Judge retires after battling near-fatal stroke to return to Portsmouth court

District Judge Elizabeth Manuel. Picture: Malcolm Wells
District Judge Elizabeth Manuel. Picture: Malcolm Wells
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A POPULAR judge with ‘fiery determination’ who battled to return to the bench after suffering a stroke has retired.

District Judge Elizabeth Manuel told members of the judiciary, barristers and solicitors gathered for her valedictory that she was ‘heartbroken’ at having to leave due to ill health.

Praised as ‘charming but formidable’ with an ‘astonishing brain’, the judge’s retirement ceremony in court 7 at Portsmouth Crown Court was jam-packed as people paid tribute to her.

While training for the London Marathon in 2011 she had suffered a near-fatal stroke, with medics telling her family she would not survive the night.

But in 2015 after battling through her rehabilitation, she returned to sitting as a judge in Portsmouth.

Addressing her colleagues, she told how she had been in a coma for two weeks and woke up blind, with mobility problems.

She said: ‘Even from those earliest days I had one wish: to return to sitting and my amazing colleagues.’

She said it was her ‘hope and wish’ to return with them that ‘kept me going for five years’.

The judge added: ‘Returning to court in 2015 I fought with every fibre of my being to be the best judge I could be.’

But she said after 13 months back it ‘became clear in the early part of 2017 my health was suffering badly and I could not continue with my return’.

Speaking at the ceremony on Thursday, the retired judge said: ‘Thank you so much for coming to share with me what is and always will be the most significant and difficult day of my life.

‘I’m honoured and humbled that today has been organised for me.’

She added: ‘I’m however heartbroken at having to say a final farewell to who are not just working colleagues but who have become firm friends of many years.’

Ms Manuel was made a deputy district judge at the age of 39 in 2001 and a full district judge in 2005.

She was called to the bar in 1987 – prior to that she became the first female officer in the Royal Military Police TA in 1986 following a training course at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

But those paying tribute to her at the ceremony wished her well as she takes on a new role in public life.

Now she will work with a support group, is a trustee of a brain and spine injury organisation, and is president of the Portsmouth branch of the St John’s Ambulance.

District judge Charles Ackroyd said: ‘Those of us who have worked with her since then have been profoundly aware and amazed by the sheer scale of her determination and drive to get back to work. Our respect for her is immense.’