Death of Judge James Pickles at 85

CONTROVERSIAL former judge James Pickles has died at his Halifax home aged 85.

Judge Pickles, who flouted the voluntary code that the judiciary do not speak out in public, and criticised the legal system for being infected by conservatism, complacency and conformity, died on Saturday at his home in Halifax.

One of his sons, Simon, said that he had been unwell for a couple of years, though he remained keenly interested in current affairs.

Judge Pickles, nephew of the broadcaster Wilfred Pickles, hit the headlines on a number of occasions for his sentencing decisions and his criticism of those at the top of the judicial hierarchy.

The decision to jail a young mother for helping shoplifters and send her 10-week-old baby to prison with her sparked a furore.

He was also criticised by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, after he jailed a young mother who refused to give evidence against her former boyfriend.

MPs and women's groups were furious and the Court of Appeal quashed the decision. But the judge was unapologetic: "The only sentence people really take notice of is loss of liberty."

He called for legal brothels and relaxation of the drug laws, saying they served only to hound people and encouraged robbery by pushing up prices.

He retired from the bench in 1991. His wife Sheila died in 1995. He leaves sons Simon and Roger, and a daughter, the actress Carolyn Pickles, who has had a wide-ranging career including playing Shelly Williams in Emmerdale.

He also leaves seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Simon, a freelance housing consultant, said: "Even though he was largely immobile and bedbound for a lot of the time, he remained keenly interested in his grandchildren and kept up to date with current affairs." The funeral will take place in the New Year.