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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Friday, 9 December 2016

LATE NIGHT PISS UP IN CHESTER//THE SEQUAL

Local councils are forever juggling services with limited and sometimes reducing amounts of cash. Some have on line forums where tax payers can offer their preferences as to which services can manage with reduced funding.  As such a tax payer I think I might have been removed from the local list after my answers might not have satisfied the pre determined targets. Be that as it may the City of Chester has a knack as I posted October 27th for making itself newsworthy for all the wrong reasons. In order to re-allocate limited cash amounts the city council closed all but five of its public conveniences and agreed with some  local retail businesses that those with bladders at bursting point could relieve themselves on their premises without an obligation to spend even so much as a penny. All well and good but after these shops close in the evening their facilities are unavailable with the remaining council run loos also closed.  The result is as plain as the noses on the faces of the local worthies of that ancient city.  When the pubs and clubs are shut relief beyond belief is obtained in as private a location as public spaces allow and in Chester that is often the ancient walls built to keep out the barbarians. Miscreants sniffed out by the local boys [and girls] in blue were offered an opportunity to tour such places to immunise them against repeating the offence and thus avoid a fine or court appearance.  That remedy seems now to hold no water. Councillors in their wisdom have decided that the walls be coated with a splash back paint to deter such activities. 

Perhaps they should admit defeat taking the lesson of Clochmerle (published in France 1934 and BBC TV 1972) in how not to proceed and provide 24 hour facilities for their fellow citizens instead of the superficial satisfaction of such slippery sanctions. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

MANCHESTER POLICE//A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES


"The complexity of the challenges police officers face means that their leaders need to set the highest standards of integrity, honesty and objectivity if they are to be trusted and respected by the public.  You hold positions of great authority.  You have to sustain public confidence. You hold the police to account and it is up to you to demonstrate by example and live by high ethical standards".

These are some of the words of   Richard Thomas, a Member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life when he spoke earlier this week at the CoPaCC "OPCC Transparency" Quality Mark awards.

Perhaps Greater Manchester Police live in a different world.

KNIFE OFFENDERS INCARCERATED.

There are many who bemoan the increase in numbers being given custodial sentences.For those of us with experience of actually making those decisions they are not made lightly.  Indeed they are often arrived at with a heavy heart. The figures released today on offences associated with knife possession illustrate a problem that does not go away.  Judges and magistrates are faced with protection of the public in addition to consideration of the offender.  The public outcry when such a balance goes wrong and further crimes are committed is not pleasant for those involved in the original decision. Transform Justice and the Howard League eg, both lobbyists beloved of the intelligentsia, would have many such offenders rehabilitated without incarceration: so would we all.  In practical, financial and political terms it ain`t going to happen. Whether that is a welcome or unwelcome conclusion is not for this post.  
 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE DECLINE OF THE JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

The Magistrates Association cannot answer the question owing to its becoming increasingly irrelevant to Justices of the Peace and consequently supposedly represents around only 80% of a reduced workforce.  That question which has been in the minds of many interested parties was finally answered two days ago by a written parliamentary answer; to wit the numbers of J.P.s who have resigned over the last few years.  The important word is "resigned" because thousands have been compulsorily retired since 2010.  

Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The requested information is provided below. Figures are compiled by financial year.
(a) Since 1st April 2016 to date, there have been 842 resignations
(b) During the financial year 2015/16, there were 952 resignations
(c) Since 1st April 2010 to date, there were 8,253 resignations

