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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 21 July 2017


There are single issue lobbyists financed often by wealthy individuals whose purpose in life, in addition to their salaries, is to discredit the benefit of short custodial sentences whilst at the same time to manipulate statistics to indicate that such sentences are failing, expensive and no deterrent to offenders. In addition magistrates are often accused of being too ready to sentence recidivists to immediate custody notwithstanding guidelines being followed. This case earlier this week before Swindon magistrates is an example of what really happens at every similar court every day countrywide. Benches go out of their way, sometimes in defiance of guidelines, to avoid sending offenders to immediate custody.  Indeed such decisions often bring unwelcome criticism from members of the public insofar as they are seen to be "too soft".  With the latest report on the utterly appalling conditions in our prisons a prison sentence must be a test of strength, mental and physical, for many in order to have a chance of rehabilitation. The absolute incompetence of successive Justice Secretaries since 2010 with the possible exemption of Michael Gove, has been a prime cause.  Predictable problems with interpreters, legal aid, probation service, prison officers, police have all contributed to the current position with Theresa May`s six years at the Home Office as much a failure as her colleagues` debacle at Petty France. There`s austerity and there`s foolhardiness.

When a population loses confidence in all that comprises a justice system black clouds on the horizon are just a pre cursor to a storm ahead.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


“Verbal abuse is the use of words to cause harm to the person being spoken to. It is difficult to define and may take many forms. Similarly, the harm caused is often difficult to measure. The most commonly understood form is name-calling. Verbal abuse may consist of shouting, insulting, intimidating, threatening, shaming, demeaning, or derogatory language, among other forms of communication.”

It was brought home to me over twenty years ago in a fairly crowded retail unit in a town with the dubious reputation at the time of being just about the most racist place in England when two rather large tattooed white shaven headed gentlemen about forty years old remonstrated with a group of white teenage boys who were foully verbally abusing a middle aged South Asian man and his wife, that some sort of social self censorship was taking place as to just what was acceptable or unacceptable in a public place. For a few reasons perhaps we have reached a situation where many are simply too afraid of speaking openly; afraid that in effect recourse to s.5 Public Order Act will be taken by a self certificating aggrieved party.

Some years ago I was in the large entrance hall of a general hospital waiting for the return of a relative from a consultation in a room in nearby corridor. My mobile phone rang and almost immediately there was a shout, “Get that off; didn`t you see the sign?” In truth I hadn`t. Almost before I could retrieve it from deep in a pocket that individual behind a nearby desk screamed, “If you don`t put that off now I`ll get security!” By then I had reached the exit. 

A few years ago I was with an elderly relative at her G.P. requesting a copy of recent blood tests which should have been e-mailed to her by the practice. When the practice manager demanded £20 to produce a copy my relative said firmly that that was outrageous and it should not be charged for. Her language was polite and precise but perhaps her volume was a touch raised. The doctor emerged (a locum unknown to my relative) and confirmed she could not have the test results unless she paid but in the circumstances offered a reduced fee of £10.00. With great reluctance I handed over said fee on her behalf and we left with the copy. Two weeks later she was told in writing that she had been removed from the doctor`s list because her language and behaviour and general verbal abusing of him and the staff had put them (there were no patients) in fear of violence. As an aside, efforts by my relative`s nearest and dearest had the G.P. reprimanded and the £10 refunded. The expulsion was cancelled but of course she had since made other arrangements for her medical care. The point remains that by the definition above the perpetrator of any verbal abuse could arguably have been the doctor and his manager.

A few months ago at one of the major supermarkets as I was placing about £180 worth of groceries on the conveyor belt the cashier told me there were no large bags available and began opening bags each just about big enough to place a lettuce. I told him that they were unacceptable and unless he found large bags the goods would remain in the trolley or on the belt and I would go to the competition. He replied that the store had run out of normal sized bags and continued that he would tolerate no abuse from me. He refused to continue. His colleague on the adjoining till suggested he seek some bags. In the end I spoke to a nearby manager who conjured up enough bags to serve my requirements and reminded the cashier of his position.

