02 Jun Complaint against Judge Roger Thorn (Newcastle Crown Court)

Email to the Office for Judicial Complaints

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 12:54 PM
Subject: Complaint against Judge Roger Thorn (Newcastle Crown Court)

Dear Sirs,

I wish to make a complaint against Judge Roger Thorn concerning statements he has made which were published in the Sunderland Echo on 26th May 2011. The article is still available online via this link: http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/crime/drug_like_russian_roulette_1_3417325

I make the complaint personally but also in my capacity as the leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) a UK political party, whose address is P.O. Box 674, Salfords, Redhill, Surrey. RH1 9BN. For the purposes of correspondence, please use my personal address as given below.

Judge Thorn is quoted as saying that …”recent research indicates one in four cannabis users will trigger psychosis because of what they are doing. If you hope to be one of the three out of the four who get away with it you are playing Russian roulette.”

These statements are without any foundation in fact. All the scientific evidence and research points in the opposite direction from Judge Thorn’s statements which appear to be nothing more than uncritical repetition of tabloid newspaper reports. It is particularly worrying that the use of the phrase “playing Russian roulette” directly repeats the language used recently in the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard which have themselves been the subject of multiple complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. It is disgraceful that anyone involved in the administration of justice, particularly a judge, should make such inaccurate, misleading, prejudiced and sensationalist statements. They must call into question Judge Thorn’s suitability for any role in the judiciary but are conclusive proof that he is unfit to preside in any case concerning cannabis, so grossly improper is his conduct.

I believe that Judge Thorn has misunderstood research from 2005 into a functional polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene which is present in 25% of the population: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15866551. This is the only published research on the subject where the ratio “one in four” is mentioned. This is highly complex science which can be very confusing. Just two years later, researchers at the University of Cardiff announced in the British Journal of Psychiatry that the link between cannabis use and the COMT gene was “unfounded”: (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/191/5/402).

Overall, the most important evidence on this subject is from Keele University. In 2009, specifically in response to tabloid headlines linking cannabis with psychosis, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) commissioned the largest ever study of its type examining links between cannabis use and mental health. It looked at 600,000 subjects and concluded that “the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” despite increased cannabis use.

Prof. Glyn Lewis of the University of Bristol carried out a systematic review of all published evidence on the subject and said that 96% of people can use cannabis with no risk at all. Only this month he has re-stated that there is no certainty of a causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis. Writing in the journal “Addiction” in 2009 he said that focusing on schizophrenia in connection with cannabis use was “misguided” and that “Our research cannot resolve the question whether cannabis causes schizophrenia, but does show that up to 30,000 people need to be prevented from using cannabis to prevent one case of schizophrenia”.

Professor Leslie Iversen, chair of the ACMD and the government’s chief drugs advisor is also on the record saying that cannabis is “one of the safer recreational drugs. A recent CLEAR analysis of morbidity, hospital admissions, toxicity and propensity to psychosis showed that cannabis is 2953 times safer than alcohol.

While Judge Thorn is entitled to his opinion on cannabis, his statement was not about a matter of opinion, it was about a matter of scientific fact. His remarks amount to misconduct both because they are factually inaccurate and because they betray a bias which is incompatible with his position. I urge you to take the strongest possible steps to ensure he plays no further part in the trial of anyone for cannabis-related offences.

The evidence I have presented above is merely indicative of the vast body of peer-reviewed, scientific research which refutes the statements made by Judge Thorn. I can provide further evidence if required and I am ready to give oral evidence in person, if that would assist.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds