God in the Life Of retired judge Anthony King

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RETIRED Judge Anthony King tells Jo Duckles how a 40 year law career inspired him to become a trustee of Parents and Children Together (PACT). Anthony feels very lucky and grateful for what he describes as a privileged and comfortable life, growing up in north Somerset, going to boarding school where he got a satisfying education and on to Oxford University.

“I was brought up a cradle Christian. My mother was a deeply Christian person. I met my father for the first time when I was four. He’d had a torrid time in the Far East in the Second World War and came back a damaged individual. He had questions about his faith, but nevertheless he remained a Christian until his death,” says Anthony, who despite struggling with questions of faith in his late teens, never departed from Christianity, really finding the foundation of it when he married and had children.

“Of course as a lawyer I always wanted to look at an evidential basis for my Christianity and have never found one that satisfies me.” Despite never finding concrete evidence for Christianity, Anthony has chosen to believe despite admitting he will not fully know the truth until he “crosses the divide”.

Anthony became a lawyer because he enjoyed questioning and arguing and felt life as a barrister would be a huge adventure. “It was the opportunity to do what was right, fair and just, arguing for a cause and it was something I enjoyed.” Anthony says that when he was called to the Bar in 1966 there had been a big expansion in the number of barristers around due to the expansion of Legal Aid.

“To begin with I had to live on the sort of money people would not dream of living on. I supplemented the income by teaching and as a night lawyer, checking for defamation and contempt of court for a newspaper. I was looking for things that shouldn’t be published and pointing them out to the editors.”

Meanwhile Anthony considers himself to be incredibly lucky to have met his wife Camilla (known to her friends as Berti) under a table at a party in a shared flat. “We were sitting under the table because that was the only space there was,” says Anthony. “We got married two-and-a-half years later. We’ve been married 43 years and have three grown-up children.
“I have been very fortunate with my family and I think my marriage and my children have brought the greatest joy to my life.

“It all sounds as though I have had an extremely comfortable lifestyle but I have had opportunities to see how life could have turned out. During my student days I was a factory worker, a railway porter and a hospital porter for a radiotherapy department. I saw an awful lot of people who were extremely ill.”

His Bar work saw Anthony, who was based in London at the time, travel as far north as Durham and as far south as Exeter as well as everywhere in between. “I was a jack-of-all-trades doing family work, criminal work and civil work,” he says. As time went on his career saw him doing more and more criminal work until he reached the stage where he needed to decide whether to continue or change career.

“In those days you didn’t apply to be a judge. A fairly close record was kept of people who might be acceptable on the bench, in a file in the Lord Chancellor’s department. I was made a Recorder and sat for a month, then returned to my ordinary practice for the rest of the working year.”

The first time a letter arrived from the Lord Chancellor, Anthony didn’t accept the invitation. But when a second letter came a year later, he took the opportunity to be a circuit judge. “At first I was appointed to Birmingham, and two other courts but I really wanted to come to Oxford where I had been living and practised for a great number of years. I got that opportunity a few years later. I was invited to sit on cases of every kind and eventually on heavier crimes, although I wished I had been able to continue doing family work as well. I came to the conclusion that the most important work as far as I was concerned was family work, although I was extremely interested in criminal trials and I continued doing that until I retired just under three years ago.”

The work of a barrister or Crown Court Judge is not as easy as it may appear to anyone unfamiliar with the inner workings of the criminal justice system. There is a large amount of background reading for any case, before the lawyer dons their wig and gown ready for a court hearing or a trial. On top of that they must keep up to date with the law, which is always changing.  “You have to be able to compartmentalise the various cases you are working on, switching them out of your brain when a hearing ends to go on to concentrate on the next one,” says Anthony. “If you are presiding over a case you have to prepare judgments and summing up.  On the other hand I had a very strong sense that the job I was doing was something that was really needed by the public and from a professional point of view I enjoyed hearing really well argued and explained cases.”

As he gained experience Anthony was given approval for sitting on the trials that were deemed more difficult and serious, including alleged murders. “I found my career absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. I wondered whether retirement was going to be hugely disappointing following that but I was able to retire at almost 70, when I chose to, and I have not regretted the decision at all.”

But in a world where the grimmest stories of life in the UK are played out every day, how did Anthony retain his cheerful persona and Christian faith? “I became case hardened for most of it. You have to sit back and do your job in a professional way. At the Bar as well as on the Bench I have been faced with cases I have never forgotten.” Those cases include defending alleged child sex offenders and others, when at times there may be previous convictions that cannot be revealed to a jury.  “As well as those serious occasions though, there are also an awful lot of comic moments and you get to know those who are practising in the same field. Your relationships with your fellow professionals are very important indeed.”

“The one thing that struck me throughout my professional life was that what is so important on both the family and criminal benches are young people. By the time they got to the stage of coming to court it was often too late. When they found themselves on the wrong side of the law and with things going wrong for them it was because they didn’t have the opportunity I had of a secure, loving and safe home.”

Anthony is loving his retirement, taking the time to do fishing, gardening, bridge and amateur drama. He decided he also wanted to do something really constructive, and with his experiences in the family court, he decided becoming a trustee of PACT would be just the thing.

“While I don’t have a knowledge of business I have something to contribute through my knowledge and 45 years in law of the things that can go wrong in family life and in particular the huge merits of providing a safe home for children in a loving environment when the child’s own parents are not able to provide that.”

Anthony and Berti, who is a Roman Catholic, live in Drayton St Peter. They have two grown-up sons, one in the Navy and one working for a bank in Australia, and a grown-up daughter who is the head of a school for children with learning disabilities. They also have four grandchildren.

Retired judge Anthony King visits Diocesan Church House. Photo: Jo Duckles

Retired judge Anthony King visits Diocesan Church House. Photo: Jo Duckles


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