Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Britain, blind magistrate and his guide dog make legal history

From The Star in the UK:

A Doncaster man has made legal history by sitting on the bench of a Crown Court with his guide dog.

Blind magistrate Ian Pearson (pictured) made his first appearance alongside a judge and another JP at Doncaster Crown Court to hear a couple of appeal cases.

And Lister, his faithful guide dog, was sitting alongside him all the time.
The 55-year-old, who lost his sight through retinitis pigmentosa many years ago, also became the first blind magistrate in South Yorkshire when he moved to Conisbrough from Walsall in the West Midlands two years ago.

Mr Pearson says he regards his achievement as a major breakthrough for blind and disabled people.

Prior to the introduction of the Disability Rights Act no blind person could have sat in a court of law.

Mr Pearson, who runs a disability awareness advice service from his home, used to work for local government in architectural management but when he lost his sight 10 years ago was forced to adapt to a different life.

But that did not deter him from applying to join the bench in Walsall and he was sworn in as a Justice of the Peace in 2001.

Because most of the court proceedings are verbal he has no problem, the main difference being pre-sentence reports have to be read in open court by a probation officer before the magistrates retire to reach a decision.

"I have got a fairly good memory and I get excellent support from colleagues, advocates, the court legal advisers and the court managers," he said.

"What other people look at, I listen to. When I listen to people it's amazing what their voices will give away.

"I can hear the tenor in the voice which helps me decide if defendants or witnesses are telling the truth. I can also tell when people are shuffling by the noises they make so I can feel when people are not being as truthful as they might be. We get to the same answer in different ways.

Obviously the legal profession in Doncaster are getting used to me now."

Mr Pearson said he was "extremely honoured" to be asked to sit in Doncaster Crown Court alongside Judge Jacqueline Davies, the town's resident judge.

"The judge was a great help and thought I was of help to her. I hope I get the chance again," he said.

Lister, who has been Mr Pearson's guide dog for six years, was also on his best behaviour. "He was very restrained and has an air of aloofness. Some people in court might not be aware he's there unless he wags his tail above the bench!"