The county’s senior judge bid a fond farewell to his colleagues this month, in a courtroom packed with judges, barristers, solicitors and court staff.
His Honour Judge Richard Brown DL - less formally known as ‘Send ’em Down Brown’ - presided over some of the most important cases in Sussex’s recent history.
Despite this Judge Brown, now aged 68, was far removed from the stereotypical image of a judge. His CV included stints as a taxi driver, assistant at a school for the maladjusted (as such schools were known in the 1960s) and as a bus driver in Brighton and Hove.
Lawyers, probation officers and court staff all paid tribute to a man who had been a judge since 1986, when he first sat as an assistant recorder.
Judge Richard Hayward said they would remember: “His kindness, his big and generous heart, the consideration and courtesy he shows to everyone.
“His complete lack of pomposity and unfailing sense of fun.”
Judge Anthony Scott-Gall said he had always maintained a calm presence, and got on with his work, without pomposity or pretension. “You shunned the limelight, and just wanted to get on with the job, without any fanfare,” he said.
Most speakers mentioned his sharp sense of humour. One barrister recalled: “Refusing bail for a man accused of robbing McDonald’s, you refused with that smile, saying: ‘I hear you can get porridge in McDonald’s.’”
Others recalled times when he had compared being in court to having ‘tea with Alice in Wonderland’.
Judge Brown told the gathering: “After hearing all of that, I’m tempted to say I’m going to change my mind.”
He disputed claims that everyone left his court satisfied that they had been treated fairly. Occasionally, he said, disgruntled defendants would write to him ‘suggesting various gymnastic feats’.
For his final line in court, he turned to Judge Scott-Gall, saying: “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Reporter Tim Harris recalls:
I’m sitting in the press seating in court three at Lewes Crown Court, waiting for a case to start. Just to my right is the judge’s bench. Approaching down the corridor which emerges behind the bench, probably inaudible to anyone else in the room, I can just make out a deep voice singing: ‘Hi ho, hi ho...’
This can only mean one thing - Judge Richard Brown is on his way.
Pre-trial hearings, with no jury members around to be unfairly influenced by his remarks, were an easy target for his rapier wit.
I recall a barrister telling him that his client would plead not guilty, claiming that: “Another person came into his house, used that baseball bat on the victim, and then left.”
The eminent judge asked him: “Do we have a name for this other person - was it... Father Christmas?”
On similar occasions, he would simply tell a defence barrister: “Get real,” or ask them: “Has your client been made aware of the benefits of a timely guilty plea?”
After watching two barristers fruitlessly speculating, without any solid information, about when a witness would be able to appear in court, he asked: “Has anyone considered using Alexander Bell’s recent invention to contact this woman, and find out when she expects to be well enough to attend court?”
Apparently, they had not.
On a busy morning, he was asked to rule on a dispute over trial procedure, he told the lawyers from each side: “Here’s a direction of the court for you: go downstairs to the cafe, get a cup of coffee each, and see if you can reach some sort of agreement.
“If you can’t, come back this afternoon and I’ll make a ruling.” He added one of his favourite phrases: “I’ll be here until 6.”
When sentencing, he knew how to be brief but entirely to the point.
“What you’ve done,” he told a child abuser, “is you’ve betrayed the trust that’s placed in any adult who’s privileged to enjoy the company of children.”
His unique no-nonsense approach will be greatly missed, and I’ll remember him any time I happen to be in court three at Lewes Crown Court.