Thursday, 14 September 2017

A tribute to His Honour Judge John Plumstead

When I was a young(er) barrister I remember one of my colleagues reminiscing about the French chef at Knightsbridge Crown Court to whom an order was given on arrival in the morning for a freshly cooked lunch eaten in convivial company in the Bar Mess during the short adjournment.  Knightsbridge Crown Court with Harrods for a neighbour is long gone as is the supply of food fresh or otherwise from almost all courts.  Instead we have peeling wall paper, leaking roofs, broken toilets.  Conviviality is in very short supply.

A rare pleasure it is then to appear at St Albans Crown Court where every Thursday all advocates are invited to a curry lunch with the judiciary sitting there.  Far from being an opportunity to curry favour (sorry) with the judges this is the best possible reminder that ultimately wherever we sit in the courtroom we are trying to achieve the same thing.

What has always made those lunches particularly enjoyable was the company of HHJ John Plumstead, the twinkling embodiment of bonhomie.  I know he has many friends and admirers that can attest to his qualities off the bench.  My dealings with him however were purely professional and it is on a professional level that I can observe that justice has lost one of her most human and likeable disciples.

It is no exaggeration that some courtrooms provoke in the heart of barristers a real sense of dread either because their custodians clearly absolutely hate being a judge or, worse, absolutely love it.  A proper judge respects the role but doesn't harbour intense feelings about it.  A superlative judge remembers they are a human being first and a judge second.

Judge Plumstead was never anything but human, his compassion for those who came before him whether wrongdoer in the dock or wronged in the witness box was deservedly legendary.  His was a discursive and informal style that put people at their ease even if juries sometimes wondered when the judge's stories would come to an end and the trial resume.  In sentencing he believed first and foremost in mercy and giving people a chance with a few notable exceptions, he couldn't stomach those that were violent towards women nor benefit fraudsters.

Instructions to appear in his court, whatever the case, always provoked in me the feeling of visiting a favourite uncle.  His sudden death has robbed all those that practise in St Albans of a kind and good judge, him and his family of what should have been a long and very well earned retirement.  He will be much missed. 


  1. Good words
    I knew him on an anything but professional level and he was indeed a lovely fellow

  2. What a lovely snapshot of the man. Thankyou.

  3. I have appeared before him on many occasions as an investigator and he was always polite and human. He always tried to help the young offender, often acting as a fatherly figure, trying to divert them from a life of crime

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