Four simple anecdotes separated by twenty years but by an eon in public attitudes. Anywhere and everywhere are notices where public and employees converge that have the message that “abuse to staff will not be tolerated” or some such similar wording. “Verbal abuse” is a term that would have been unfamiliar in the swinging sixties. There is remarkably little evidence of its origin but I would venture it arose around the same time as the feminist lobby began to agitate for equal rights in employment etc and became a term commonly used to describe dysfunctional intimate relationships between men and women. Be that as it may the circumscription around many forms of disagreement especially when police are involved under s.5 using the pretext “verbal abuse” is one that magistrates must openly confront. The current trends to stifling free speech are singularly wafer thin but put those slices of self censorship in a bundle and it can be more easily recognised how far from the free speech of the 1950s we have travelled. Magistrates  must administer the law as it stands; not as they might wish it to be but they can and should take a broad look at any individual circumstance.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


From their very inception I was concerned at the implications of that wonderful, so they said, innovation; the ASBO.  Having to impose such I did my judicial duty but without enthusiasm. ASBO was but the first of many so called exclusion notices. For the last ten years constables have had the authority to issue a written exclusion notice to anyone considered to represent a "risk of disorder", even if they are not drunk or have committed no offence. The aim is to enable the police to stop violence escalating by immediately removing potential troublemakers from the scene. As a matter of interest David Davis, the shadow home secretary at the time,  said the Conservatives would consider backing the proposals but said Labour "has form for making headline-grabbing announcements only to fail to follow them up"; another politician`s words coming back to haunt if they care; it`s happening all the time. Soon to follow was the CRASBO; criminal anti-social behaviour order.  I sat on the very first hearing in this country where such was brought.  It was a shambles and we threw it out.  Notices can be issued to those whose presence "is likely, in all the circumstances, to cause or contribute to the occurrence or continuance in that locality of alcohol-related crime or disorder". Magistrates' courts are able to issue civil orders banning persistent drunks and binge drinkers from all pubs and clubs in designated areas for up to two years and  operate on a similar basis to Asbos which have been condemned by a European human rights group  These were designated Drinking Banning Orders with criminal sanctions if breached.  Their effect was to displace the offence to another locality or to set up an order for him/her to fail when such orders referred to the whole county or even the whole country. And these orders sometimes without due process don`t stop.  Domestic Violence Protection Notices allow police to exclude a householder from his/her own home on the say so of a senior officer. 

Nationwide it seems there has been a steady increase in begging whether through increased poverty and/or straightened circumstances owing to addiction(s). The problem local authorities have is, of course, what to do about it. Leamington Magistrates Court on behalf of the local council has issued one such vagrant with the ubiquitous CRASBO.  This will solve nothing except that the offender will be before another court sooner or later on a criminal charge for which he will probably be imprisoned.

This little story is typical of so much that this and previous governments do in order to paper over deep problems in our society.  Today`s announcement by the Home Secretary that she seeks to introduce new legislation on banning knives is just another pathetic attempt to remedy what are thought to be intractable problems.  They are not. They require only honesty, money and a sincere wish to get to grip with one of society`s problems.  If that requires authoritarian means so be it I say. 

PS Last month on 21st June I predicted legislation on knives by the new Justice Secretary.  I didn`t think it would come so soon. Seems I had the wrong department in mind but the right idea. 

Friday, 14 July 2017


It would seem that MOJ has decided that more Justices of the Peace need to be appointed. The article in this local newspaper is one of many similar I have read over the last few months.  What does strike me, however, is the quote of a new magistrate when commenting on a decision of custody, "There were long discussions about whether it was the right thing to do, what purpose it would serve and the impact on both the defendant, and of course the wider community and the victim". 

He does not mention Guidelines or public protection except for "impact". I also consider it questionable if "the right thing to do" is part of a structured sentencing exercise.  As far as I am aware the victims` considerations should not inform sentencing. But then having been appointed 20 years ago my attitudes, training and experience might now be considered anti deluvian if I were still active. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Some might have heard of this case but if you haven`t I have to tell you I have seen and heard of it from two sources so it must be true……..mustn`t it??????? For those who have served on jury...this one is something to think about...Just when you think you have heard everything!! Do you like to read a good murder mystery? Not even Law and Order would attempt to capture this mess. This is an unbelievable twist of fate!!! Are you sitting comfortably boys and girls and then I`ll begin.

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, (AAFS) President Dr. Don Harper Mills astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story:

On March 23, 1994 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a 10-story building intending to commit suicide. He left a note to the effect indicating his despondency. As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast passing through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.
The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he was threatening her with a shotgun! The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window, striking Mr. Opus. When one intends to kill subject 'A' but kills subject 'B' in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject 'B.'

