Crime and Court Reporter Tony Earnshaw meets His Honour Judge Jonathan Rose, the Resident Judge at Bradford Crown Court.

In October last year, His Honour Judge Jonathan Rose was appointed Resident Judge at Bradford Crown Court.

Two months later, he was named by Bradford Council as the new Honorary Recorder of Bradford – a ceremonial role that develops links between local authorities and the judiciary.

Seen in tandem, the roles mark the pinnacle of almost half a century of work within the law.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: His Honour Judge Jonathan RoseHis Honour Judge Jonathan Rose (Image: T&A)

Yet it might all have been so very different.

In the 1970s the teenaged Jonathan Rose was a pupil at Roundhay School in Leeds and had ambitions to pursue a career in medicine.

Those ambitions came to a crashing halt in the summer of 1977 when hoped-for A-level grades didn’t materialise. He remembers the moment all too well: the results came through the day after the death of rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bradford Crown Court, where the city's major cases are dealt with Bradford Crown Court, where the city's major cases are dealt with (Image: Telegraph & Argus)

Speaking in the library at Bradford Combined Court Centre, Judge Rose remembers: “I wanted to be a doctor. That was the only plan that I had. What I forgot to do whilst at school was work terribly hard.

“I wasn’t really a scientist. I tried my hand at public speaking and wasn’t too bad at it. I won a couple of competitions. I was still determined to do medicine but not determined enough to get into university.”

His ability as a public speaker led his parents to encourage him to pursue law at the-then Preston Polytechnic.

It was, he says, “a lightbulb moment”.

He adds: “I was suddenly immersed in a whole new world. I thought, ‘This is me’. It was a relief.

“These were things that were interesting. Some subjects I found difficult. Then in the third year everything popped into place.

“Here were the first intimations that I could be a barrister. I threw myself into my studies.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Judge Rose recalled how he threw himself into his studiesJudge Rose recalled how he threw himself into his studies

A lightbulb moment indeed, particularly in light of the fact that there was no tradition of the law in the Rose family. Far from it, in fact.

His father was a travelling salesman who sold shoes around the north of England. His mother was a home-maker who raised her sons.

At Preston he participated, with others, in a mock trial known as a “moot court” as part of the Observer Mace Mooting Competition in which students acted as advocates in a civil appeal hearing.

It was a national competition in which Preston Poly won several rounds against established universities.

And whilst ultimately the Preston team didn’t triumph, it didn’t matter. For Judge Rose, the bug had well and truly bitten.

Yet the ten years that led to him being called to the bar in 1987 were, he remembers, “a lonely slog” that saw him living in a London bedsit on a student grant.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Judge Rose found his time in London a 'lonely slog'Judge Rose found his time in London a 'lonely slog' (Image: Chris Haley: T&A Camera Club)

He says: “I’m not crying the poor tale, but it has not come easily to me.”

But there was light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t so much gaining a degree or even passing bar finals. It was the prospect of what came after: actually being a barrister.

One of the biggest skills he learned during those lean years was time management. He says: “That’s a skill you learn at university that I am still applying today.”

And the milestones? Lots of them. From taking part in the Moot to getting a good degree and all the work leading up to his bar results. I ask if he was apprehensive. The answer comes in one word: “Totally”.

Then he adds: “I remember the work leading up to the exams and thinking that was a defining moment. It was pass or fail.

“What I had achieved was because of my parents. There were no lawyers in the family, no contacts, but they gave the sort of support that involved ferrying me back and forth to Preston [when I was at poly].

“To go to London to see their son in a wig and gown becoming a barrister… that was a big deal. That was their success. They had carried me there.”

Recalling the moment during our interview, it’s clear that a sense of gratitude remains almost 40 years later. How did mum and dad react?

“They were quietly proud. They were very good people. My father would have made a phenomenal barrister.”

Judge Rose remembers those early years as a fledgling barrister. For his first case, in Bingley, he laboriously wrote out every single question to ensure clarity and accuracy.

He said to himself: “This is how it’s got to be: you are not good enough to stand up and be brilliant.

“I have worked harder and harder as the years go on.”

