Popular judge Simon Hammond has hung up his wig and robes after 23 years on the Bench – with a warning that increasing delays in cases coming to court is denying people justice.
He said in his retirement speech at a packed Leicester Crown Court: “Justice delayed is justice denied.
“We must not be sucked into acceptable mediocrity.
“I’m not an anarchist, not disloyal but just believe passionately about justice – that’s why I became a solicitor and later a judge.”
His farewell speech and tributes, in a valedictory by high court judge, Mrs Justice Carr QC, and barrister, Philip Gibbs, were relayed via video link to other crown courts in Nottingham and Derby.
Judge Hammond, who was the first Leicestershire solicitor – rather than a barrister – to be appointed a judge said about recent cuts in the court system: “The court service must ensure that judges are provided with the means to administer justice fairly and expeditiously and that includes taking into account the needs of those who use the courts including, amongst others, witnesses, particularly those who have been victims of serious crime.
“Bear in mind a majority of trials in the crown court are sex cases, which for them, coming to court is a huge emotional ordeal.
“We’re indebted to our Presiding Judges who fought tooth & nail to restore Leicester to having six courts after two courtrooms were closed down to save money.
“The result is that in 12 months we have reduced our backlog by 25 per cent.
“Everyone has worked so hard to achieve that but we can now expect to have our sitting days reduced because we are doing so well!
“Where is the logic in that efficiency?
“Over-listing cases, because of the pressure to reduce our backlog; the downside is that some cases which are listed for trial simply don’t get heard and are adjourned because there is no judge available.
“That can cause huge upset and hardship to witnesses and defendants who will have steeled themselves for trial.
“People lose faith and become disillusioned with the system.
“For advocates it is so disheartening.
“For example, a 10 day loan-shark trial was fixed in November 2015 for June 20 this year, but no court or judge were available and so it was adjourned to April next year.”
On a personal note Judge Hammond said: “Today is my public farewell after a journey which started half-a-mile from here, in Friar Lane, Leicester.
“When I left school at 18 they had not invented gap years; I had a gap fortnight before I started five years articles with my father to become a solicitor, qualifying in 1967. He then worked in London, returning to the family firm, Philip J Hammond and Sons, in 1977.
Judge Hammond and his wife Louise – with whom he shares a love of horses and country life – have two daughters and a son.
He said: “When I qualified solicitors weren’t eligible to become judges, but that changed a few years later.
“In 1986 I started my judicial career as an Assistant Recorder and in 1990 Recorder and was made a Circuit Judge in 1993.
“I absorbed much of what I learnt from my father about treating people with courtesy & respect, whoever they are.
“As a criminal judge I’ve always endeavoured to be tough but fair, because I believe that’s what the public expects – some people deserve a chance to have the help to turn their lives around.
“But serious crime must be met with heavy sentences to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the system.”
In 2002 Judge Hammond was appointed Diversity and Community Relations Judge for Leicester.
Earlier this year the Mayor presented him with an Honoured Citizen Award, because of his role outside the courtroom, including involvement with the city’s different faith organisations, accompanying street pastors at night and being a church warden.
The Judge praised all those he had worked with and said: “Having been in full time work since 18, I face retirement with apprehension because I will miss working in the theatre of a crown court which I’ve loved.”
High Court Judge Mrs Justice Carr QC said: “Judge Hammond is one of the most senior circuit judges in this country.
“Almost 23 years ago to the day he became the first solicitor in Leicester to be appointed a circuit judge.
“He’s dealt with many difficult and complex cases.
“He’s unfailingly fair, kind-hearted and just.
“He’s always played by the rules and his contribution to public service goes way beyond sitting as a judge.”
Leicester’s senior resident Judge Nicholas Dean QC wished Judge Hammond a successful retirement along with more than a dozen crown and county court judges, including two of the city’s former resident judges, Michael Pert QC (retired) and The Recorder of Nottingham, Judge Michael Stokes QC.
The court room was packed with members of the Bar, solicitors, court staff as well as probation officers and members of Judge Hammond’s family including his wife, Louise, and two of his three adult children Edward and Coco.
Barrister Philip Gibbs said: “Thank you for your unfailing common decency and courtesy to all, for creating an environment where justice can thrive.
“Your court was one where respect and fair treatment for all were the order of the day in Your Honour’s court, whether for the most loathsome defendant, or barrister for that matter, or for the most petrified complainant; equal treatment.
“Thank you for your wholehearted support when our profession has been unfairly under attack by various governments.
“You never failed us and we will remember it.
“Thank you for your support of this fine city…The Tigers, the multi-culturalism and Leicester City – sharing the joy.
“Thank you for living in the real world, something you often told defendants that judges do, and so true in respect of yourself.
“A thoroughly modern judge with a kindly inclusive attitude to the work, but a man with old fashioned good manners which should never go out of fashion.”