FEW legal figures in Chester command the respect which Judge Elgan Edwards has earned during almost 40 years in the job. In this special report, he talks to REBECCA TAYLOR about the changes he has witnessed over the decades.
IT is fair to predict that the majority of Chronicle readers won't have crossed Judge Elgan Edwards' professional path.
As Chester's most senior justice, Judge Edwards spends his days dealing with the top 5% of criminals - the murderers, the rapists and the drug dealers, among other dubious characters.
Being the man who stands face to face with criminals as he hands them jail sentences, you might expect the judge to be at least a little apprehensive about walking the streets of Chester.
But, he says, there is one big advantage to being a crown court judge in the UK.
'One of the reasons why most criminal judges like to keep the wig and gown, quite apart from the fact that it does add formality and dignity to the proceedings, is that it is also a disguise,' he said.
'You can deal with a case in court, but when you walk past the same people a few minutes later they don't recognise you, which is sometimes just as well.'
Born in Rhyl to a shopkeeper father who was also a magistrate, Elgan Edwards was called to the Bar in 1967 and completed his pupilage in Chester, where he spent 21 years as a barrister for both prosecution and defence in King Street and Sedan House chambers.
He was appointed as a judge in 1989 and, as the most senior judge on the Chester circuit, has been awarded the title of Recorder of Chester.
He is now able to hear murder trials and appeals and spends one session a year in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, as well as being elected president of the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges, which advises parliament on proposed legislation.
Judge Edwards said that, despite the disturbing nature of some cases he sees, it is important to walk away from the details at the end of each working day.
He said: 'You should not live a case 24 hours a day, but it is impossible to escape sometimes, particularly in nasty cases where the appalling cruelty that people do sometimes to other people is impossible to put out of your mind.
'The danger is that you start imagining that everybody is behaving like that. You do have to have a sense of proportion.' But what of the crime scene in Chester which has left those law-abiding members of the population in fear?
As reported in last week's Chronicle, Judge Edwards feels rising drug use has caused the biggest changes in Chester's criminal world since the start of his career.
He said: 'The problem is not just drug offences but also the fact that drugs are behind so many other offences now. When I started they were really something which barely happened. It is an extraordinary difference.'
Although Judge Edwards rarely comes across Anti-social Behaviour Orders, which are dealt out in civil and magistrates courts, he supports them in principle.
'I can see why they were introduced to deal with the kind of persistent nuisance where you can't prove the person is committing a crime, it is just that he is a yob, a thorough pain,' he said.
Judge Edwards, who regularly has groups of local schoolchildren and law students sitting in on his court sessions, says he does all he can to open the court's doors to the public.
'I am a great believer in getting the public in for open days and mock trials and school visits and letting them see what happens,' he said.
'We should always remember that it is a local court serving the people of Chester and the public have the right to know what is going on.'