7 Aug 2015

Lord Janner abuse claims: peer must appear in court

Lord Janner must attend a hearing over the 22 child sex abuse charges he faces, chief magistrate Howard Riddle rules.

The first hearing into allegations that the peer sexually abused children over several decades was told that he was not well enough to appear in court, but this was rejected by Mr Riddle.

The hearing, at Westminster magistrates’ court, follows a decision to overturn a ruling by Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders that the former Labour peer should not be charged with alleged child sex crimes because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

His lawyer told the hearing today that he was unfit to attend the hearing and two medical experts had written reports confirming this.

Trial of the facts

A trial of the facts, where a jury hears the evidence against an individual considered too ill for a full trial, is expected to be held into the 22 offences allegedly committed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Lawyer Andrew Smith QC told the court: “Lord Janner is not in attendance. The reason for that submission on his part is that he is unfit to face the court.” But chief magistrate Howard Riddle said he would hear evidence from defence medical experts before deciding whether to allow Lord Janner to miss the hearing.

The district judge said: “This would appear on the face of it to be a section 51 hearing, he wouldn’t have to enter pleas, he wouldn’t have to say anything. I imagine he would be here for less than two minutes. It matters not whether he understands the proceedings. There is only one issue – is he fit enough to come through that door for less than one minute?”

‘Severe dementia’

Giving evidence for Lord Janner, Dr James Warner, who has 20 years’ experience working with dementia, told the court: “There is no doubt in my mind that Lord Janner has dementia and that it is severe.”

He said that the Lord Janner’s condition was “beginning to really impact on his day to day life”, and that he was “highly likely to become distressed” in court. He added that the severity of dementia “would impair to a very significant extent his ability to communicate verbally” and that “he would not be able to understand that he was in court”, saying that Lord Janner was also showing early signs of Parkinson’s.


Ms Saunders’ U-turn, following an independent review, was announced in June and led to calls for her to resign. The 87-year-old peer’s family strongly denies the allegations made against Lord Janner.

A judge will have to decide if Lord Janner is fit to plead. If he is not, a jury will be asked to decide whether he he is responsible for the acts he is charged with.

The judge will also have to rule on whether he should appear during the trial or can be excused on medical grounds.

A trial of the facts is not a conventional trial because the defendant cannot put forward a defence.There is therefore no guilty verdict and the court cannot pass sentence.