Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

UNNECESSARY LEGAL BARKING

Since this blogger joined Twitter just over a year ago I have found it has proved often to be a very useful early warning system of events which reach daily newspapers and TV 24 hours later. Currently it seems there is what can usefully described as apoplexy amongst lawyers of both persuasions over the activation of section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to ascertain defendants' nationality when they attend at the start of a case.  Since all criminal cases begin in the magistrates` courts I have been very surprised that there seems to have been little or no public comment from the Magistrates Association; another reason why I consider this body a total waste of time for your average Justice of the Peace. The furore from the legal profession seems to resonate about the possibilities of deportation for offenders.  In 2016 there were 39,626 people who were removed from the UK or departed voluntarily after the initiation of removal. This is down from 41,879 in 2015. This figure excludes individuals refused entry at port and subsequently removed, in order to focus more closely on what most people normally think of as ‘deportation’. Of the 86,000 people in prison about 10,000 are foreign nationals. On 6th June last year during a House of Commons debate The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May) said "Since 2010, the Government have removed over 30,000 foreign national offenders, including 5,692 in 2015-16—the highest number since records began. The number of removals to other EU countries has more than tripled, from 1,019 in 2010-11 to 3,451 in 2015-16. We aim to deport all foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity; however, legal or re-documentation barriers can frustrate immediate deportation. Increased rates of detection can also lead to the population of foreign national offenders increasing despite a record number of removals". In order to have accurate statistics it does not seem unreasonable that when a defendant is asked to identify him or herself that declaration of nationality or citizenship should be added to name address and date of birth.  None of the legal Twitters on my time line has offered reasoned argument why this process is so objectionable.  An editorial in today`s Law Society Gazette also fails to impress.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a firm upholder of the rights of individuals in the criminal justice system and no friend of authority. Lawyers should use their bite where it can effect change  but  I fear the louder this legal barking the less effective it will be in practice because in this matter there are no intruders at the door.

Monday, 13 November 2017

MUSINGS ON MONDAY (2)

Three situations under the general umbrella of law `n order appeared on my screen recently.  Each in its own way served up controversial decisions which could be said to be thought provoking. 

The jailing of prolific offenders who steal to feed their drug and/or alcohol habits is not going away.  These people are usual pitiful examples of  lives gone very wrong.  All the state has at its disposal is to wait until the offending has reached a point where all attempts at non custodial remedies have failed.  At the risk of boring a regular reader this failure is a disgrace in a supposed civilised society which is afraid to look reality in the face if the actions or inactions of its political representatives are a guide.  Some people do need to be incarcerated perhaps unwillingly for their own good and for the good of society. The route to so doing is not through the courts; it should be through a medical pathway.  Sadly I doubt I`ll ever see such a radical change in thinking. The miserable creature who was jailed at Wigan Magistrates` Court last week is a perfect example.  Her story as reported should be a stain on many consciences. Yet every day in every magistrates` court there is a similar offender.  And the story goes on. 

A prolific and violent offender has won £78,500 damages from the Home Office for being unlawfully detained.  Read the report here on how this man whom the government would dearly love to kick out was rewarded.  Read the judge`s remarks. It seems that no balance was considered.  Irrespective of his actions in this country the "injustice" of executive actions was the only consideration. I wonder if in the judge`s mind there was no limit in the evil that this individual could have perpetrated that would have altered his conclusion?  If that were the case, and of course we`ll never know, then the law is an ass.

And finally the Howard League for Penal Reform, a lobby group run by the obsessive  Frances Crook, invited the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to give a lecture.  Surprise surprise Ms Dick did not tailor her words to suit her host. She gave her honest opinion on what steps need to be taken to reduce the horrendous toll of young black men stabbed to death in London by other young black men.  Hats off to Miss Dick.

Friday, 10 November 2017

MAGISTRATES` COURTS` SECRET VERDICTS

For the sake of argument for this post please assume there are main three levels of jurisdiction in this country: the magistrates court and its Scottish equivalent the Justice of the Peace Court, the Crown Court and its Scottish equivalent the Sheriff Court and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The Crown Courts sit with a judge and jury.  In Scotland the procedure followed might either be solemn procedure, where the Sheriff sits with a jury of fifteen or summary procedure where the sheriff sits alone in a bench trial.The lowest courts in both jurisdictions can be presided over by a single J.P. in Scotland or a District Judge(MC) in England & Wales. Those individuals are in fact acting as both judge and jury if not executioner. In England a single magistrate can now act on supposedly simple speedy summary cases eg failure to have a valid ticket to travel on London buses or tubes. There is reason to believe that current requirement to have as the norm three magistrates per bench and two if absolutely no third is available is not carved in stone and that we will  increasingly experience courts sitting with the single professional District Judge presiding. But that is looking in the crystal ball.

In Sheriff Courts under solemn procedure a requirement for a verdict is simple; the jury is asked its decision and whether it is by majority or unanimous. Crown Court judges will ask for a unanimous decision or a majority of 10 to 2 if that change would render a verdict. Anything else and a mistrial would be declared.  The Supreme Court is constituted so that a majority decision is accepted where unanimity cannot be achieved. The form of verdict is announced publicly in both courts. Where it is not announced publicly is in the Magistrates` Court with a lay bench where a bench of three having made its decision does not indicate whether it is a majority or unanimous decision.  During my active career I found and still find that this is not justice being seen to be done. It is secret justice. At the very least declaring a majority decision would give an indication as to the strength of the case presented by the defendant declared guilty.  At the most it would allow the offender who had the means and/or the ability to consider the option of appealing to the Crown Court where the case would be reheard in front of a judge sitting with two different Justices of the Peace. Indeed taking it a step further, a majority decision could be grounds alone to appeal.

I am sensible enough to know that my  opinion is not worth even twopence. Such an extension of citizens` rights is totally contradicted by government actions over the last 20 years. Courts are increasingly sacrificing justice for pounds.  Magistrates` Court closures affect the poorest of defendants with much increased travel costs; the virtual abolition of Legal Aid for all but the very poorest of the poor has led to increasing numbers of equivocal guilty pleas as has the imposition of court costs eg the now terminated Criminal Courts Charge based on the MOJ`s demands that courts should be self financing: in itself a concept that is incompatible with a nation that pre supposes Justice to be a pillar of democracy.  

All this is taking place with a supine parliament the competence of which is being shown almost daily to be devoid of intellect except for a minority of individuals who whilst not being a Burke or Fox or Churchill or Bevan still appear to have a philosophy of good intent for the individual citizen as the basis for their involvement.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION PLAYING POLITICS WITH STATISTICS

There is a disturbing article in today`s Law Society Gazette in which Sheena Jowett, deputy chair of the Magistrates Association, told a Westminster Legal Policy Forum seminar on probation services that magistrates were in effect sentencing to immediate custody offenders about whom there was little knowledge owing to the privatisation of probation services. That policy and others initiated with great enthusiasm by possibly the worst Lord Chancellor in living memory Chris Grayling MP was heavily criticised by those in the legal world with knowledge of the likely results.  Nevertheless it went ahead as part of "austerity" and the probation baby was thrown out with the money saving probation bathwater. It has surprised nobody that myriad problems are resulting. 

During my time on the bench probation held regular meetings open to all JPs where policies were explained and comfortable inter action encouraged.  I recollect attending community payback schemes and attendance centres. I was not discouraged from ordering senior probation officers to court to castigate them when my colleagues and I felt that procedures were inadequate an/or explanations required on specific cases.  The rate of immediate custodial sentences in magistrates` courts in my experience was about 2-3%. Yet now the MA asserts that offenders are being jailed unnecessarily owing to the accepted problems with probation services. According to the latest figures from the MOJ this is just not the case. 1.5% of summary cases conclude with an immediate custodial sentence.  The ratio ten years ago was 2%.  See chart below.