When confronted with the murder charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant, and both said that they thought the shotgun was not loaded. The old man said it was a long- standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore, the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident; that is, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun about 6 weeks prior to the fatal accident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he didn't actually pull the trigger. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Now for the exquisite twist... Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus. He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the 10 story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window. The son, Ronald Opus, had actually murdered himself. So the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

Friday, 7 July 2017


Earlier this week I posted on the advantage of having in England as is the choice in Scotland of a third verdict after trial; namely not proven. Before discussing this further let me make plain the main disadvantage antagonists offer on this subject; the possibility of an innocent defendant being smeared by the underlying assumption that he was really guilty but proof was lacking. I suppose that is a form of an oxymoronic argument.  The advantages on the other hand are seemingly quite apparent. Benjamin Franklin inventor of bifocals and a signatory to the American Constitution in 1776 is quoted as saying, "that it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved".  Its basic concept has been repeated many times.  My opinion is that that reasoning would be better served by the availability of a verdict of not proven.  Indeed the tale of woe in the last twenty years where the verdicts in high profile trials have been overturned on appeal often after many years in jail for alleged offenders is a stain on the so called high standards of British justice.

Notwithstanding the above I am indebted to a commenter for bringing to my attention this case.  After a verdict of not guilty had been announced the bench chairman Dr Ian Haffenden is quoted in the penultimate paragraph as saying, “although we think that the defendant may have taken the items, the prosecution has not proved it so”. If this were in a Scottish courtroom the verdict would have been not proven and would have been respected as such.  In England, however, it is an absolute disgrace.  The chairman has cast aspersions on a woman his bench found to be not guilty because they applied the test; beyond reasonable doubt.  To confirm their doubt is beyond belief. There is a tradition, I know no better, that even if a decision is split 2:1 a bench must not make that public. This bench chairman should be held to account before the appropriate authority. He was out of order.  However it is unlikely that the defendant will have the wherewithal intellectually or financially to pursue that option.   Indeed it is possible that her relief in being found not guilty will in itself be enough satisfaction for her.

Before I was appointed a chairman I sat often enough to observe not a few occupants of the middle chair who liked the sound of their own voice too much for their own good. I took note to put a five second mental delay before a major input to proceedings and to make that input as pithy as possible whilst ensuring my meaning and intention were clear to all.  That, in my opinion,  is common sense; a requirement for appointment 20 years ago but sadly no longer so.

Thursday, 6 July 2017


From time to time threats, some overt and others surreptitiously, are made to the freedom of the press. I stumbled across two current reports on the state of the forensic service in Scotland.  On reading them it was sometimes difficult to recognise that they were describing the same events. See for yourself....."Police Professional" and "Holyrood" magazine.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017


Quite frankly I am sick and tired of, in effect, being part or having been a part of an aged ethnic majority imposing sentences on ethnic minority offenders in excess of similarly guilty white offenders: sick and tired not to say disappointed with the continual implication that the magistracy is unfit to represent the society within which its members have been appointed to serve. Let me make one thing quite clear:- the idea propagated by these critics that local benches should represent local societies no longer holds water. Government by its actions in amalgamating courts and greatly  increasing numbers of District Judges(MC) with no local affiliation and specifically authorising JPs to sit nationwide if theoretically required  should put that argument to rest. Unfortunately it does not.  The same old untruth, or to use current terminology, FAKE NEWS, continues to be used to undermine what used to be an unequalled expression of a voluntary giving back to society of experience, time and knowledge by members of the public with a communal spirit increasingly rare in current life. The quote below is from yesterday`s Guardian.

Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate and director of the organisation Transform Justice, says: “However good they are, we need magistrates to be truly representative of the communities they serve if trust in the criminal justice system is to be maintained. We don’t have enough BAME magistrates, and those we have are overwhelmingly middle-class and middle-aged. Where are the magistrates from the Somali, Roma and Romanian communities? Nowhere to be seen.”

The pusillanimous final two sentences sum up quite elegantly the type of reasoning put forward to pursue this so called argument.  In order to serve judgement upon one`s fellow man [for the politically correct baggage followers the term embraces woman] for a start a high quality of use and understanding of the English language is required.  Arabic speaking Somalis who are here have generally been refugees from a brutal dictatorship over the last two decades. Perhaps the second generation might emerge in the next decade who would be able to satisfy the requirements of appointment.  They would be treated by appointment committees on their merits just as every would be magistrate has been, is and will be  without regard to ethnicity.  Roma by their very culture are not citizens living in a fixed locality although there are exceptions of course. The writer quoted above has nothing but invective to shout about in line with her political cause.  Romanians in this country are by study generally manual workers with ultimate intentions to return to their country of origin. I am, incidentally, of the opinion that the current rules on appointment to the magistracy which do not require British citizenship, require re-assessment.

