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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Thursday, 22 February 2018

THE DEA(R)TH OF COMMON SENSE

Amongst the qualities required for appointment as a magistrate when I applied was common sense. Those two words were actually written in the application form. That quality is not indicated at all in the current application form or notes which include the following:-

Personal qualities

You need to show you’ve got the right personal qualities, for example that you are:
  • aware of social issues
  • mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness
  • reliable and committed to serving the community
You also need to be able to:
  • understand documents, follow evidence and communicate effectively
  • think logically, weigh up arguments and reach a fair decision
When I made an official inquiry many years ago as to why this personal quality was omitted I was told that what might be "common" to some people might not be common to others who were immigrants or unfamiliar with the mores of this country and would therefore be at a disadvantage.  British citizenship is not a requirement to sit as a J.P.; a rule with which I profoundly disagree. 

"Common"...........usual, ordinary, customary, habitual, familiar, regular, frequent, repeated, recurrent, routine, everyday, daily, day-to-day, quotidian, standard, typical

It seems, however, that the good J.P. folk of Dorset don`t know their own rules. Rachel Small , a recently appointed magistrate interviewed by the Daily Echo with regard to magistrate recruitment, is quoted as saying inter alia, "They can come from all backgrounds, but must have "common sense and personal integrity".  Her full interview is available here

From my years on the bench and nine years of seeking out various goings on at magistrates` courts for this blog the lack of common sense amongst recently appointed benches  in recent years seems to be a logical conclusion for some strange or very unusual decisions. 

The magistracy is far from being the only organisation where common sense is noted for its absence. I don`t know the qualities essential to being an Inspector in Surrey Constabulary but a brief reading of the case of an officer cleared of a misconduct charge of stealing colleagues` biscuits  leads me to think that perhaps some training in such is called for there. 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

BLACK HATTED POLICE CHIEF

According to the folklore of Hollywood and of Western  movies prior to the mid fifties native Americans often described the black hatted white villain as speaking with forked tongue and of course the reference was to snakes.  Today we would describe the activity as saying one thing and acting in a totally opposite fashion i.e. being an out and out liar.  Now to accuse a Chief Constable who is head of professional standards for the National Police Chiefs Council of terminological inexactitude might perhaps be going a little too far but contrast two statements in the public domain made by this man.  On the website of the NPCC amongst other things the above mentioned Chief Constable Martin Jelley wrote in 2016, 

"We will not tolerate corrupt officers or staff and it is vital that we respond swiftly and robustly to incidences of sexual misconduct.
“After reviews by Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2012, police chiefs committed to doing more to root out abusers from the service. Since then, police leaders have emphasised that this behaviour has no place in policing, made changes to vetting and supervision processes, and encouraged reporting - the majority of force investigations into abuse of powers are started in response to concerns raised by officers and staff."


In a recent  issue of Police Oracle behind a pay wall there is a front page report:-


Misconduct system 'too focused on punishment' says national lead. CC Martin Jelley. Head of professional standards for NPCC calls for 'revolution' in attitudes. Date - 15th February 2018. By - Ian Weinfass - Police Oracle. The police misconduct system must become more focused on learning and improvement and less on punishment.

Perhaps I am being pedantic but my simple understanding is that these two statements appear on the surface at least to be just a little contradictory.  Of course the first is specific and the other is a generality but my opinion is that this very senior officer is wearing that black hat beloved of early directors of the Western genre of movie making. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

THE NOT SO SIMPLE SACKING OF RICHARD PAGE EX J.P.

Ex magistrate Richard Page is continuing his protest at being sacked from office by suing the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.  This is a very interesting and important case because the outcome will be significant to all who hold what some would describe as intolerant religious beliefs. It is not unlikely that the many Muslim magistrates who statistically would hold similar beliefs are watching closely. A brief perusal of a much more detailed post of 18th March 2016 predicting such a development might assist some in understanding the origin of this situation.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

BEING FREE TO OFFEND

Being free to offend is a fundamental right for a democratic society in order for that society to continue being democratic. Until recently the law in this country was the antithesis to that concept. 1st February 2014 saw the end to s.5 (1) Public Order Act thus decriminalising insulting words or behaviour in the hearing or sight of someone likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. For "distress" read offend and many who would stifle debate have emerged as latter day Mary Whitehouses seeking to show that current fears of internet trolls are a direct result of such freedom. There is a coherent argument that the enormous increase in anti semitism disguised as anti Zionism can be attributed to that change in the law.  Nevertheless we are all better off  by facing down such arguments than prosecuting them.  I am a collector of political cartoons and for me an interesting example on this subject occurred recently in New Zealand. The original source document should be compulsory reading for all who have an opinion one way or another on whether there should be prohibition of what some would describe as offensive material and the right to publish such.

