Retiring Norwich judge reflects on a life of law and order

Judge Paul Downes' 70th birthday celebrations yesterday were tinged with sadness that the marking of his seventh decade means he can no longer carry on as a full time judge.

Friends and colleagues held a special celebration in Court 1 with speeches and even a standing ovation marking the judge's departure from the role he was appointed to in 1995.

But his retirement does not necessarily mean it will be the last colleagues – or criminals – see of him at the crown court.

He said: 'I don't think I would've carried on full time – but I may do it part time to keep me out of mischief!'

Educated in Manchester and London, Judge Paul Downes was called to the bar in 1967.

After working in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Suffolk, he came to Norfolk in 1971, having built up an affinity with the county following a holiday on the north Norfolk coast in 1967.

He practised as a barrister in Norwich before becoming a recorder, or part time judge, in Norwich, and was appointed a judge in the mid 1990s.

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Judge Downes has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including a trial in 2000 involving a drugs baron thought to have made �640m during his criminal career.

Andrew Billimore, a former guide at Ely Cathedral, was jailed for 20 years after being convicted of dealing in cocaine and cannabis.

He was described by Judge Downes as dealing at the 'very top of the bracket' of the most significant drugs ring seen in the eastern region for many years. Detectives said after the hearing at Norwich Crown Court that the investigation resulted in one of the largest seizures of drugs and cash in the history of British drug trafficking. But one of the most memorable cases for Judge Downes happened while he was a barrister in Suffolk.

He said: 'I defended a chap who had killed and started to eat his next door neighbours and then killed his father, who he was eating when the police arrived.'

Crime figures reveal Norfolk is one of the safest counties in the country, but Judge Downes said: 'I think there's more work now than there used to be. Crime seems to be on the increase, but on the other hand, because of the government cuts the staff are not being replaced and judges are not being replaced so everyone is having to do a lot more work to keep up.'

Like the court system, the custodial system is feeling the strain with prison populations seemingly forever at bursting point, but Judge Downes said he has never felt any pressure not to send people to prison.

He said: 'I don't think any judge sends anyone to prison if they can avoid it. I always look for other ways of dealing with it if I can. I have to do what the right sentence is regardless of the prison population.'

Judge Downes said he would be in favour of seeing the veil of anonymity which currently protects victims of rape or sexual assault being extended to the accused until such times as they are proved guilty.

He said he has enjoyed his time as a judge very much. The crown court was a 'very happy' place to work.

Barrister Michael Clare, on behalf of the local bar, praised Judge Downes describing him as a 'fair, humane and supportive' judge.

Away from court, Judge Downes, a married father of four and grandfather of five who lives near Happis-burgh, enjoys reading, walking and singing. He has sung in choirs all his life.

As well as sitting as a crown court judge in Norwich and East Anglia, Judge Downes sat in the High Court in the family division. He is chancellor for the Diocese of Norwich and also the Diocese of Wakefield, and a trustee of St Martin's Housing Trust.