Latest figures show that in April 2016 there were 17,552 serving magistrates of which 57% were aged 60 and over. Resignations, however, are not retirements.  In 2010 there were 26,970 serving magistrates.  In most business activities so called human resources officers would have immediate responses to such a rapid decline in participation and plans would be in hand to investigate and conclude as to what remedies if any were required in the situation.  My opinion for what it`s worth is that deep in the bowels of Petty France London SW1 such plans are indeed being considered.  Magistrates have resigned in line with the closure of over one third of the magistrates` courts in England and Wales. Increased travelling time for the millions of willing and reluctant participants in court procedures has not held any sway with arguments for retaining local courts especially in rural areas such as North Wales and Cumbria.   But J.P.s have voted with their feet, their cars or on public transport.  They have not been prepared to spend an hour or more travelling each way as members of an enlarged bench to a distant court building. Many do not relish the prospect of being super social workers in the name of rehabilitative justice; a prospect that the MOJ is holding out as an answer to overcrowded prisons. They certainly have found the attitude of HMCTS in treating them as unpaid employees not to their liking.  Indeed the removal of any sense of being independent local Justices dispensing local justice in local courts  whilst attractive perhaps to supercilious lawyers  and greasy pole climbing Justices` Clerks has had much to do with the disillusionment felt by so many of my ex colleagues. 

Sad to say we are seeing the last decade of magistrates` courts as they have developed since the 14th Century with local worthies independent and unpaid, generally ethnically representative of their communities being replaced by courts over which preside single professional judges beholden to the state for their salaries and pensions.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

DRIVING OFFENCES//THE TOTALITY PRINCIPLE

Currently the fixed penalty for using a mobile phone whilst driving is 3 penalty points and a £100 fine.  For driving without insurance an offender can be fined up to £5000 in court and be subject to 6-8 penalty points or even a driving disqualification of up to 12 months if there are severe aggravating circumstances. Indeed the penalty for mobile phone use will be increased next year to 6 penalty points and a fine of £200.  When it comes to sentencing offenders for multiple driving offences in actual practice benches are ordered to use the principle of totality.  In effect the most serious offence is the one on which punishment is based and other offences are treated as "aggravating".  The logic of this approach has always defeated me when one offence does not follow from another; i.e. the offences are quite dissimilar.  Using a mobile phone when driving and having no insurance compounded by not having a suitable driving license or MOT fall into this category.  

Today the Scunthorpe Telegraph reported the following case from North Lincolnshire Magistrates` Court:- " SIMONAS MILIAUSKAS , 26, of Frodingham Road, Scunthorpe, pleaded guilty to driving while using a hand-held mobile phone, using a vehicle without insurance and driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence. He was fined a total of £400, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £40, costs of £85 and his driving record was endorsed with six points."

This is as perfect example of the totality principle as could be imagined. It demonstrates IMHO just why sometimes advice from Justices` Clerks is completely out of touch with reality and why they and their political masters are forever seeking approval from media as I posted yesterday on proposals to increase sentences for the most serious driving offences when they well know that in fact time served by those who will be  caught in this new legal net will be similar to the current situation.

 


Monday, 5 December 2016

PROPOSED INCREASE IN SENTENCING FOR DRIVERS



In 2015, 122 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving, with a further 21 convicted of causing death by careless driving while under the influence. Relevant sentences for driving offences  are as below:-


To quote from The Guardian,

"Dangerous drivers who kill are set to face life sentences under plans put forward by ministers. Those causing death by speeding, street racing or while using a mobile phone will face the same sentences as people charged with manslaughter.
Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs could also be handed life sentences – an increase on the current 14-year upper limit."

I really cannot perceive any basis for this proposed increase in sentencing except to pander to public opinion which IMHO is based upon ignorance and a desire of some newspapers to whip up that opinion.  

Friday, 2 December 2016

HMCTS HAS A NEW CHIEF

In case some readers haven`t noticed Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunals Service has a new overlord; Susan Acland-Hood.  In recent tweets methinks the lady is trying too hard to ingratiate herself within her domain. I await similar platitudes for my former colleagues who will require more than soft words to persuade them that HMCTS no longer considers them as unpaid employees with all the respect that entails.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

SENIOR JUDGES` PUBLIC COMMENTS

I posted recently on the Lord Chief Justice`s opinion that prison numbers must be reduced by making more use of community sentences.  He is reported as saying he wanted tougher such sentences. What he meant by "tougher" only he knows. I can recollect when the term "community payback" was used and printed on the back of high visibility jackets of offenders sentenced to work in the community.  Anecdotally it became a badge of honour for young villains. How can a probation service totally "transformed" by a previous best forgotten Justice Secretary cope with an increased workload and yet maintain efficiency and competence? 

LCJ has now pronounced on the McKenzie friends issue; a situation brought about directly by the unavailability of legal aid for thousands of defendants in the criminal courts and litigants in the family courts. I last commented on this topic in October. It is generally accepted that at least for the present senior judges should avoid becoming involved in matters political.  But must we always wait until such an individual is retired on his/her substantial pension and feels free to hit the headlines with what might or might not be subject matter long overdue for discussion in the public sphere? Sooner or later especially in the light of controversy over Article 50 judges must be told to shut up or be allowed to comment under agreed strict conditions.  The current noises off when judges skate on political and judicial thin ice are not a healthy way to continue.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A TIT FOR THE TOP AT MANCHESTER POLICE

Is there any wonder why police in this country are steadily losing the respect of those whom they purport to serve.  Another senior female officer appears to have had tantrums more befitting a toddler following the example of Maxine de Brunner at the Met. This involved an Assistant Chief Constable allegedly baring her breast to a female Superintendent in a demonstration that breast size is not an important factor in securing promotion. Greater Manchester Police was the constabulary involved. This organisation is quite often in the news for the less than salubrious goings on within its ranks.

When the next scandal at Scotland Yard hits the headlines as it surely will perhaps the Home Secretary will take seriously public lack of confidence in policing.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

MORE ON CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR ORDERS

It`s almost painful to write this after my last post.  CRASBOs are a total waste of everyone`s time and energy.  Nothing can demonstrate more the futility of such a disposal as this case in Huddersfield last week. Such a disposal IMHO does not punish so called criminal activity, does not deter it and does not prevent it. An early recipient of a CRASBO (above pictured) reacted in a predictable manner.  Perhaps somebody more intuitive than I can offer  a positive opinion.  Crime Prosecution Service guidance on criminal behaviour orders is available here. There are no statistics on these orders that I can source but interesting statistics on ASBOs and subsequent breaches can be found here.

Friday, 25 November 2016

MAD HATTER LAW

On June 21st I posted on what I believed was the first ever application for a criminal behaviour order [CRASBO] I wasn`t very enthusiastic at the time and my opinion has not changed.  Just what sense does it make to exclude a scumbag from one borough for five years or five days?  It is beyond belief that our law makers can follow the discredited failings of ASBO legislation with this.  Some might say that the sanction of custody if the CRASBO is broken warrants in itself this disposal. The same sort of thinking informed Drinking Banning Orders. I would opine that either punish the offence per se appropriately or not but do not displace it for another area to repeat the exercise. This is Alice in Wonderland law enacted by the Mad Hatter.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

NO MORE LIP SERVICE FROM POLICE CHIEFS

From time to time since this blog`s inception I have commented on the way in which police, particularly senior officers, treat their own with favour when it comes to cases of alleged misconduct.  The message from senior politicians over the years seemed to have finally gotten through when recent changes to rules allowing resignation to signify the cessation of misconduct proceedings  allowed for such hearings to be continued unless there were exceptional circumstances.  The Government introduced a bar on officers from leaving the force before misconduct investigations in an amendment to police regulations which came into effect in January 2015. It did not apply to ongoing investigations. According to Police Professional  in July, a report revealed that half of officers facing gross misconduct investigations in the past two years resigned or retired before their cases were heard and of the 833 officers added to the 'disapproved register' by forces in England and Wales in its first two years, 416 left before their cases were resolved. Of the 369 who left in the year between December 2014 and November 2015, 202 were dismissed, 147 resigned and 20 retired, while in the 12 months from December 2013, 215 were dismissed, 219 resigned and 30 retired. 

The ages old proverb of giving the devil a finger and he`ll take the whole hand is nowhere to be excelled by British police chiefs. The rather loose wording of the rules has been employed recently by Cleveland Constabulary in the case of former PC Kelly Jarvis. A spokesweasel from the force was quoted as saying, " In some cases officers are allowed to resign prior to a misconduct hearing where there are exceptional circumstances. "This is one of those cases where there are exceptional circumstances and after careful consideration the officer has been allowed to resign.” 

At a time in our history when "experts" have been discredited, when the risk of many sources of terrorism is increasing, when public failures of police investigations and subsequent cover ups  are regular news items, when multi millionaires finance  attempts to curb a free press  it is nothing less than essential that so called police chiefs do more than merely pay lip service to being open to the public on all aspects of their responsibilities.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

TOUGHER COMMUNITY SENTENCES; HIGHLY UNLIKELY

Today it is reported that the Lord Chief Justice favours tougher community sentences instead of jail.  This aspiration would seem to be based upon the probation services in their current assorted framework being able to provide the supervision and organisation required.  In the opinion of many closely involved that aspiration will remain just that; an aspiration. The transformation of a national probation service during the previous government into a patchwork system of outsourcing does not provide this blogger with any optimism in that regard notwithstanding the possibility of magistrates` courts sentencing powers being increased to twelve months custody. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

TODAY`S WAITROSE SPECIALS

We have recently been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent on "infra structure". Seems having  police forces with adequate numbers for the ever diverse tasks forced upon them is an exception. Who needs infrastructure when eg  travel from London to Birmingham will be down to 40 minutes at an ever increasing cost at an ever receding date?

NO INSURANCE THEN WE`LL TAKE YOUR CAR

I know they do things differently in Northern Ireland but confiscating a car from a third time no insurance offender is unusual. Certainly the punishment fits the crime and would be a useful tool for benches in England and Wales.

Monday, 21 November 2016

HOWARD LEAGUE AND JUSTICES` CLERKS SOCIETY

I have never been a supporter of the Howard League. Indeed whist its policy of the abolition of all custodial sentences of less than six months is in force (and it is a virtual certainty it will not change)   I doubt many J.P.s are cheer leaders for it either. Having made that point it was disquieting to read of an incident recently where the League was helpful in the case of a juvenile living in a children`s home who was detained overnight by police  on a magistrate`s warrant for the non payment of a fine. Although I personally never signed up to be such an individual, colleagues who had volunteered to be available out of court hours for such applications were clearly instructed to contact an on duty legal advisor when police arrived with such a request.  

To the general reader this is another stick in the armoury of the Howard League with which to beat magistrates. Truly it is the Justices Clerk Society`s responsibility. This begs the question as to what is exactly this so called "society".  It has no web site. It sits under an umbrella site The Public Affairs Company where it is described as "The Professional Society for lawyers who advise magistrates".  There appears to be no public record of its activities. There is no doubt this appears to be a shadowy some might say  a shady quasi committee of around twenty five senior civil servants with enormous but poorly regulated  power.  And as with similar such groupings it makes sure when the fan is struck by fecal matter its name and purpose remain unsullied.

Friday, 18 November 2016

ADDICTS NEED TREATMENT; NOT FINES

If ever there was an example of the futility of dealing with addicts in a court setting it was demonstrated by the well meaning but pious words of the chairman of the bench at Furness Magistrates` Court earlier this week.

HILLSBOROUGH AS THROUGH THE EYES OF SIR NORMAN BETTISON

The following review of Sir Norman Bettison`s account of Hillsborough from Police Professional might be of interest.


"Sir Norman Bettison has published his account of the Hillsborough tragedy, from witnessing the horror first hand to the still ongoing criminal investigations, including new details of what went on in the aftermath of the disaster.

Twenty-seven years have passed and no one has asked Sir Norman Bettison – the man who symbolises the now accepted narrative of a cover-up over Hillsborough, what he saw on that fateful day on April 15, 1989.

Not even the inquests at which he gave testimony, inquests inquiring into the cause of death of the 96 victims.