I would opine that the logical conclusion of the MA`s presentation was to give a false analysis of the current sentencing levels to advance its own political position. That position has been for many years that maximum sentencing powers be increased to 12 months from the current six. There is no doubt that the probation service is under awful strain as a direct result of government policy.  There is no doubt that individual probation officers are doing their best to cope but there is certainly doubt as to the conclusion reached by the Magistrates Association that more offenders are unjustifiably being imprisoned. 






Tuesday, 7 November 2017

SENTENCERS SHOULD LEAD OR BE LED?

In the past I have posited the question of whether in sentencing offenders judges should be leading public opinion or following it. Since all sentencers must follow Sentencing Guidelines or explain in public if such Guidelines are not adhered to variations in sentencing can be said to be less disparate than perhaps a decade ago.  The largest increase in prisoner categories over this last decade is that of sex offenders and around 20% of prisoners can be so classified. This is of some concern to prison authorities for a number of reasons; in particular the ability of the prison estate to accommodate those who must be segregated for their own safety and the realisation that many will be unable to benefit from any form of rehabilitation.  This latter problem leads on to the fact that there is no real understanding if and/or how such behaviour is hard wired into the brain.  So there is no doubt that in sentencing such people judges often have a difficult job. As far as I am aware and I`m open to correction, no statistics are kept on the sentencing practices of judges. It is, however, an open secret, that barristers have a keen awareness of which judges can be considered "hard or soft".  HH Judge Tabor is not  of the former disposition.  He has form as far as his tolerance of offenders who might have fared very differently in front of many other crown court judges. Prison is to deter miscreants, deprive them of liberty and where possible to rehabilitate them. It costs about £35,000 weekly to incarcerate an offender averaging the costs of prisons of various categories.  There is substantial pressure not to impose immediate custodial sentences now that prisons are at bursting point with almost 86,000 inmates. It can be said that public protection is a factor in sentencing and many would argue that an inmate inside cannot hurt the public.  Others would of course disagree. Be that as it may Judge Tabor has again dismayed many when, last week, he gave a sex offender the benefit of the doubt and allowed his custodial sentence to be suspended.  There are some (many?) people who would be pleased if castration, chemical or surgical, was the default sentence for most serial sex offenders. In our enlightened times they are given short shrift by the same members in society who consider Leave voters to have been racist ignoramuses.  Leaders or the led........who is to tell us which way is better to reduce the criminality in our country?

Monday, 6 November 2017

WORKHOUSES:A PAST SOLUTION FOR THE PRESENT?

I suppose Charles Dickens could be recognised as the the Victorian who first brought to the wider public the day to day life of those whose refuge from the hard grime and grind of daily life provided under the Poor Law was the workhouse.  Such public responsibility for those whose mental or physical incapacity precluded their being able to sustain themselves in a raw competitive society especially after the Napoleonic Wars was a tribute to the benevolence of public authorities in an era where a collective social conscience was beginning to be accepted as the norm. Two million British homes were destroyed in the German bombing of World War Two. 2¼ million people were made homeless.  Massive amounts of money  enabled house building after the war to offer millions the opportunity  to  have an affordable  roof over their head. With the establishment of the NHS in 1948 workhouses fell into disuse and systems of national assistance were established.  How different is the situation today. Changes in civil society beyond the comprehension of those who governed in the 1950s and 60s have led to thousands of vagrants sleeping rough and/or incapable of leading what can loosely be called "normal" lives owing to addiction and/or mental health problems. With the closure of mental health asylums and reliance upon "community health" such people are being processed through the courts rather than a medical pathway. Once within that labyrinthine system they are progressed by an ever more imaginative  plethora of so called "orders".  NIMBYISM that watchword of middle class England seems to be the underlying theme of these orders. They should be termed DISPLACEMENT ORDERS if our rulers showed some honesty. They lead miscreants up a blind alley of offending, displacement and prison where, owing to the short sentences imposed, they are hardly ensconced in an overcrowded cell, than they are discharged back to where they came from. 

