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.





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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

MORE ON EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP

“The reasons for exceptional hardship are proven because you will lose your employment and a roof over your head.” This is an extract from a statement made recently by a bench chairman at Manchester Magistrates` Court. Last week I posted on exceptional hardship.  Unfortunately for motoring law and the principle of deterrence as exemplified by the totting legislation of "12 points means disqualification", the law IMHO has failed in this example. The Magistrates Association has published guidance on this matter; para 4) v is of particular interest.  A newsworthy appeal against exceptional hardship being rejected was heard in Glasgow in 2012.  The website Counsel Direct has valuable opinion on the subject. 

Exceptional hardship cases are heard almost daily in many courts nationwide.  At no time during my tenure was any official guidance given. Indeed my own notes were welcomed by many colleagues to assist them in their finding their way through sometimes lengthy appeals by advocates for the offenders. It is about time that magistrates understood all the factors which should be considered in such cases. 


Tuesday, 16 January 2018

CRUISE CONTROL WITH A DIFFERENCE

Car enthusiasts........now there`s a term that the green lobby would have bracketed in a similar group to litter louts or football hooligans.  I`m not at all ashamed to admit that a couple of decades ago I bought a bright red Triumph TR6 convertible; a classic British sportscar with an engine so simple to fiddle with that I with two left hands even managed to change injectors.  Belonging to the TR Club occasionally I joined with fellow enthusiasts to drive in convoy along some narrow country roads to an olde English pub where half a pint of cider was made to last a couple of hours whilst oily knowledge and experience was exchanged between geeks, anoraks or call us what you will. In fact there are dozens if not hundreds of similar groups and clubs nationwide doing exactly the same.

It seems that such activity has been banned in what is termed the Black Country for quite some time.  According to Halesowen News " A High Court decision to extend a ground-breaking injunction banning car cruising in the Black Country for a further three years has been welcomed".Apparently this prohibition includes "driving in convoy". 

I wonder if opposition from car club members has been voiced. When police nationwide are forever excusing their failures to protect people or property to have such additional tasks forced upon them seems nonsense.  But of course there`s another point of view: give police a choice between undertaking old fashioned police duties such as preventing disorder or an easy collar..............you see where I`m going so I`ll put on the handbrake now.

Friday, 12 January 2018

EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP:APPLYING GOOD JUDGEMENT AND DISCRIMINATION

Exceptional hardship is a subject that can arouse deep differences within a bench during retiring room deliberations.Indeed it has been the subject of a few posts here over the last few years. Four years ago there was this one and in June the following year I posted this

Generally my opinion has been that those offenders who moan the most, namely professional drivers, are deserving of the least sympathy followed by obviously wealthy individuals who could easily afford to hire a driver for six months.  However the finding of exceptional hardship is one of those remaining considerations which are entirely within the bench`s discretion.  Where some difficulty might arise in the decision making is when the offender has proven worth to the community and/or perhaps a history of good deeds or valour in the case of active or former servicemen.  There is certainly a fine line to be drawn when eg a hospital doctor applies for exceptional hardship purely on the basis of his/her occupation and a carpet fitter.  

A case earlier this week at Flintshire Magistrates` Court is a perfect example of a bench coming to what I agree was the correct decision in allowing the application to succeed.  This offender`s recent history certainly was a sound basis for allowing him to continue driving.  The problem is that I read too many reports and have experience of situations where sympathy by a bench overrides good judgement and discrimination. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

WHEN A JUDGE SWEARS

On 12th August 2016 I commented on the judge who threw verbal caution to the wind and swore back at an offender who had used his basic knowledge of olde English to vent his feelings at her.  Not surprisingly the matter reached the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which yesterday cleared her of misconduct.  Truth be told I`m a little surprised but not disappointed. Like the rest of us judges are human and have fallibilities. What did enter my mind was the recollection of apparently heavy treatment dished out to Justices of the Peace for a lot less. I suppose some are still more equal than others.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

NO NONSENSE AT LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT IN 2017

All too often blogger and public reaction to crown court sentencing is less than enthusiastic.  In an interesting and sometimes amusing report in the Liverpool Echo sentencing comments from the city`s crown court judges in 2017 are worth a few minutes reading time IMHO of course. Access the page here.

Monday, 8 January 2018

DRIVING JUSTICE WITH HANDBRAKE ON

An apparently simple case last week at Teesside Magistrates Court has left me thinking. It involved the defendant being found guilty for the second time of carrying a weapon and receiving a suspended custodial sentence.  What set what`s left of my little grey cells firing off in all directions was the conclusion reached by the bench that the knife in question was accepted as being for trade purposes; namely for decorating but also an "offensive weapon". Whilst I was active such a defence (for trade) was an acceptable defence against the charge. Has that changed?  The magistrates seem to be in two minds on this matter and have effectively driven the judicial vehicle with the hand brake applied. There is no mention in the report if his advocate was considering an appeal. Make up your mind after you read all about it here.

