The Life and Times of a District Judge

Retired District Judge Alistair Murray Babbington visited the Rotary Club of Roundhay to talk about the life and times of a District Judge

Retired District Judge Alistair Murray Babbington visited the Rotary Club of Roundhay to talk about the life and times of a District Judge

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Last week the club went to see Texas country music star Kelly Willis, and to sample the Mediterranean culinary delights of Seven Arts Café in Chapel Allerton. This week we were happily back to the excellent roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Sand Moor Golf Club, at another open meeting where we were treated to ‘the life and times of a District Judge’.

Alistair M Babbington

Retired District Judge Alistair M Babbington gave us some fascinating insights into his career, as a family solicitor in Chapeltown for over 21 years followed by 16 years as a full time District Judge. He started his working life as a flour miller and baker before reading law as a mature student, and his City and Guilds certificates used to hang on the wall alongside his legal qualifications: a practical background that has stood him in good stead when called upon to decide cases about accidents in the workplace.

The work of a District Judge is astonishingly broad. The 440 DJ’s in England and Wales deal with 87% of all civil disputes, including, but not limited to, debt collecting, company directors’ disqualifications, insolvency, probate, personal injuries and clinical negligence, infant settlements and family law.

Alistair spent most of his time dispensing justice in Barnsley, where an endless procession of litigants in person would argue about ruined holidays, unsatisfactory wedding dresses or wedding photographs, horses that wouldn’t jump, puppies with the wrong pedigree, tripping accidents and alleged whiplash injuries sustained in low speed collisions. It was clear from Alistair’s description that he presided over those cases with a robust, practical approach. An example was a claim about a vacuum cleaner that wouldn’t clean: the claimant had been foolish enough to bring the offending piece of machinery to court: Alistair tipped out his waste basket onto the carpet, and briskly hoovered up the mess. Case dismissed.

Alistair also touched on the damage that estranged parents do to their children by using the court process as a form of warfare. In one case Alistair let two highly educated parents who should have known better argue about contact by shouting and interrupting each other for several minutes while he sat in silence. He then replayed the tape of the proceedings, which shamed them into agreeing an order. He also told us of his unconventional but effective method of dividing disputed assets: making the parties choose item by item after tossing a coin to see who had first choice. The result usually was what should have happened without recourse to the courts, sensible and agreed division with mutual give and take.

Mike Fox, giving the vote of thanks, praised Alistair for the breadth of his talk, and for his refreshingly rational approach to seemingly intractable problems.

Questions from the audience revealed that Alistair still sits part time, and still bakes. We very much enjoyed his insights into law at the sharp end. Perhaps he can return to deploy both sets of skills when we get involved with the Young Chef competition.