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, 26 February 2015

TRANSFORM JUSTICE



As mentioned in an earlier post  this week I have had a brief  summary from my spy who attended Transform Justice`s recent seminar at the House of Lords chaired by Shadow Justice Minister Lord Jeremy Beecham on the subject of magistrates` training and development.  Of about seventy attendees the majority was magistrates.  The essence of the 90 minute discourse was Transform Justice`s Penelope Gibbs` one woman effort to professionalise the training of the magistracy of which she was a member for a short period a decade ago.  Her sincerity was clear and her previous experience on the bench informed  much of her comments.   Her arguments rested upon the experience in Scotland of the recently newly constituted Children`s Hearings Panels and the training of their panel members expounded by two senior officials involved.  Francis Crook who runs the Howard League of Penal Reform contributed mainly by describing specific examples which suited her long standing position of wishing to see the demise of custodial sentences under six months which effectively means the emasculation of the magistrates` courts lay benches.  Her presence was akin to inviting a turkey to comment on traditional Christmas menus.  There were four or five contributions from the audience which were not unduly critical of a need to improve training but which gave the impression that in the current circumstances professionalising the training of  Justices of the Peace as unpaid employees would have to be undertaken on a very careful path to retain their support.  Penelope Gibbs informed the audience that although invited to participate the Magistrates Association had declined.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

HUBRIS



I don`t know how popular or otherwise the Commissioner of the Met is with his political masters or his rank and file but Nick Ferrari of LBC must be thinking his birthday and Christmas have come early this year.  The recent melt down during a live interview on air on Monday of the leader of the Green Party was truly a top of the bill event to be replayed years from now but only a couple of weeks ago in the same LBC studio the aforesaid head honcho could not remember the  anti-terrorism hotline telephone number.  What joy to see the powerful humbled.  Eat hubris Rifkind and Straw.

ADDENDUM

Sir Malcolm explained that as an MP he had time to go walking....read here what else he had time for including those activities which compensated for his meagre income (not salary; remember he said he wasn`t an employee). 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

EXCLUDING SOMEBODY FROM PUBLIC GALLERY




Reading about this bench`s controversial decision  reminded me of a recent sitting where I at least faced a completely new situation.  No additional training in whatever format  would have been of any help.  As I have remarked in conversation with new colleagues there are many times  when training and book reading are little preparation to fulfil the position of a bench chairman.  Today as it so happens  one of my spies attended a seminar on improving magistrates` training deficits organised by Transform Justice, a lobbying group run by a former J.P. Penelope Gibbs.  But more of that in another post.  In simple terms either one has the ability to run a court or one hasn`t.  Unfortunately IMHO I have seen those who might overcome the hurdle of appraisal but are as unsuited to the role as a doctor without a bedside manner.  


 But returning to the subject of this post;  last month my colleagues and I were sitting on yet another assault by beating in a DV context.  The complainant had not turned up on the previous occasion.  At 10.00 o`clock we were told by CPS that she was under the care of a charity dealing with such matters and that having had a witness summons served the previous day by a police officer she was “on her way”.  Just when defence counsel was sensing a dismissal of the charge she arrived.  The defendant was removed whilst she was positioned behind screens and examination in chief began.  It took only five minutes for her to begin showing signs of stress. She whispered something to the usher who was close by.  He made his way to the public gallery where he indicated to a man that he should leave.  CPS rose to continue but I intervened to ask the usher what was going on.  Apparently the member of the public gallery was known to the complainant as being a friend of the defendant and she had felt uncomfortable.  This was an occasion when a chairman has to have control of the court and make instant decisions. I explained that any member of the public has a right to peacefully view the proceedings at a magistrates` court without any hindrance and that a complainant cannot put her discomfort above that basic freedom.  The usher was instructed to inform the person concerned who apparently was still outside the courtroom.  He returned to his seat and the case continued. Before or after his removal he was not seen to have made any action that would have been considered unusual i.e. he had silently listened to the proceedings making no expression to the witness whom he could barely see behind the screen.   My colleagues, also chairmen, were doubtful if they would have acted similarly on the basis that they were very sympathetic to the complainant`s situation.  Best I stop here.

Monday, 23 February 2015

A JUSTICE SYSTEM RAVISHED



The prosecution of those suspected of violence against their intimate partners has changed radically in the last two decades.  “Domestics” where no serious injury occurred often resulted in a warning to the perpetuator to behave better.  Now the pendulum has well and truly swung the other way.  There has been  cross party political pressure to charge and convict those responsible for such crimes.  Indeed the definition of “domestic” has widened.  I have sat on a case where the defendant was the distant brother in law of the complainant.  Hardly intimate partners but the whole weight of the protocols in place to prosecute DV cases was employed.  In the event the accused was found not guilty of common assault.  I mention this owing to a recent series of DV matters before my colleagues and me having   resulted in “case dismissed”.  The reasons were complainants failing to appear despite the protocol of there having been a witness summons issued; withdrawal statements having been made which of course undermined the CPS case; complainants attending but refusing to give evidence and those whose evidence consisted of “Can`t remember”.  There is always an underlying suspicion that despite the probable bail condition imposed upon the defendant of “no contact” pressure in some form or another has been brought to bear upon the complainant.  But and it`s a big “but” I believe that prosecutors are being pressured to pursue such cases with a portfolio of evidence that is less convincing than would be expected in non DV matters of a similar gravity.  This is based upon this government`s ceaseless quest to, “put victims and witnesses at the centre of our reforms”, quoting Chris Grayling.  Indeed today another breathless press release from his minions at Petty France announces further efforts which appear to convert our common law to that based upon Sharia.  It won`t be long before every offence has a price that an alleged offender can pay a complainant in order to forestall court action.  With many more defendants on average earnings  being made to represent themselves owing to their being denied legal aid  and  victims and witnesses to be given more support with double the number of “courtroom experts” soon to be available to help them give evidence, one wonders what more will be done to raise the conviction rate to a Chinese 99%. 



Where is the learned opposition to this galloping trend?  Where is the Magistrates Association`s opposition.  Does the Bar demonstrate only when legal aid fees are cut?  Do the higher judiciary await retirement before expressing opinion?  I have previously commented on the outspokenness of such people including the military and  police on defence and crime respectively only when their pensions hit their bank accounts.  The result is plain to see with the predicted budget for defence likely to fall below 2% and senior generals being bullied into silence on criticism of the country`s ability to be defended.



I vote in a marginal constituency currently held by the Tories where UKIP is breathing down the neck of the incumbent.  I am a capitalist by experience and conviction but it might stick in my craw to put my cross for the party which has allowed our justice system from arrest to prison  to be ravished as it has been over the last five years.