Be careful what you wish for.  That hackneyed phrase could come back to haunt Penelope Gibbs, her acolytes and those funding her.  There is no doubt in my mind that government generally would be happy to see the function of lay magistrates reduced to only presiding over simple offending eg TV licensing sitting in a back office a hundred miles removed from any courtroom.  The day is not so far away when non locally affiliated single district judges will rule supreme in every courtroom.  Perhaps after so called ethnicity comparisons of their middle aged white composition leads to some disquiet she will rue the time bemoaning a dearth of a bench which reflected, warts and all, the population of towns and boroughs in England.  I personally think warts should be removed from the face of justice  not excluding judges, lawyers, police when warts include those unfit irrespective of race, creed, religion, colour perceptions or so called ethnic diversity. If positive discrimination is at the heart of the argument let it be made openly. That would be an honest subject of debate.

The table below might be of some interest

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


With regard to the possibility of being banned from driving as a "totter" there is no legal definition of "exceptional hardship"; a plea for a substitute sentence being imposed without a disqualification.  Many solicitors publish their own opinions on line as a marketing tool. This is just one example from many.  My general thinking processes when listening to such a plea were that if the offender was of such means that s/he could afford to employ a driver for the six month disqualification sentence then the exceptional hardship plea would not have been made out.  I clearly recollect two cases where very wealthy businessmen tried to make the argument: they failed. I do not know the circumstances of the offender in this case but if the bench did not consider whether or not he could afford a driver then they failed in their duty.  My impression over the years is that too many totters escape their deserts by weak benches being too easily persuaded by silver tongued lawyers.


I have long argued that English courts could take a lesson from the Scots in at least giving consideration to having a third verdict; that of not proven.  The anecdote published recently in the Law Society Gazette would seem to justify such an innovation.

Monday, 3 July 2017


Chris Grayling barely had time to arrange his desk when taking office at the MOJ when he began planning the selling off of the National Probation Service.  Whether one considers or not that this action has led to more or less so called efficiency ie reduced recidivism at a cheaper price, today figures are published for those interested enough to decide for themselves.

Friday, 30 June 2017


Commentators of late have been suggesting that the great British public has turned a political corner and would welcome tax increases in order to improve funding for public services. With regard to NHS or social care they would appear to be inviting hell and damnation if there were the slightest hint that just perhaps individual contributions from those with the means available might be a better way out of this financial mess. That a right wing DUP orders Tories to retain benefits to pensioners whose financial position is such that they could happily forgo such largesse, a political position that the Left would have occupied a couple of decades ago,  indicates the paradoxical political world we inhabit.  And so it is with the emasculation of everything associated however remotely with out legal and justice system.

It is estimated that addiction is responsible for about 70% of acquisitive and/or violent crime.  Therefore one would have thought that the intelligent answer to that would be to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" (Tony Blair 1993)  But nay.  Since then we have endured other word seems more appropriate......with the justice system with platitudes and inefficiencies disguised as policy from the MOJ and Home Office. As examples just a few cases this week from magistrates courts illustrate what is really happening below the headlines of murder and terrorism; criminal activity which I would argue affect us all more than those aforesaid headline grabbers.  Please spend a moment or two perusing these four cases of criminal activity driven by addiction. These cases are replicated in every magistrates` court every day of the year. 

And what are we offered?  Court closures by the hundred and severe restrictions on the availability of legal aid even for the poorest in society. And yet, as I wrote Wednesday June 28th the CPS Inspector`s report when noting that absentee defendants are "the biggest single reason why first hearings were ineffective" did not even mention court closures as a possible reason. 

This is the Alice in Wonderland political world that appears to be the norm.  No wonder younger voters with no memories of the Cuba crisis where MAD policy prevented war, the three day weeks  and work by candlelight in the 1970s voted for a would be demagogue who offered a financial holy grail. MOJ and Home Office policies are a microcosm of all that`s wrong in this country financially, practically, morally and socially. There is nothing other than self serving preservation and limited horizons driving many parliamentarians despite that they protest too much.  They voted in their arrogance to hold a referendum without any caveats on requiring a minimum turn out or majority and I write as a Brexiteer.  By those very actions they have produced the biggest crisis since 1956 another date that means nothing to young voters. In its present form the Tory Party has outlived its usefulness where an incompetent Home Secretary with as much appeal as a rotten tomato was chosen as kingpin in order to prevent those more competent to succeed. She failed dismally with appointments to chair the inquiry into child abuse and her appointee into Grenfell has admitted within 24 hours that he will be unable to satisfy the reasonable requirements of residents. The buck has stopped right in her kitchen where she seems to be cladded to withstand the heat.