Friday, 5 January 2018

AND THEN THERE WERE CUTS

A new year and amid an overdue recognition by senior legal eagles on both sides of the bench that the quality of British justice is in freefall from which it might never recover it is curious to read the last 2017 edition of the Scunthorpe Telegraph copied below  highlighting what I too recollect at my own court was happening around two decades ago.  It all seems so petty now with not an inkling of the savage financial cuts which began in 2010. Kenneth Clarke who is merrily trying to usurp the decision of the British public and have the Leave decision overturned didn`t just turn a blind eye to imposed cuts as Justice Secretary in 2010; he thoroughly encouraged them with a 23% reduction in funding that year and was proud to proclaim he was the first Cabinet Minister to satisfy the Treasury of having done its wishes.  

"One piece of news hitting the headlines in Scunthorpe 20 years ago was the decision to stop the supply of free biscuits to magistrates. John Towndrow, vice-chairman of the Humberside Magistrates’ Courts Committee, revealed it cost £400 a year to provide the local justices with biscuits to dunk in their coffee and tea. He said the committee had been faced with making savings of £145,000 that year and needed to cut the annual budget by three per cent over the next three years. The cuts had led to the closure of courts in Barton, Brigg and Epworth, job losses and under-funding for ushers, with clerks on occasions having to take over their duties.

“I am bitterly disappointed that my fellow magistrates have lost the only perk they had, namely the free biscuits with their tea or coffee,” Mr Towndrow said.
“However, the search for savings in every department has led to swingeing cuts. I am sure the local justices will appreciate the reasons for the withdrawal of their biscuits.”
The cutbacks also saw filter coffee-making machines in Scunthorpe removed and replaced by jars of instant coffee, tea bags and flasks of hot water. Mr Towndrow said previously the coffee had cost 20p a cup, but now the expense had been reduced to only 4p.However, one justice of the peace, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Telegraph: “This really takes the biscuit! It will only save pennies over the year.”"

Saturday, 23 December 2017

AT THIS MERRY TIME THE CANARY IS WARNING

Council Tax more than any other tax can be seen to be used where we live and work.  Many untruths about the results for non payers are propagated by political vested interests.  The actual numbers receiving the ultimate sanction and why can be accessed here.

There was great publicity from the  diarrheac output of the MOJ press office not so long ago on a new offence  of controlling or coercive behaviour under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. The result? not very much........just another example of how government thinks that throwing more legislation at a problem will cure it. 

So begins another period of hedonism where the word "merry" is the common adjective.  Thinking about it that word is rarely used in any other context. My opinion for what its worth is long might that continue.  There are too many political correct apologists and activists of propagating all that`s wrong with our world.  As a non religious person I`m all for the free expression by those god fearing of one faith or another but those who are intent on taking us back to the middle ages where tolerance of difference did not exist  must not be able to have the tolerance and equal voice in this progressive world.  At some point the liberalism of the democratic state must decide when purveyors of hate must be silenced. With anti semitism once confined to private conversation now becoming an almost regular public occurrence the time must be approaching when that warning canary of religious and right and left wing extremism, call it Islamism, fascism and Marxism, must be confronted head on.     

So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you, my reader, for allowing me to occupy your time for just a few minutes today and previous days.

Friday, 22 December 2017

STATISTICS ON GENDER RELATED LEGAL MATTERS

It`s coming to that time of year when this blog and many others will go into hibernation for a couple of weeks.........but not just yet.  Recent parliamentary questions on two different subjects within the remit of the MOJ produced statistics for women and women-V-men that some readers might find interesting? disturbing? gratifying? or you name it.  Judge for yourselves below.





Thursday, 21 December 2017

PRAISE FOR LOCAL COURT REPORTING

I`ve complained often enough about the lack of local court reporting. Today`s an exception. Very full reports in two local media on proceedings at Ealing and Staines Magistrates` Courts where the latter had a District Judge(MC) presiding although the reporter failed to mention that. Both reports well worth a few minutes.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

SUCH MAGISTRATES SHOULD QUIT

BuzzFeed, a provocative on line agency, in association with the Magistrates Association this week published a lengthy account of the situation from both sides of the bench of unrepresented defendants in the magistrates courts.  Its detailed account could be summarised simply by two facts; defendants without lawyers are prone to be convicted in circumstances where legal representation might have got them off or their punishment mitigated and magistrates are only too aware of such failings and are too mealy mouthed to do anything about it.  I posted comprehensively on this subject 28th September 2015 where I proposed simple inexpensive measures to counteract the situation.  However with regard to the BuzzFeed quotations from magistrates, assuming their veracity, I have nothing but contempt for former colleagues who blithely admit to miscarriages of justice or unfair conclusions whilst they were in a position to mediate. Of course there will be the usual cry of magistrates are merely overseeing the process and must not enter the legal fray.   This cop out must be ended.  Magistrates and of course District Judges(MC) in an era where the power of the state is vastly superior to those of most defendants must now assume an inquisitorial role in the interests of justice being done and being seen to be done. My contacts with former colleagues convince me that the independence of the magistracy where it really matters, in the courtroom, is now compromised. JPs are trained to kowtow to the legal advisors who are assuming more influence than just offering legal advice.  This will require some magistrates with memory of times past to impart to their newer colleagues that almost forgotten spirit of radical thought and confidence to assist unrepresented defendants when such defendants exhibit blatant inability to assist themselves. 