Monday, 12 February 2018

JUST ANOTHER COURT SITTING

Freemen of England: regular practitioners in the magistrates` courts will have enjoyed the appearance and ravings of those who have refused to recognise the court`s authority citing that they were members of a group as per the title at the beginning of this post.  I dealt with a few in my time. I particularly recollect a male about 50 years old who was dressed as if about to appear in a pantomime as Toad of Toad Hall. After being sent to the cells for an hour for contempt his manner on his re-appearance in the dock was just a little subdued and his bravado gave way to humble acceptance of his fate. Suffolk magistrates appear to have been a little less robust than I when dealing with a defendant who challenged the prosecution to trial by combat.  So much for CJSSS. 

Perhaps I have harped on rather a lot about the advantage of bringing back the workhouse updated for today`s offenders.  Yet every day in every court there is a poor misbegotten soul who demonstrates that the court process is for him/her a complete waste of time and money. Here`s today`s example from the court in Durham.

Friday, 9 February 2018

SECRECY AT MAGISTRATES` COURTS

Even those who had no knowledge or interest in the Parole Board a month ago will surely have learnt something new to their advantage.  Another veil on the face of the justice system has been allowed to drop revealing that since its inception this body of the "great and the good" has been more secretive than the Masons when it comes to public scrutiny although I was pleased to note yesterday that the latter is baring its chest to allow public view of its innards. The courts too are on the same ladder to allow public scrutiny to some limited extent. Scotland has allowed cameras in court although not "live" as in America.  The Supreme Court has gone further with its proceedings indeed "live".  The internal workings of a jury are still sacrosanct although IMHO it is long overdue that all aspects of that system from eligibility (jurors currently do not need to be British citizens or be examined in their comprehension of English language) to composition; it is nonsense that a jury comprises an even and not an odd number of members.  But the deliberations by magistrates in the retiring room are not so open to scrutiny.  When I was appointed there was no requirement for the chairman to explain how the bench reached its decision.  Many did give a brief summary but it was only when it was decreed that its reasons had to be made public and recorded in the court files that attention was paid by chairmen to the views of his/her colleagues and "I feel he`s guilty" remarks were rightly criticised and replaced by reasoned logical debate.  There is, however, a very large gap in the openness as we have it today: nobody outside the retiring room knows whether the bench reached a unanimous or majority decision. I have been of the opinion for many years that this is a situation which fails the "openness" test. Juries under direction can reach a publicly stated majority of 10:2. If convicted defendants in the lower court were aware that it was a 2:1 guilty verdict then they might feel it worthwhile appealing the verdict and/or the punishment. Indeed there is an argument, however tenuous, that such a verdict should allow an automatic appeal at crown court for those who wished and/or could afford to pursue the matter. 

Recently Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd the former Lord Chief Justice has been reported as saying, "The answer to most of these problems (referring to openness of Parole Board) is open justice."  Surely a similar argument, discounting expense or politics, applies to magistrates` courts?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

MISCONDUCT OF SENIOR POLICE OFFICERS

Police misconduct is rarely out of the news these days. Whether that`s because of more reports being available to the public or more actual misconduct is difficult to tell.  One thing is for sure and that is the enormous increase in the numbers of senior officers involved. Two years ago I commented at length on the situation.  We now know the scandal of the lies and cover up by those at the top of South Yorkshire Police at and following the Hillborough tragedy. Only today it has been reported that the senior detective who conducted interviews with "Nick" the informer in the Edward Heath paedophile case, Diane Tudway has been promoted to superintendent whilst she is under investigation for allegedly misleading a judge into granting search warrants to raid suspects` homes.  She is of course currently not guilty of the charge but it is disgraceful that with such a matter unconcluded she is given a promotion to such a senior rank.  Yesterday Police Scotland`s Chief Constable resigned under a cloud.  A couple of weeks ago the Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Constabulary Matthew Horne was found guilty of three counts of misconduct. At the end of last year the fourth most senior officer in Derbyshire Constabulary was suspended. Today the Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary was suspended pending a misconduct tribunal in April.  In September  Naveed Malik, assistant chief constable (ACC) at Cambridgeshire police admitted gross misconduct.  Former Wiltshire Chief Constable, involved in the "Nick" affair, and newly appointed as Cleveland Police’s new Chief Constable this week is being investigated for alleged misconduct. Very senior officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland are currently under investigation. 

These cases are from the last few months.  There have been many others of a similar nature historically but they are not available in a statistical form because the Home Office keeps the numbers of senior police officer misconduct cases under wraps; so much for freedom of information. There are numbers for the plods up to rank of Inspector but no more. The College of Policing can publish a 95 page report but statistics of those of high rank involved in misconduct.......NO!


