Judge sues newspaper for libel over court report

Judge Writing On Paper
Judge Writing On Paper

A judge is suing a newspaper for libel over its report on the sentence he handed down to a barrister stopped for motoring offences.

Brian Archer told a High Court jury the Sunday World wrongly implied he had shown favouritism in dealing with the case.

But defence counsel claimed the fine and two-week driving ban imposed on the repeat offender had been “unusually light”.

Defamation proceedings centre on the sentence given to Simon Reid, a public prosecution barrister.

In 2011 he was stopped for using a mobile phone while driving for a fourth time.

He was already on nine penalty points when his case came before Deputy District Judge Archer sitting in Dungannon Magistrates’ Court.

The judge decided not to impose further points which would have then triggered a six-month driving ban.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr Archer insisted he had exercised discretionary powers to hand down the shorter period of disqualification.

It was correct in law and within sentencing guidelines, he stressed.

“If you’re criticising my decision on this occasion that’s a matter for fair comment and I’m quite happy to enter that debate,” he said.

“I don’t accept it was a lenient sentence given the circumstances of this case.

“This article implied I gave favouritism to Simon Reid because he was a barrister.”

The lawyer was unknown to him at the time, Mr Archer told the court.

He also questioned why the newspaper failed to mention three other defendants in motoring cases he dealt with that day in the same way.

During cross-examination Nicholas Hanna QC, for the Sunday World, challenged him on the punishment dealt out to a repeat offender. He asked: “Do you think it’s good sense that there should be a reasonable period of disqualification for people who have shown they habitually offend?

“Not a rap over the knuckles of two weeks.”

Mr Archer replied that such a penalty can be serious, depending on the circumstances of the case.

As the jury of three men and four women listened to the exchanges, Mr Hanna put it to the plaintiff: “I’m suggesting you have been unusually light in your sentence of this case compared to others.”

Mr Archer said his sentence could have been appealed if thought to have been wrong. He added: “That’s not the crux of this article. If that was the crux of this article I would not be here, I would not have issued proceedings.”

The case continues.