Some of the magistrates quoted by BuzzFeed and some results eg 

"defendants without lawyers are being found guilty of crimes they did not commit and being sentenced too harshly."

"They’re not being fairly treated, through no fault of the court." 

"many magistrates said they were concerned that those without lawyers faced being found guilty of crimes they did not commit."

"I cannot recall any cases this year where non-represented persons defended themselves effectively.

"On at least two occasions recently I have sat in a trial that should never have come to court"

It amazes me that magistrates can sit through proceedings over which the chairman should have control and wash their hands over such abominations in the name of justice.  They should hang their heads in shame and offer their resignations if they fear HMCTS more than their own consciences.  Access BuzzFeed here



Monday, 18 December 2017

THE REALITY OF A DAY IN COURT

From time to time I have commented here on the day to day comings and goings at magistrates` courts; on delays, sentencing etc and all the scenarios that are part of the normal day`s sitting. I have also posted on the sometimes misleading headlines of local print media when reports are published. Indeed the rising influemces of social media are an ever increasing restraint on publishers` financial resources to enable old fashioned court reporting as it used to be.  With all that in mind it was interesting to read last week of Kent News` intention to do an in depth review of a day in a local courtroom.That report was published last week and makes sorry reading but conveys with more reality what is actually happening than the rosy perception projected by all the myriad statistics published by MOJ............read and digest.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

BENCH GOT IT WRONG

I suppose upon some reflection that I have commented here when it has seemed apposite on sentences being too weak rather than the reverse.  Today I find myself in the opposite corner. Curfew is a useful sentence because it is a deprivation of liberty and can be applied immediately upon a finding of guilt without the need to have a pre sentence report.  For those reasons it is essential that the bench takes on an inquisitorial role to ensure that the punishment fits the crime and the offender fits the punishment.  At least that is the way in which I personally approached such a disposal. For a bench to impose a curfew on a grandmother of previous good character who deprived the DHSS of £12,500, a relatively small amount for an offence  in such circumstances, is a disgrace. The report does not state under which section of the law she was charged.  If defence lawyer did not immediately appeal against sentence she ought to be ashamed as should the bench for the imposition of a sentence which was totally unsuitable in the circumstances.

Monday, 11 December 2017

POLICE MISCONDUCT//LATEST NEWS

Earlier this year on 18th October I posted on the change in regulation which had previously allowed police officers under misconduct investigation to resign and avoid such investigation.  Not surprisingly I was pleased. Well; today I`m not. In short this  new legislation in some circumstances allows officers to retire while under investigation.  The College of Policing appears not to have this new information on its website.

It would be interesting to know statistics of police chiefs charged with misconduct. 


Friday, 8 December 2017

FREE SPEECH MUST FOLLOW VOLTAIRE

FREEDOM OF SPEECH:- While lovers of liberty in all lands have urged the necessity of freedom of speech none put the case more pointedly than Voltaire when he wrote, I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Perhaps that sentence exemplifies the difference between those of a libertarian bent from all others whether of the Left or the Right.  In 2009 The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was allowed entry to the UK after appealing successfully a ban imposed some months previously by the Home Office. His visit passed without incident.  Currently there is growing opposition to a proposed visit by Franklin Graham an American evangelist preacher on the grounds that he is likely to provoke a possible reaction from Muslims, gay people and others whom Graham has castigated in speeches in the USA.  The rise of a British Muslim population of 3 million has simultaneously led to increasing criticism of conservative Christianity and its adherents` proselytising. Cases of people wearing a cross around their necks have hit the headlines when their companies have ordered them to remove such items. For generations the Plymouth Brethren in England and the "Wee Frees" in Scotland have quietly lived their lives within their own strict rules and communities.  They too hold views not dissimilar from the aforesaid American and Dutchman. In short outside Northern Ireland religion was a private topic in this country until the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people from lands where religion was not only public but carried with it political inferences long dismissed here.  

The latest manifestation of perhaps anti Christian bias within the justice system was demonstrated by Lincoln Magistrates on 14 September when a Christian preacher was convicted of using threatening and discriminatory language whilst preaching in that city. That verdict was overturned on appeal at the crown court.  

I have posted three times in the last year or so on the topic of hate crime: 9th August 2016, 3rd April 2017 and most recently 22nd August this year.  It truly requires senior judiciary to halt this apparent upping of the ante as to what constitutes "hate".  Provided no incentive to violent action can be construed from actual words used, those opposed to the views and opinions of people like Geert Wilders, Franklin Graham and others whether of the Right or the Left, Christian or Muslim, gay or trans or whatever should make their arguments orally, in writing or through social media. Banning those who voice what some consider unsayable is a short slope to the unthinkable.