I posted briefly on this topic in February 2014.  Is it not beyond comprehension that looking to the past can sometimes provide viable and cost effective solutions to the problems of the present?

Friday, 3 November 2017

RED CARD FOR CHIEF CONSTABLE

I don`t think it`s my imagination but it seems that in the last decade there has been a startling increase in the numbers of senior police officers (Chiefs, Deputies & Assistants) who have resigned prior to or as a result of misconduct hearings. Such information Mr Google has been unable to find for me. The most recent such sorry story is published today in Police Professional dot com. It makes sorry reading for those who still have confidence that generally they are a put upon species being fed to a hungry press by Amber Rudd`s continuation of her incompetent predecessor`s policies.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

PRISON RIOTS AND SMOKING BAN

Banning smoking in prisons has been similar to what`s known as shuttlecock diplomacy in the world of foreign affairs. I first posted on the topic over four years ago.  The subject then was of minor interest to me in 2015

The surprise factor in all this consideration was that the Prison Officers Association endorsed the idea knowing full well that depriving their charges  of their daily doses of carcinogens would almost certainly not improve warder/prisoner relations. Originally an initiative of the inept Chris Grayling,  Michael Gove seemed to change his mind from no to yes. We can overloook Liz Truss`s forgettable few months at Petty France. Earlier this year the pros and cons were again clearly laid out when government in its wisdom decided to go ahead with the ban despite the predicted consequences. Well, now these consequences have come home to roost. Prison riots happened before the ban but not at the frequency of late.  Today`s Times carries an authoritative account of recent events.


One can only wonder at the ineptitude of our current rulers in so many aspects of the job they were elected (just) to do.  If the alternative were not so much as going from the frying pan into the fire but descending into a Marxist Dante Hell I would forego my vote in the next election for the first time ever. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

JEREMIAH OF THE PEACE

When Sentencing Guidelines were introduced more than a decade ago the idea was hailed as a step in the reduction of what might be termed post code sentencing. Attention was paid by the whizz kids in Petty France to the system in use in the American State of Michigan where a tick box system operates.  In England in essence a tick box procedure was overwritten with various categories of culpability and harm to arrive at what was considered a suitable punishment. These Guidelines have been updated at regular intervals to take into account governments` desire to minimise immediate custodial sentences. Along with burgeoning numbers of fixed penalties and police cautions it was hoped to control court appearances and prison numbers. The numbers of cautions became so overwhelming and lacking apparently connections to the original offences that eventually they were brought under some form of control and due process was followed to some degree.  However the heavy hand of austerity and the ever increasingly victim orientated attitude to justice  owing to a government concerned with a rise in popularism has brought about the paradoxical situation where prisons are virtually at maximum capacity. The attitude now of a discredited government desperately seeking solace with a sceptical public has led to a push me pull me attitude to sentencing in crown courts where the margins are wider than in the lower courts. 

Recently two simple cases illustrate the results of the pressures on judges.  In this case an initial sentence of immediate custody was suspended on appeal. It seems from the report that this was justice for a middle class individual who had repeatedly lied in his efforts to evade justice. I remember a Liberal politician named Chris Huhne who in 2013 along with his ex wife was jailed for eight months for what began as a s.172 offence of having a false name attached to his driving offence. 

The other matter concerned a drug addict with an awful record who was jailed for a year for multiple acquisitive offending to satisfy his habit. This a perfect example of continuing to use the court process when compulsory medical intervention is required.  This is what devalues democratic government. President Duerte in Philippines orders police to kill drug addicts on sight and is by many accounts held in high esteem by a poverty stricken populace. 