This is a matter of great public concern or should be.  Already trust in the criminal justice system with regard to the courts` process for defendants is disturbing owing to actual failings within the Crown Prosecution Service and the lack of legal aid for a majority of defendants in the magistrates` courts. Police are at the coal face of that system and in an increasingly authoritarian and "safe space" society it is paramount that they are led by people of integrity.  It will be the misfortune for us all if standards are not raised for those paid small fortunes to do that job.  However the omens are not good.  The Home Office is unfit for purpose in this and in so many other aspects of its portfolio. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

BRITISH JUSTICE TODAY

Jails are at bursting point, probation service is overwhelmed and undermanned, police are turning blind eyes to "minor" criminality, CPS is failing in its prime duties, Justice Secretaries are playing musical chairs and the Parole Board must ask serial rapist if he consents to wearing an electronic tab were he to be released on license. I rest my case.

Monday, 5 February 2018

THE CPS SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

Two weeks ago I posted on the news that the Crown Prosecution Service was publishing its own court reports.  It seems that this is merely the beginning of a campaign by said organisation to control the news.  The finding of gross failures  in its procedures that have caused outrage in legal circles notwithstanding the personal traumas inflicted on innocent parties must have inspired its discredited DPP to accelerate the program.  With the decline in local court reporting by local media it is not unlikely that a case spun by the weasels of the CPS press office will be at best a PR moment or at worst a sign of government managed news eclipsing other sources.  Where has been the comment  of libertarians and those who value a truly free press? Justice is being assailed from many quarters.  The new CPS beta version website might not be PRAVDA but it is an unwelcome sign of things to come.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

GIVING "ADVICE" TO ERRANT JUDGES

So far this year the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office has issued various pieces of "advice" to three magistrates. These "investigations" in general are very often directed against those who do not perform the required number of sittings (perhaps c40% of total) or those whose behaviour or speech is considered inappropriate.  For obvious reasons where matters of sentencing by magistrates are concerned the appeal system at crown court prevails. But what happens when a judge`s sentencing decision is so out of kilter with accepted norms i.e. Sentencing Guidelines that the Appeal Court doubles the previous sentence?  My understanding is that such cases would be dealt with "informally".  This seems to fly in the face of procedures of a similar if different significance with other professions.  

In the current climate of mistrust and/or failing confidence in government in general, experts in particular and our criminal justice system above all such "in house" secretive "advice" to the bewigged should be in the public domain and the longer the wig the louder the sanction. 

Monday, 29 January 2018

HENRY VIII AND ROTTEN TOMATOES FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW

"From today (29 January), 9 further terror-related offences will fall within the scheme which allows the public to challenge sentences handed out by the courts."

That sentence is the headline of a press release from the MOJ. Not satisfied with putting obligations to report those suspected of connection with terrorism upon landlords, estate agents, bankers, lawyers and uncle Tom Cobley the spiders at the centre of the Petty France web are seeking to have public opinion increase sentences on those convicted of terror related offences. Not satisfied with offering the judiciary so called sentencing guidelines about which the public has quite rightly no particular interest or knowledge, this government and the Ministry of so called Justice the senior incumbents of the latter being moved in and out like players in a game of musical chairs, seem only to be interested in a week`s favourable headlines.  There is absolutely no logic to this and similar actions. In the release we are informed that, "141 criminals had their sentences increased, helping victims and their families get justice. This is a small proportion of the 80,000 Crown Court cases heard each year, where in the clear majority the judiciary get it right". So because 0.18% of cases are appealed by the Attorney General a whole new avenue of legal activity is opened. If there were true philosophy in this regard it is not unlikely that there would be at the very least a substantial minority of opinion which would welcome the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty for particularly heinous murders multiple murder in the cause of terrorism being a certain candidate. Allowing public opinion to manipulate judicial decision making is no more than seeking favourable headlines from a government which has no sense of purpose and is merely looking for daily uplifts to its polling position. It began with the positioning of the "victim" to a quasi judicial role and has progressed from there.  There is no doubt that the judiciary will be undermined by this development although of course all will remain silent until they are pensioned off. Let us therefore bring back pillory and the stocks and a plentiful supply of rotten tomatoes.  At least that would be an honest expression of letting the public have what government thinks it wants. 