Judge Rose has a reputation within the combined courts in Bradford for being tough but fair. He expects a certain standard – and woe betide those that do not treat the court and what it represents with the appropriate respect.

And that applies equally to defendants, jurors, witnesses, counsel, staff, journalists… everyone.

We talk about the stern persona that appears to define the overwhelming majority of the judiciary. In decades past it was accepted that a judge in robes and horsehair wig was an intimidating character. These, after all, were the people who could determine someone’s fate – and even send them to their death.

I ask him to reflect on how he is seen in court – and whether he does indeed adopt a persona. He pauses before answering.

He says: “There is no hiding in this job. You have to be on the ball every moment that you’re in court. Letting standards slip reflects not only on you but on the judiciary. So that persona is always there. It’s the responsibility and the territory.”

I ask if it applies in “civilian” life as well as in the courtroom. He gives a vigorous nod of the head.

“You should never create a bad impression. If you have taken on a very privileged role you have to uphold what it represents, and that is someone that is responsible and respectable.”

If persona is one thing, being something akin to a judicial robot is something else. For want of a better term I ask how much “wiggle room” judges have around sentencing, particularly in the light of contentious decisions that have seen some judges criticised for the apparent lightness of jail terms for serious crimes.

How much freedom do judges have to interpret the law?

Judge Rose says: “The law is not mechanical because people and judges are not mechanical. You are not reinterpreting the law when you make a decision that the man in the street may not like.

“The justice system is here to deal with those that offend, but sentencing guidelines are guidelines, not tramlines. Steering people away [from re-offending] is terribly important. The defendant is a human being.”

And so is the judge presiding over the case. It cannot be easy listening to evidence that, in some cases, can indicate the worst behaviour of humanity. Absorbing that, day after day, can’t be healthy. And, I suggest, it must have a potentially debilitating effect.

He says: “You have to be proportionate and objective and balanced in your approach. And every case is different to the last. In that respect you have to weigh up the case. And that is the role of a judge.

“There’s no career that I would rather have had. It’s an enormous privilege that brings with it burdens, but I bring my best to it.

“You have to have the ability to deal with cases objectively, justly, and without emotion – but to not take them home with you.

“Every surgeon will lose a patient on the table. You learn those lessons. But you do not allow them to corrode you because it’s not a constructive way to work.

“Many cases that we have to deal with are traumatising, but we [as judges] cannot allow ourselves to have an emotional response.”

Asked if he has a particular interest in specific crimes, he says: “Dangerous driving troubles me. Drugs exercise me because of the harm that they do to people that take them, but also because they are behind what these people do.

“I care about every single case where there is a child involved.

“And at the risk of being trite I care about those with mental illness or disabilities who are fighting a fight that most of us cannot understand.”

As crime and court reporter with the T&A I’ve been present in court when Judge Rose has dealt with some disturbing cases, including murder.

But not everything takes place in court. Much of his day-to-day responsibilities as resident judge involve administration, listing issues, ensuring the wellbeing of those that make use of the facility, and the general smooth running of the combined court centre.

As Honorary Recorder of Bradford Judge Rose represents the face of the court to the citizens of the city, and he declares himself “anxious” to maintain the relationship between the court and the public.

That’s something he has been doing on an educational basis since he arrived in Bradford in 2008.

He works with students from university level upwards who spend five days with him seeing how the courts operate from a judge’s perspective.

He visits schools and universities to speak on the role of the judiciary.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Sessions are held in Bradford Crown Court for students considering taking lawSessions are held in Bradford Crown Court for students considering taking law (Image: Newsquest)

And in 2015 he set up a course called SPRUCE – Student Pre University Court Exposure – for students who are contemplating studying law at university, or following law.

The project started with 22 students. Last year 90 students took part at Bradford City Hall. An open day at the courts – delayed from 2020 by Covid – attracted 1,500 guests.

It was, he says, a “terribly important” method of “demystifying the courts” to show that it is a transparent place of justice.

So what is his message to youngsters out there who, like him way back in 1977, might not have an inkling that the judiciary is where they belong? He smiles.

“I tell people that there is absolutely no reason why they can’t be sitting in my chair in court in 20 years’ time.

“It’s about lifting up a kid and saying, ‘You can do this.’ There is no reason not to.”