There are no easy solutions to the predicament we are in as far as law and order is concerned.  And that is the problem. There are those who propose what do seem to be simple remedies not just for that situation but for our whole method of running this country.  I didn`t vote Leave to rid the country of immigrants. I voted to leave a union whose purpose is a united states of Europe with one currency, a unified armed forces, a common taxation system and eventually a national president and parliament with supreme power over nations. At a time of national emergency we have Chamberlains running the country and  Marxists in Opposition when we need Churchills and Atlees facing each other.  We have pygmies in office. Even today our so called prime minister doesn`t know whether to stick or twist on the peccadilloes of her MPs and ministers. Call me Jeremiah of the Peace.

Monday, 30 October 2017

SACKED JPs AND SCRAPING THE FINANCIAL BARREL

In the last two months four Justices of the Peace have been removed from the magistracy.  Each of these individuals had committed the same "offence"; they had failed to meet the minimum sitting requirement of 26 half days annually.  I have long considered that this requirement is far too limited in order to achieve any sort of competence and for approved bench chairmen it is an open secret amongst many ex colleagues of being farcically too few to accumulate all the necessary attributes of a successful occupant of the middle chair.  I hesitate to use the approved description "competences".  The structure of magistrates` training is essentially a box ticking exercise. Holding a court to account with all that that entails is, in my opinion, a facility which cannot be wholly learnt just as an individual can learn to play a musical instrument but never with the skill and/or passion to hold a place in a band unless there is that almost indefinable quality of talent. Most people recognise this difference in human quality whether as pianist, footballer,  public speaker or any one of myriad attributes within us as  human beings. Perhaps in the medical world this individual attribute describing the best of the best is in the manner most will immediately recognise; bedside manner.  There is no firm evidence whether or not the quality of applicants to the magistracy has fallen in recent years.  Of one thing I am certain; every applicant should be told in no uncertain terms of the time requirements of the position especially in the first two years.  Each JP thrown out for whatever reason represents a total waste of public money.  In the year ended 2015 £700,000 was spent on training. Latest figures indicate there are 16,129 magistrates. £43 per magistrate doesn`t seem a huge amount to inform, update and train supposedly intelligent people how to perform their desired tasks.  

This parsimony by the MOJ is a direct result of public policy. At every stage of the criminal justice system; from investigation, arrest, court, sentence, prison there is the distinct sound of the bottom of the financial barrel being scraped. At each stage from 2010 those working within the system made their opinions clear, except perhaps the judiciary to its eternal shame. Perhaps the nadir has been reached. Most people involved would hope so. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

SHOULD WE ENVY USA`S 1st AMENDMENT?

On October 5th I reported on a Christian student who was suspended from his course for alleged anti gay remarks and who indicated his intention to appeal against that decision at the High Court. Last Friday he lost that appeal.  I find this disturbing.  As an atheist I have no theological point to argue but having a libertarian tendency to my understanding of the human condition it is my opinion that we are in great danger that in our determination to protect unwelcome, disturbing, offensive or disrespectful  opinions and/or remarks with regard to minorities we are elevating said minorities to godlike status whose condition is sacrosanct.  In this matter Christianity seems to have pulled the short straw.  Muslim claims of discrimination are often played loud and very clear.  The educational shenanigans in Birmingham and the truly disgusting offenders in Rotherham and other mainly northern towns until recently were considered as simply those of cultural difference.  The idea that basic tenets of the offenders` religion had anything to do with the offending was shouted down by mainly Leftist apologists and politicians whose votes depended greatly on Muslim support.  Currently the very idea that Muslim attitudes to British society are anything but favourable are rarely given media time or space especially when they offend against liberal thinking eg Ch4 Dispatches survey What British Muslims Really Think

When the Labour Party is hedging its bets on rooting out antisemitic card holders in its midst, devout Christians being subjected to what could be described as self censorship, the desperation of government not to offend Muslims by continually stating that Isis and its non violent supporters in this country do not represent the true religion of the Prophet Mohammed we are following a path of self deception. Indeed in the light of these events and others similar it might be that the writers of the American Constitution had a better understanding of society over 200 years ago than the centuries of supposed wisdom enshrined in our unwritten constitution supplemented by common law and statute. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