I am no hanger and flogger but neither am I a soft hearted believer in abolishing short sentences or for society to turn the other cheek. But I do believe that for justice to prevail there are many actions that government should take in particular with regard to legal aid and the belief that a digital image can substitute for reality.  I am however just bleating in the wind.  The authoritarianism seeping into our daily lives will only be appreciated when Cobynista Marxists rule over us and Henry VIII powers are in the hands of those who would wield them for the many not the few to our eternal cost.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

WEALTH BUYS INJUSTICE

From time to time in any profession where procedures are often discretionary a ruling body or professional society will issue guidance about preferred methodology or similar such instructions. In the case of motoring offences where there is a choice of adding points to the offender`s license or imposing a disqualification, however short, advice given to me and my colleagues was to impose the requisite number of points to reflect the seriousness of the offence(s).  It seems magistrates at Norwich have not had the benefit of similar advice or were too weak to follow the unwritten guideline when they banned a wealthy businessman for a month instead of imposing 6 points on his license which as a totter would have led to a disqualification for 6 months. 

Once again justice has not been seen to be done and wealth buys injustice. It is another example of a bench being brought into disrepute by those who can afford high quality advocacy to mesmerise an ineffectual bench.   

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

NOT A BRITISH GULAG

Every interested party bar none voices the opinion that our prisons are overcrowded.  There are those who would abolish custodial sentences being available to magistrates` courts.  There are others who would retain custody for offences only involving violence and no others.  There will be other combinations I`m sure with a similar end result in mind.  There is, however, one feature of criminality that is unchallengeable; around 70% of crime is associated in one way or another with alcohol and/or drug abuse.  No amount of tinkering at the edges of this problem will solve it.  There must be a radical change in thinking by government, NHS and all those involved in whatever capacity.  Offending addicts must be removed from the court system and installed in a half way system in conjunction with the NHS where compulsory incarceration and treatment is available.  Those who show quick response could be released before those who reject or fail to respond to treatment adequately.  To those who liken such a proposal to a British gulag I would answer that current practice is proving ineffective and costly and a case like this is just a single example of the thousands that the courts process annually.  But as with so much that needs parliamentary attention,  with an incompetent, ineffective prime minister leading a minority government it could be decades before this aspect of our justice system receives the priority it should.

Monday, 22 January 2018

CPS PRODUCES ITS OWN COURT REPORTS

I have in the past commented on the lack of or poor quality of court reporting in local media although of late there have been some reports along the lines of "A day in the life of a magistrates` court". A year ago I posted on HMCTS producing its own court reports from West Sussex Magistrates` Courts.  It seems that now the Crown Prosecution Service is trying to alter its public persona by publishing its own reports of court proceedings.  I find this a disturbing development.  It seems that by doing this it is attempting to nudge its public image in a direction of its choosing owing to the fact that it is extremely likely that only cases which suit its objectives will be published. Nobody can doubt that the CPS has been subject to adverse criticism recently with its chief officer taking some flak from media and this blogger and others. However this is a sinister approach to improving its performance and I would hope that many in the justice system will indicate their disapproval. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

MORE COURT CLOSURES/MORE GOVT. LIES

This government`s determination to close more magistrates` courts continues.  The belief in Whitehall that video courts can deliver equal justice for all and reduce costs has become as much as a totem for the MOJ as a free at point of use NHS has become for the Health Department. Outside metropolitan areas in particular the MOJ is still providing vastly inaccurate figures for travel times on public transport for those who will be required to spend up to two hours in making their way to a courtroom for a 9.30am start including time for consultation with lawyer. 

To quote from the Northern Echo; " The Ministry of Justice is proposing to close Northallerton Magistrates Court – but its analysis states it is quicker for some people living near the town to reach Middlesbrough.The proposal to close Northallerton Magistrates Court involves transferring its work between magistrates courts at York, Harrogate, Skipton and Middlesbrough.It is currently running a consultation over the proposal.But a table which compares estimated travel times from local towns which currently use the court, appears to show it takes people one hour and 48 minutes to travel the 19 miles from Richmond to Northallerton. It also estimates it takes just under three hours by public transport, at two hours 52 minutes."

 The report continues; "Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said: “This government is investing over £1billion to reform and modernise the justice system – making it more convenient, easier to use, and providing better value for the taxpayer.
“As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for Court buildings and assess whether some are still necessary to provide effective access to justice.
"Where physical courts are to close, every penny raised will be put back into funding changes which will make justice easier to access for all at the same time as offering protections for the most vulnerable.” 

Let me overlook the misuse of the word "investing". The correct term is "spending". "More convenient and easier to use"; that is nothing short of a lie.  The sale of court buildings, often at giveaway prices, is what is funding the so called digital revolution in our courts. Video courts are valuable under defined limited circumstances eg when prisoners have to appear in court. Video representation for them, usually with a lawyer in court overseeing the situation, is an efficient way to to proceed when resources are limited but for Joe Blogs encouraged at every stage to plead guilty to appear on a screen to answer a charge will lead to injustices to numerous to be collated. This is a one way development to remove citizens` rights.  It is to be deplored.