Judge not lest ye be judged
One of Scots Law News' favourite sheriffs, Richard Davidson of Dundee, has hit the headlines once again.
The Scotsman for 9 February 2009 had a front-page splash about Sheriff Davidson apparently comparing a mixed-race mother in a child access dispute to Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe who is well-known for having little time for judges and principles such as the rule of law and judicial independence. The mother apparently refused to comply with an order by Sheriff Davidson under which the child's father was to have access to the child with another adult present. The sheriff indicated his determination to uphold the rule of law, saying:
If you want an illustration of what happens when the rule of law is undermined by government, you need look no further than what is currently going on in Zimbabwe, where the president, who is scarcely still entitled to be so described, has by brute force and threats of violence completely undermined the democratic process. You may find the analogy with Robert Mugabe to be distressing and uncomfortable, but if I let you away with continuing to defy the order of the court, then someone else will defy the order of the court citing you as a precedent and, before long, we will have anarchy.
Without wishing to excuse a failure to comply with the court's order, Scots Law News feels that any analogy between that conduct and the Zimbabwe situation is well wide of the mark. There is a huge difference between a head of state refusing to accept the rule of law and a private citizen disobeying a court order in a matter concerning her child. At the same time, for The Scotsman to suggest that this was judicial misconduct justifying the sheriff's removal from office was well over the top as well. That also applied to a number of the comments garnered by The Scotsman, which seemed to rest on some notion that the sheriff's comments were racially motivated. Even in these sensitive times, that idea seems completely wrong-headed.
On 10 February The Times added some more detail that The Scotsman had not seen fit to print. The sheriff's comments were made in a judgement given in December 2008 in which he sentenced the mother to a three-month jail sentence for contempt of court. The mother is currently appealing against that sentence.