A country must be supported by a pillar of justice that is respected by all and funded to that end.  That requirement has been forgotten and/or ignored for years.

Thursday, 29 June 2017


What do changes in legal aid availabillity mean for justice?  Here are the latest numbers to be crunched.


Today the MOJ has published what is a statistician`s delight that can be topped up with some whipping and rasberries from interested observers.  Be a judge for yourself. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


See who pays the biggest fines at magistrates` courts.


Yesterday HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate published its annual report.  Amongst its findings on summary justice was the following statement;-"The defendant’s failure to attend was the biggest single reason why first hearings were ineffective".  There is no mention that the closure of hundreds of magistrates` courts in recent years could possibly be a valid reason for this decline in defendants` reluctance to travel to a court where most will be aware that they are liable to be found guilty. It is no over simplification to assume that the financial position of many such defendants is partly to blame. When the 100+ courts were being closed representations were made that increased travelling costs and time to reach those courts remaining open would be an impediment to what government has always promulgated as "local justice" especially for lower income groups. In addition it is difficult to argue that the inefficiencies of the CPS are unconnected to severe budget cuts. The cost cutting of the CPS as per the Commons library can be read in part below. | | | @commonslibrary

Number CDP-2017-0002, 9 January 2017
Funding of Crown Prosecution Service
By Jacqueline Beard
Grahame Allen
A Westminster Hall debate on the subject of the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service has been scheduled for 1630hrs on Wednesday 11 January 2017. The Member in charge of this debate is Karl Turner MP.
Contents 1. Background 2 1.1 CPS budget outturn 2 1.2 HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate 2 1.3 Director of Public Prosecution’s evidence to the Justice Committee 2 2. Media 4 2.1 Articles and blogs 4 2.2 Press releases 5 3. Parliamentary Business 6 3.1 Parliamentary Questions 6 4. Organisations and further reading 11
The House of Commons Library prepares a briefing in hard copy and/or online for most non-legislative debates in the Chamber and Westminster Hall other than half-hour debates. Debate Packs are produced quickly after the announcement of parliamentary business. They are intended to provide a summary or overview of the issue being debated and identify relevant briefings and useful documents, including press and parliamentary material. More detailed briefing can be prepared for Members on request to the Library.
2 Number CDP-2017-0002, 9 January 2017
1. Background
1.1 CPS budget outturn
The table below shows the budget outturn figures for the Crown Prosecution Service between 2010/2011 and 2015/16:
Further detail of the annual budget of the CPS can be found in its annual report and accounts which are available on the CPS website
The most recent of these (2015-2015) states, in the performance analysis: overview section:
The CPS’s net funding, as voted by Parliament, for the year to 31 March 2016 was £499.8 million. In delivering the public prosecution service the Department spent a total of £557 million. After taking into account £68.8 million income, the total net resource requirement (including capital) as shown in the Statement of Parliamentary Supply was £488.2 million which was £11.6 million or 2.3% less than the sum Voted to the CPS by Parliament.
1.2 HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate
The most recent annual report of HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (2015-2016) makes the following comment regarding the CPS budget:
Previous recent annual reports have commented on the overall reduction in the CPS budget and the impact this has had, as reflected in reduced staffing levels and the closure of offices. However, the 2015 Government Comprehensive Spending Review confirmed that the CPS budget would be maintained with a sufficient increase to cover pay and price inflation.
1.3 Director of Public Prosecution’s evidence to the Justice Committee
In December 2015 the Director of Crown Prosecutions Alison Saunders gave evidence to the Justice Committee on the work of the CPS. Asked
Funding of Crown Prosecution Service 3
whether the CPS had the resources it needed to prosecute to the standards that we all want she said:
Yes, we think we do, particularly now that we have the CSR settlement. I am not saying that it is easy; let me say that first. Over the last five years, our budget has reduced by 23% or so. Where we have been able to make sure that we maintain or improve the service—we have improved our performance in some areas across those five years—we have taken the majority of the money out of things like IT, by becoming digital, and estates, by closing buildings and reducing the number of buildings we are in. We have reduced our headquarters by about 50% on the non-operational side. When I say non-operational, I mean people who are prosecuting. What will help us, and what we need to deliver going forward, with the spending review, is transforming summary justice, better case management in the Crown court, which is the equivalent, and continuing digitalisation. Those are all key to being able to maintain our performance.