Judge formally warned over pro-marriage comments

High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge has been disciplined for media comments he made in support of marriage – but he says the response is “disproportionate”.

The formal warning relates to his involvement in articles for The Times newspaper in December last year and for The Telegraph’s website in July.

The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) – the official body that deals with judicial discipline – says the comments amount to “judicial misconduct”.

Stability

Sir Paul, speaking about same-sex marriage, told The Times in 2012: “So much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1 per cent of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown”.

And in his Telegraph article the judge commented: “‘Stability’ is the name of the game and comparatively speaking that means marriage.”

Last month Sir Paul said he will retire early, partly because of the lack of support from some of his colleagues for his pro-marriage beliefs.

He says many agree with him, but won’t say so publicly: “With one or two exceptions they have been very, if quietly, supportive.”

Champion

In 2012 the judge set up the Marriage Foundation which aims to be a “national champion” for the institution.

Criticising the formal warning from the JCIO, Sir Paul said: “I strongly disagree with the overall conclusion of the JCIO, which underlies this announcement that my occasional comments on the huge social problem of family breakdown or my public support for the Marriage Foundation amounts to misconduct or brings the judiciary into disrepute.

“Indeed I think the contrary is true.”

“My involvement with the work of the Marriage Foundation may indeed be unusual and unconventional for a judge, but I do not agree that that renders it, of itself, ‘incompatible with my judicial responsibilities’.

Lower profile

“It has not in any way interfered with my judicial work and no one who has appeared in my court has ever suggested that it has or does”, Sir Paul commented.

Last year the judge was told to keep a “lower profile” over his role at the Marriage Foundation by the JCIO’s predecessor.

At the time the body said a lower profile role within the organisation would be “more appropriate for a serving judicial office holder”.

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