Judges are meant to have thick-skins, and are frequently disrespected by defendants who cannot contain their anger or feel they have nothing more to lose.
But one judge stunned Chelmsford Crown Court in the UK by giving as good as she got.
Judge Patricia Lynch QC had just sentenced 50-year old John Hennigan to 18 months in prison for insulting a black woman, when Hennigan glared at the judge and said, “you’re a bit of a cunt”.
The sharp-witted QC quickly responded by saying, “you’re a bit of a cunt yourself. Being offensive doesn’t help”.
Hennigan then shouted, “Go fuck yourself”, to which Her Honour replied, “You too”.
Infuriated, the defendant then struck the glass panel of the dock and shouted the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” before saying “Jews, gas them all”.
The Judge calmly responded by saying, “We are all really impressed. Take him down”.
It was Mr Hennigan’s 23rd criminal conviction, and the ninth breach in 11 years of an ‘Anti Social Behaviour Order’.
Contempt of Court in NSW
Anyone who engages in conduct which could interfere with or impede the administration of justice, or undermine the authority, dignity or performance of the court may be subject to the common law offence of contempt of court.
Contempt may involve acts within the courtroom, or the publication of material which could prejudice the course of justice.
While just being angry would not by itself amount to contempt, the following conduct could:
- Swearing at and abusing the magistrate or judge
- Filming witnesses in order to intimidate them
- Taking photos of jury members or court proceedings
- Refusing to take an oath, or give evidence
- Disobeying court orders
- To persist in being noisy in court or keep interrupting the proceedings
- Statements about a judge’s conduct or their decisions that are influenced by factors other than evidence in court
- Destroying documents that are likely to be required in court proceedings
- Impeding access to courts
The judge in Mr Hennigan’s case chose not to charge him with contempt – perhaps content with giving him a heavy sentence and a spray of her own.