Readers of John Mortimer's Rumpole stories will remember that this fictional old barrister was not always entirely respectful of the judiciary, and one of his favourite occupations was to rattle his old adversary Judge "Mad Bull" Bullingham.
At one time some of Cneifiwr's social acquaintances were barristers, and they liked nothing better when knocking back their claret than to swap stories about occupants of the bench past and present. Some judges had less than flattering nicknames (Bullying Manner, if I remember rightly, was Reginald Bullingham Manor), and the late Lord Denning was another favourite for his often eccentric rulings. One began, "It happened on April 19, 1964. It was bluebell time in Kent."
Another was the notoriously pro-establishment Mr Justice Cantley, the judge in the Jeremy Thorpe case, who famously described one of the defendants, George Deakin, as "probably the sort of man
whose taste ran to a cocktail-bar in his living-room", whilst Thorpe was
"a Privy Counsellor, a former leader of the Liberal Party and a
national figure with a very distinguished public record".
Thank goodness that all of those pro-establishment, red-faced and irascible public school judges are a thing of the past.
And it is with that thought in mind that we should all welcome today's ruling by Mr Justice Tugendhat that Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, was guilty of defamation by sending a tweet which meant, "in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that
the Claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys
living in care".
Which is obvious to anyone reading Ms Bercow's actual words:
"Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face* "
You can read Sally Bercow's statement on the outcome of the case here, and the text of the Mr Justice Tugendhat's verdict here.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, who is now the senior media judge in England, has been in the news several times this year. In January he hit the headlines when he was presiding over a case involving the sexual activities of undercover police officers.
Part of that case revolved around an interpretation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the judge decided that, on balance, Parliament would have envisaged "some possible sexual relationships" between undercover police officers and those they were investigating. In his judgement he cited James Bond as "a member of the intelligence services who used relationships with women to obtain information, or access to persons or property", and went on to argue that Bond and other fictional characters gave credence to the view that for many years spies had formed intimate sexual relationships for intelligence purposes.
All of which leads one to wonder whether Rumpole was actually a work of fiction.