Man attacks judge in court and receives 18 months


Paul Graham, aged 27, works as a fitness instructor. He was in HHJ John Devaux’s court at the Crown Court at Ipswich watching his brother, Phillip Graham aged 30, be sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving.

Nothing particularly remarkable about that, you might think. Well this is where it got interesting.

Paul Graham ran from the public gallery towards the bench, where the Judge sits. He ‘vaulted’ the wooden gate at the side of the bench and attacked the Judge, throwing punches, pulling his wig off and knocking his glasses off.

A local clergyman and the High Sheriff of Suffolk were sat alongside the Judge, and ‘did their best to bring the attack to an end’. Police officers rushed to the Judge’s aid and restrained Mr Graham. No injury was caused, although witnesses reported the Judge as looking ‘shaken’.

So, what happened next?

Well he was taken down to the cells at the court. The case law suggests that for contempt of court cases, there is a ‘cooling off period’ in which the contemptnor can consider their actions – this is usually most appropriate where there has been an outburst in court, and an
apology (and perhaps a few words to the effect that the contemptnor is a bit of a wally) will suffice.

In this case, Mr Graham was not so fortunate. He was remanded and dealt with by a different judge the following day.

HHJ Goodin stated the following:

“When the judge had passed the inevitable sentence of imprisonment, you left the public gallery at speed, travelled down the side of the court very fast, vaulted over the wooden gate at the side of the bench, physically attacked Judge Devaux by punches which actually caused no physical injury,”

“That conduct was disruptive, insulting and intimidating. It was a contempt of court.

“We have in this country courts which are open to the public, but what you did was an attack
on justice, on the administration of justice, an attack on the rule of law.

“Any violent physical attack on the judge or any member of court staff or officer of the court must be dealt with severely.”

Graham’s advocate stated that he did not accept that he threw any punches, but that he wished to apologise unreservedly.

He was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.

So, what of the sentence?

The maximum sentence is 2 years. Against that, how does 18 months fare? Well, my personal view is that it is a bit harsh.

There are few cases on attacking judges and the two that spring to mind are R v Russell 2006 EWCA Crim 470 and R v Phelps 2009 EWCA Crim 2308.

In Russell, during the summing up, the defendant (who was later convicted of attempted murder and other offences, for which he received 24 years) vaulted the dock, ran in front of the jury and attacked the Judge. He shouted, “Do you think you are going to stitch me up. I deserve a fair trial”. He tore the Judge’s sash off, but the Judge held D and kept him at arm’s length for several seconds until he was restrained by police. He was given 18 months consecutive to the sentences for his other offences. The Court of Appeal said that was merciful.

Phelps is perhaps less helpful as the violence was more serious, there were injuries, and
the contemptnor had repeatedly shouted: ‘give me the maximum [sentence]’ and ‘all judges are cunts’. He received 21 months.

It may be worth considering that, where the violence is more serious, or there are actual physical injuries, it may be appropriate to charge and assault instead of contempt for such an incident in a court room.

Whilst discussing this on Twitter with a few other lawyers, it became apparent that opinion was split. Dan and I felt it was a little harsh (but acknowledged we are a bit soft) but @Defencebrief (worth a follow) made the very valid (and persuasive) points:

  1. Is there a more serious contempt (charged as contempt) than attacking one of HM’s
    judges in a court room?
  2. The motivation – presumably anger and revenge at passing a lawful sentence – could
    not really be more serious.
  3. If Graham behaves like that in a court room, imagine what he might be like if, in a
    pub, someone accidentally spilled his pint!

Phelps and Russell certainly support @Defencebrief’s view.

It is interesting to note that had this been an incident of assaulting a police officer, the starting point would have been a fine (see p 19). There is a world of difference between those two sentences. Do you think that’s right?

4 thoughts on “Man attacks judge in court and receives 18 months

  1. Matthew Bolt

    Jontip: Judges can invite local worthies to sit on the bench with them to observe proceedings, just as they can invite students to sit with them. I believe it used to be far more common though.

    Personally I think this is a bit harsh given the fact that emotions would have been running high, especially given the type of offence his brother was being sentenced for. However I agree with Defencebrief, it can’t get much more serious, although I know of an assault involving petrol and an (almost) lighted match.

    Given that a short sharp shock will probably serve justice best maybe a variation under s.155 PCC(S)A 2000 would be appropriate if an application to purge the contempt was made.

  2. James Sapsard

    Per HHJ Goodin, “…punches which actually caused no physical injury”.

    The physical effect, in this case, did not go beyond common assault, for which the maximum sentence is 6 months, (unless the attack is racially or religiously aggravated, in which case the maximum is 2 years).

    The CPS, under ‘Relevant Sentencing Case Law’ – ‘Recent Decsions’ [sic] – ‘Abusing Judge …’ @ refer to R v Phelps [2010] 2 Cr. App. R. (S) 1 where “during the course of mitigation the appellant became incensed and struck out at a (female) dock officer. During the ensuing struggle he punched two other (female) officers. Sentenced forthwith to 2 years for contempt consecutive to sentence for other offences. Court of Appeal thought it difficult to imagine a worst [sic] case of bad behaviour in court. Nonetheless, it reduced the sentence to 12 months. The judge would have been better not to have sentenced immediately – the appellant should have been given time to calm down and apologise if he chose too.”

    The Court of Appeal thought 12 months appropriate where it was “difficult to imagine a worse case of bad behaviour in court.”

    I am of the opinion that the sentence passed by HHJ Goodin is harsh by reference to sentencing guidelines and is appealable.

  3. Andrew

    Remember the chap who escaped from the dock at Woolwich and got into the judges’ corridor where there was nothing between him and the door to the outside but a judge in a wig and gown?

    He thought he was in the clear – but the judge was a former officer in the Irish Guards for whom he had played in their First XV and he still turned out for a local side. By the time SERCO got to him it was more like a rescue than a recapture!


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