Sir Norman Bettison publishes his account today (November 17) in Hillsborough Untold, knowing it will be pored over for any suggestion from him that Liverpool supporters were to blame for the crush on the terraces.

Police Professional can reveal that the book makes no such claim, aside from a brief mention of evidence given by Merseyside Police mounted officers who witnessed a number not helping the situation.

Sir Norman gets to finally say how he went from spectator to witness, to become involved in the recovery exercise and then part of the ‘Wain team’ that submitted evidence to lawyers acting for the force, for which he has been labelled part of a ‘black propaganda unit’.

When, at the latest inquests, he began to be questioned on what he saw on that spring day, the coroner directed the barrister’s contribution away from the event itself.

Sir Norman begins the book by describing how he came to have a seat at the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final and talks of the moment his “emergency procedure training kicked in”, and eventually witnessing the identification of victims as they lay in vast rows in the temporary mortuary.

It is extremely surprising his account has never been sought by any inquiry before.

South Yorkshire Police has since been accused, using parliamentary privilege, of being “rotten to the core” for its alleged portrayal of supporters’ behaviour.

In 12 days leading up to Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry, remarkably held just one month after the tragedy, Sir Norman explains how a team of officers under Chief Superintendent Terry Wain gathered officers’ accounts.

A major aspect of then Chief Inspector Bettison’s junior management role in the team was to summarise 81 accounts selected to provide “the most objective evidence”. He describes this summary and what was to become known as the Wain Report as internal assessments commissioned by lawyers. However, he claims they show that no blame was being put onto the fans.

In his summary, under the heading ‘Behaviour of supporters’, Sir Norman says any reports of unruly behaviour was limited to a relatively small minority of spectators.

He claims not to have witnessed any accounts being altered but they were an analysis of the evidence that officers were able to give and not an attempt to put blame onto fans. They contained “expressions of emotion and intemperate language” – not the basis of statements for the purpose of an investigation.

Sir Norman explains the process that was initiated by lawyers to make the accounts suitable for the purpose they were to be used, removing matters of opinion, for example.

He went on to become one of the most senior police officers in the country, including a spell as chief constable of Merseyside Police, an appointment that was almost prevented when local MP Maria Eagle first denounced the Wain team as a ‘black propaganda unit’ using parliamentary privilege.

Later, as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, the accusations over Sir Norman’s role after the disaster resurfaced with the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s 2012 report.

It led to a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and eventually to his early resignation. The book details the political wrangling that led to the police authority to call for him to step down, in an attempt to head off controversy ahead of police and crime commissioner elections.

He deals with the several accusations that have been levelled against him, such as the one made by a fellow MBA student, someone who gave money to the Hillsborough campaign, claiming Sir Norman boasted of his role in concocting evidence that drunken Liverpool fans were to blame. The dates given by this witness clearly dispel his assertion, he says.

Sir Norman is also critical of the stance taken by the IPCC, accusing it of conducting a “pedestrian and unstructured” criminal investigation since 2012.

And he publishes details of emails that, he claims, show its deputy chair had a report rewritten and findings changed to show he was guilty of gross misconduct by interfering in his police authority’s decision.

Sir Norman says there were many factors at play in the disaster, just as it was more than a captain of a ship and an iceberg that led to the sinking of the Titanic, coincidentally on April 15. The Hillsborough stadium furniture, notably fences erected to segregate fans and prevent pitch invasions, severely hindered the escape of those who were crushed on the terrace.

The decision to allocate just 23 (28 per cent) of turnstiles – with a flow rate known to be 750 per hour – to the 24,756 Liverpool supporters meant they would never have entered the stadium in time for kick-off.

But he does not minimise the five minutes of indecision by the match commander, former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who approved the opening of Gate C of Leppings Lane end to relieve the crush outside the ground.

“I knew nothing of the decision that was being made, at that precise moment, to open a concertina exit gate and allow 2,000 more people to stream in, unmanaged and undirected, to join the throng on the terraces behind the goal.

“The ultimate question as to culpability for the deaths in the spring sunshine at Hillsborough is right here.”