“IT was a privilege to work at Dorchester.”

In his favourite coffee shop not far from County Hall where the crown court is based, James Roger Jarvis shares his memories of ‘great staff’ and ‘diligent juries’ over a long career.

“I like to think that in the time I was there the court matched all the performance indicators. I think people are always quite surprised at the cases which are heard at Dorchester – you get a lot of historic sex cases and some nasty violence in addition to the usual drugs offences.”

It is a trend he believes dates back to before the Jimmy Savile scandal.

“I think there has been a growing realisation for a number of years of the damage that has been done and it is quite striking that sometimes when you look at victims – mostly female but sometimes male – who have been subject to serious sexual abuse years ago, how the pain lives on. I don’t think it’s something a lot of them will ever shake off.”

He added: “There’s also a huge paradox in that perpetrators who have committed a crime of this nature 35 years ago may have done nothing since.

“It’s a dreadful dilemma but if the crime is so serious it has to be punished no matter how well someone has behaved since.”

Addressing the future of the court system, Mr Jarvis conceded that financial pressures may mean difficult decisions in the future for single court centres such as Dorchester.

“It is not for me to say what will happen as I do not have all the information. But we all know the government is under serious financial pressure and has to look for savings somewhere.

“Smaller, single court centres do have the potential to be the focus of government attention.”

It would be a shame if Dorchester were to lose its court, he added, and not just for historical reasons – there has been a court in the county town for hundreds of years and it found infamy through its role in Judge Jeffreys’ Bloody Assizes in 1685 and the Tolpuddle Martyrs Trial in 1834.

“I used to think it a terrible shame I was not trumpeted into court with a coach and horses,” he joked.

“There is an emotional importance and people have an interest in the background of the places they live in. But I think potential jurors from Lyme Regis and Charmouth would find it a long way to travel if the court at Dorchester was to go.”

He has found juries in Dorset to be hardworking and interested in the role.

“My experience of all members of the public, almost without exception, who have been jurors is that they have discharged their duties as well as they possibly can and understand the importance of that role. They seem determined to do their best to fulfil what is expected of them.”

How has he found what must be the difficult task of sentencing defendants, often with their own tragic histories?

“It’s never been for me to decide whether a man is guilty or innocent. You have to make sure each side gets a fair crack of the whip.

“But I think you have to try and compartmentalise your personal reaction to people’s tragedies to absolutely ensure that both the prosecution and defence gets a fair trial.”

Sentencing guidelines are given to judges in crown court to provide an indication of what penalties should be given.

Mr Jarvis said he has found these most helpful in dealing with fatal road traffic accidents and the relatively new offence of causing death by careless driving.

“You have to weigh up the dreadful consequences and the degree of fault. There’s no deliberate act in these circumstances – it’s careless, but the consequences are devastating. They are always very difficult to sentence and the guidelines have always been very helpful to me with these cases.”

Talking of the reporting of court cases, Mr Jarvis said he is supportive of a free press but finds that the necessity of summarising proceedings sometimes means readers lose the subtleties of the evidence.

“Sometimes out of necessity newspapers will highlight those issues which will most attract the attention of the public. They can’t simply write out everything start to finish as the entire paper would be just about one case.

“But there’s no doubt that even if they have a reporter in court all the time, he or she does not know everything that those in the court process know.

“There are a lot of written documents that are not available to the reporter, so a result that may seem unfortunate to the reader may have been more understandable if the reader had all the information that was available to those in court.”

Born in London, Mr Jarvis said he is happy to have settled in Dorset, one of his favourite counties.

Interestingly, his father was a pilot who served in the Pathfinder Squadron – he was in the Berlin Airlift and in his civilian role as an airline pilot he was on Royal flights and even had the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, as a passenger.

Mr Jarvis trained as a solicitor before making a successful application to become a circuit judge, working in Portsmouth and Bournemouth before applying for the permanent role in Dorchester.

He said: “I was very lucky. Certainly when I was starting out solicitors didn’t become circuit judges, it is usually barristers who get that role.

“Someone suggested I go for it when the job opened up – I think he was actually joking but I went for it.”

He added: “I was lucky to work at Dorchester. It’s a very friendly court and the staff really go above and beyond.”

Now retired, he is looking forward to spending more time with family as well as his hobbies of running, cycling and walking.

“I wouldn’t mind finding something to do to keep me occupied, but not take up all my time. It is quite strange. One minute you are dealing with very serious matters and the next you are doing nothing.”