Philip Cattan (65) is the judge accused of falling asleep during a rape case.
Presiding over the trial of a Manchester man accused of raping and sexually assaulting two girls under the age of 13, Cattan is said to have nodded off while the first of thealleged victims answered defence questions by videolink.
The trial had been going on for only a few days, but it is four and a half decades since Cattan was called to the bar – in 1970, the year Paul McCartney announced the break-up of the Beatles.
As a newly qualified barrister he may have felt he had Wings. Forty-four years later, Cattan is still touring the Northern Circuit – plying his trade as a criminal lawyer, working as a recorder (part-time judge).
Of course there is plenty of privilege in his day to day existence – wigs and gowns and ‘all rise’ and first class rail fare claimed as standard by the judiciary. But also plenty that is workaday – similar-sounding tales of cruelty, wantonness and people simply losing it, stretching out year after year, all having to be processed; subjected to the due process of law.
‘Due process’ means that people caught up in events leading to criminal proceedings – whether as defendants or witnesses, are accorded the process that is their due. Without this there is not even the possibility of justice (still less the actuality), since failure to observe due process amounts to a form of contempt for those involved.
On the other hand, observing the formality of the court serves to enter all those involved into the public domain – the place raised above personal existence where human failings are addressed in a duly impersonal way.
If he did fall asleep while his own court was in session, Recorder Cattan is to be upbraided for his offence against the requisite level of formality – the formalities which formulate the presence of the public.
But if we regard his alleged lapse primarily as a personal affront to the prosecution witness, then we are obliged to regard him in equally personal terms: an elderly man in court on a hot and humid day, already saturated with the human weakness encountered throughout his 44-year-career in criminal law, watching yet further evidence of this on television, allowing personal frailty to get the better of his public role.