A magistrate judge who fell asleep during a trial last year has been relieved of his position following an investigation by the Office for Judicial Complaints.
The trial of a 17-year-old youth accused of assault, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had to be abandoned after the defendant’s mother noticed John Harrison dozing at the bench.
‘I was not asleep but I rested my eyes for five minutes or so,’ Mr Harrison said. ‘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.
‘My two colleagues sitting with me said I was not asleep and we could have continued with the trial. But I listened to my legal adviser and felt that if the mother was so aggrieved it was in the interests of justice to have a retrial.’
But an investigation found otherwise. It said Mr Harrison, who had been a magistrate since 1997, “risked bringing the magistracy into disrepute”.
In a statement, 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 Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice directed that an independent review body should consider Mr Harrison’s case.
‘Following its inquiry, the review body agreed with the panel’s findings and recommended Mr Harrison be removed from the magistracy.
‘The Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor accepted the recommendation to remove Mr Harrison from the magistracy.’
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