A CROWN court judge who refused to allow a defendant to change his underpants was yesterday criticised as "rude, discourteous and brutal" during a hearing at London's Court of Appeal.
Lord Justice Laws said Judge Roger Keen QC should be "ashamed" of his conduct during the trial of Andrew Brian Cordingley at Sheffield Crown Court and said his behaviour had rendered a conviction "unsafe".
Judge Keen was presiding over Mr Cordingley's trial in November last year, when the 31-year-old, of Moor Lane, Pontefract, was facing charges of handling stolen goods and a proceeds of crime action.
He was eventually found guilty by a jury and sentenced to three years in prison, but yesterday Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mrs Justice Cox, quashed the conviction.
Mr Cordingley's lawyers successfully argued that the way Judge Keen had treated him – even though it was not in front of the jury – had so undermined his case that the conviction should be overturned.
Barrister Andrew Smith said Judge Keen had unfairly accused Mr Cordingley's legal team of time-wasting at the very start of the trial and, after the first day, withdrew bail.
He added that when Mr Cordingley's partner brought fresh underwear and a clean shirt to the court the next day, Judge Keen refused to allow him to change until the prosecution had finished putting their case.
It wasn't actually until day three that Mr Cordingley, who hadn't been able to shower in the cell where he was being held, was able to put on the clean clothes, and even then only after he had given evidence.
Mr Smith added that, when he had eventually got into the witness box, he had burst into tears. Quashing the convictions, Lord Justice Laws said: "We have been very gravely troubled by the judge's conduct.
"It should be remembered that every defendant is entitled to be tried fairly and with due regard to the presumption of innocence.
"We are bound to say we consider that the exchanges between judge and counsel, especially on the first day, betray a rudeness and discourtesy of which the judge should be ashamed.
"His treatment about the issue of the change of clothes was brutal; his withdrawal of bail was at least questionable. It is inescapable that the effect of the judge's conduct must have been to inhibit Mr Cordingley in the pursuit of his defence.
"He clearly felt the judge was prejudiced against him. It may well be that what the judge said affected him, causing adverse consequences in front of the jury."
Ordering a retrial, Lord Justice Laws declined to place reporting restrictions on the case, and said other grounds of appeal – which included arguments that Judge Keen had failed to properly put the defence case during his summing up – would not be ruled upon.
Mr Cordingley had been arrested in January 2006 following a police search of premises in Barnsley, at which they found a number of car radios which were later discovered to be stolen, as well as 17,000 in cash.
It was the defence case that Mr Cordingley had bought the radios at a fair market price and was not aware they were stolen, and said although the money was his, it came from legitimate sources.