self-importance of judges is not, it's always nice to remember, confined to this country or even found in its worst forms here. Here, they only want country houses with cooks and butlers to dance attendance on them at taxpayers' expense. Elsewhere judicial caprice takes more worrying forms, extending even to the moment when sentence is passed.

Take the case of Philadelphia judge Ricardo Jackson who last week sentenced kidnapper Derrick Shaw to seven to 15 years in the pen. Leaving the dock, Shaw (who is black) offered the opinion that the judge (also black) was nothing but 'a house nigger'. Mortally offended, the judge hauled him back and slapped another 35 years on his sentence.

Meanwhile, New York is still puzzling over a ruling by bankruptcy judge Burton J Lifland, who is overseeing a billion-dollar takeover of Macy's department store. It all seemed to be in the bag when suddenly the judge demanded a guarantee, 'etched in stone', that the fireworks display climaxing the annual Macy's Parade would henceforth always be held on the East River. Over the years, Macy's fireworks have wandered about a bit - lower Manhattan, the East River, on the Hudson. Why on earth should a judge hold up the dollars 9bn ( pounds 5.7bn) deal to ensure the spectacle is on the East Side? Who can say?

Judge Lifland lives on East 53rd Street.