LESS IS BEST FOR BENCH CHAIRMEN

We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf.  Generally it`s a universal lesson and there is no downside to following its example:- shut up until the deed matches the word or vice versa.  Bench chairmen should follow that advice but unfortunately there are some who perhaps by way of liking the sound of their own voice or just plain foolishness devalue the core what they intended to say.  Such was the case recently at Boston Magistrates` Court. When the chairman told a defendant that " they are at the end of their tether" .........To be completely worn out, exasperated, or exhausted; to have no more patience, endurance, or energy left  one would have expected an exemplary sentence to have been imposed. One would have been disappointed. Read the report here.  My own experience in addressing offenders is generally less is best for American presidents and bench chairmen.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

UNHELPFUL LANGUAGE ON CRIMINAL PROCEDURES

There is a general discontent in this country and elsewhere that "government of the people, by the people, for the people", has indeed perished from this earth.  A symptom of this fracture between public and politicians is the use of language which by design or ignorance misleads, confuses and obfuscates issues which affect us all. Crime and punishment in its widest context is perhaps the issue which has most lent itself to the production of analyses to suit all arguments. This is directed by government; from stop and search to legal aid to video courts. Those who have a line to propagate are in their element. Such a line is delightfully illustrated by this headline in today`s "Policing Insight":- Joined-up justice: Enhancing the customer journey through our criminal justice system.  

Customer  Journey............the phrase to describe those attending court having of course first been arrested and later charged by police. Has the author no conception of what is a customer?  Perhaps etymology is beneath him. Listed below are three definitions:-


a person or company who purchases goods and services
a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business
a party that receives or consumes products (goods or services) and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer.html


Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer.html

A party that receives or consumes products (goods or services) and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer.html

Read the article and come to your own conclusions.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin101395.html
Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin101395.html
Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin101395.html

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

PLUS SA CHANGE OR HOW TO PET THE MA CAT

For as long as I was on the bench the gong hungry top table at the Magistrates Association clamoured for increased custodial sentencing powers for magistrates` courts.  I can recollect absolutely not a single word or utterance from representatives of District Judges(MC) on the topic.  This government, like all the previous of the last twenty years, has paid lip service to all the fine work that JPs do whilst calmly sending the matter into the very long grass where it has lain quietly and forgotten. It is no surprise therefore that the following was made clear to all interested parties in a parliamentary answer recently:- 
Let me be quite clear; there is absolutely no chance at all in the next twenty years that this situation will change. Indeed it is highly unlikely that courts will even have a JP presiding over them.  In future their jobs will entail out of court activities eg simple offences of littering fines unpaid or the like. But those MA folk in their nice new offices will still hunger for their meetings with junior ministers and purr gratefully when their tummies are tickled by ministerial praise.

Monday, 23 October 2017

DISQUIET RE POLICE MISCONDUCT


Last week I commented on new guidance produced by the College of Policing on the conduct of cases of alleged misconduct by police officers. The last paragraph of the website page is copied below:-

This new guidance, while acknowledging that every case must be decided on its own facts, will assist those chairing misconduct proceedings by ensuring they have to hand all of the relevant criteria they may wish to take into account when determining whether there is a conduct breach, and if so, the appropriate level of sanction to be imposed.”

Last week also saw the results of an investigation into alleged cases of gross misconduct (a sackable offence) by four officers of the Met. The essence of the charges was that that they pursued a teenager on a powerful moped, a person eventually found with seven bags of skunk and several mobile phones, who died allegedly as a result of the alleged police pursuit.  A newspaper report of the affair is available here.  A pdf link to the IPCC report 2014 on the matter can be found here. In the light of an inquest jury`s decision last year that a pursuit had indeed taken place there must be some disquiet over the whole affair. The actual misconduct transcripts do not appear to be available on line but what is in the public domain is the reply from the Met to the Coroner who presided over the inquest copied below:-

All in all if this case is to be considered in the light of the College of Policing Guidelines it apparently fails to convince this observer.