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Pickles practised as a barrister at Bradford, Yorkshire from 1949 to 1976, serving as a Recorder of the Crown Court from 1972 to 1976. He was then appointed Circuit Judge on the North Eastern circuit. His career as a judge was controversial, and some of his judgments made headline news, resulting in calls for judges to be held more accountable. These included the jailing of a woman for seven days for contempt when she refused to give evidence against her ex-boyfriend, who had assaulted her, and the imprisonment of a single mother for six months on a charge of theft.
He was a vocal proponent of the legalisation of cannabis. In 1958 he was the Labour candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Barkston Ash, and at the 1966 general election he contested Brighouse and Spenborough as a Liberal.
His daughter, Carolyn Pickles, is an actress, who appeared in Emmerdale on television and most recently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. His sister, Christina Pickles, is an actress, most famous for her role in the US sitcom Friends. He had two sons, Roger and Simon Pickles.
Pickles appeared as a guest on Have I Got News for You, where he memorably sparred with Ian Hislop. When Hislop told him it was a pleasure to be sitting opposite a judge, Pickles replied: "It's a great pleasure to be sitting opposite someone who should be in the dock." Pickles also appeared in an episode of Da Ali G Show.
Pickles retired as a judge in 1990. In addition to his tabloid journalism, he also wrote several novels and memoirs, including Off the Record, Judge for Yourself, and Straight from the Bench. He also wrote many plays, some of which were aired on BBC radio.
- Wainwright, Martin (22 December 2010). "James Pickles obituary". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 December 2010.
- BBC News Obituary
- Criminal Justice, Judge James Pickles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation
- "His Honour James Pickles". The Daily Telegraph (London). 22 December 2010.
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