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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

MAGISTRATES//AGE//ETHNICITY

For those interested in the latest statistical analysis of how many magistrates are of whatever age, gender or ethnicity you only have to look here but ginger haired or twelve fingered people are not yet included nor are those carrying the gene for self importance but one can`t have everything from statistics.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

COURTS CHARGE AND THE LOST CREDIBILITY OF MICHAEL GOVE/MAGISTRATES RESIGN

I took my retirement from the bench a month or so earlier than my chronology suggested owing to the simultaneous imposition of the iniquitous courts charge introduced in April.  In my mind it had become a retiring issue; the straw which would have broken this camel`s back.  The so called "victims` surcharge" imposed from 2012 caused me personally a twinge of conscience owing to its being non means tested and therefore increasing the financial burden on those least able to bear it.  It is thought that it was a resigning issue for scores if not hundreds  of colleagues as was the amalgamation of courts that same year. The courts charge is of a different dimension. In the lower court it begins at £150 for a guilty plea to a summary offence, £180 similarly for a guilty plea to an either way offence increasing to £520 after conviction at trial for a summary offence and £1,000 for conviction at trial of an either way offence. These charges are not means tested.  In his letter to the Magistrates Association house magazine explaining his decision to resign from the magistracy   George Lyons with 15 years on the bench wrote:-

"I have spent 15 years on the bench and was in the very privileged position of sitting as a chair in the adult and youth courts gaining knowledge and experience every day that I sat. We would exercise our discretion on every aspect of sentencing, within the guidelines, and arrive at a proportionate sentence for the offence charged. I cannot tell a defendant that the costs are reduced because they do not have the means to pay them then say, without any regard to personal circumstances, that I also impose £180 admin fee (that is what it is) and warn that a prison cell is waiting if they do not pay."

His is an opinion probably shared by the majority of his colleagues nationwide.  It is thought that at least twenty other J.P.s have resigned.  The Justices Clerk to my old bench has written to all my former colleagues telling them that if they are unhappy to be imposing the charge they should resign.  

Much as I am was an admirer of the current Justice Secretary,  by accepting his office and acquiescing to this legal abomination he has devalued himself as a man of good conscience.  Reversing his predecessor`s action on limiting prisoners` reading materials is not enough for him to regain the credibility he justifiably attained at Dept. of Education.    

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

THE EYES HAVE IT

Today a recent news item has attracted my attention and which as a former eye care professional I can comment upon with expert knowledge.  

in 2013 police were given powers to notify the DVLA to revoke a motorist`s driving license if they considered his/her vision fell below the standard required; i.e. an ability to read a number plate at 20 metres. This was one of these pieces of legislation which came into force with barely a whisper.  I will say from the outset that this innovation is akin to offering a haemophiliac a band aid when s/he cuts a wrist.  For at least forty years eye care professionals have campaigned individually and as professional bodies to have the current DVLA so called eyesight requirement reformed so that such professionals can authorise that a certain standard has been reached by an aspiring driver.  As the present vision level allows an individual who can see eg a dustbin lid  held at 20M but be unable to see the person holding it  owing to blurring of all but the central few degrees of useful vision, often the case in chronic glaucoma,  it has long been argued that an applicant`s visual field should be an integral part of any vision test.  Satisfactory colour vision especially red/green discrimination is another aspect of vision which at least should be noted on a license application if not an impediment to receiving approval.  The same could be argued for those with monocular status eg lazy eye,  who therefore lack true binocular 3D vision.  Governments failed to act using the excuse that those advocates were merely proposing regulations to line their own professional pockets when they were in fact fearful of the motoring lobby in all its forms.  So PC Plod now has the power to have your license revoked.  Don`t say you haven`t been warned.

Monday, 27 July 2015

SEARCH WARRANTS AND OTHERS SIMILAR

I was unsurprised to note the implications of this case at the Divisional Court. Their lordships take a fairly uncompromising view of the magistrates involved and by extension magistrates in general.  There is a reference to the bench taking only 45 minutes to decide on the application. Perhaps their lordships are not familiar with the daily throughput at magistrates` courtsWarrants are considered by legal advisors as an unfortunate intrusion into the time available to get through the anticipated list which is itself often over subscribed.  It is not uncommon that their desire is to get the job done as quickly as possible without omitting to cross the "T"s when required and of course dotting the "I"s. Indeed it appears that the need to get over the rubber stamping tendency  is still there.  With warrants of entry by utility companies in this era of reducing benefits to the lower paid and unemployed  it is nothing short of misconduct if there are still magistrates out there who do not subject such applications to the utmost scrutiny.   Once more this lends urgency for my former colleagues to be more inquisitorial whilst in the middle chair whatever the topic in consideration and however unexpected  or objected to  by the legal advisor. After all it is still but for how much  longer a magistrates` court.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

IS THE LAW AN ASS?

Notwithstanding Apple`s recent climbdown over payments to artists during the first three months of its new music download scheme as I type this I`m listening to music ripped from CDs I`ve purchased previously on to my hard drive.  It seems now I`m a law breaker after the recent ruling at the High Court.  By all accounts it is generally recognised that this legal decision has nowhere to go; it will rarely if ever be implemented.  Is this truly a case where one might consider that the law is an ass!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

JURIES AND JURORS

It seems another juror has encountered the wrath of the Lord Chief Justice owing to her researching details on the internet pertinent to a defendant. In this age of recent mass immigration and widespread internet use jurors are still chosen largely unfiltered from publicly held lists. At one time not too long ago  certain classes of summonsed jurors could recuse themselves on account generally of their importance to society so in effect many middle class professionals were unavailable by choice. That situation as we know has changed and nobody including judges and others of equally high status is excused without very substantial reasoning. Such people bring with them a lifetime`s accumulation of knowledge, much of it highly specialised, to the proceedings.  If evidence presented is directly contrary to their personal knowledge are they to choose how to balance that conflict?  The purists might answer that only the evidence heard in court has any relevance but where does that leave the truth?  

From my contacts and enquiries into attitudes of magistrates I have the sense that many are becoming more inquisitorial in their approach to trials involving unrepresented defendants in order to ensure as much as they are able that justice is done and if that means the truth will out rather than the abler proponent of evidence then so be it. 

As a matter of interest  WikiIslam has the following information copied below.  If these statistics are to be taken at face value how would individuals holding the reported opinions be appropriate for jury service whether in trials of co-religionists or others?

United Kingdom

More than 60 percent of British Muslims want Shari'ah law in the UK
The special poll [conducted by the Guardian/ICM organisations] based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61 per cent wanted Islamic courts - operating on sharia principles – "so long as the penalties did not contravene British law"[46]
October 2006
1 out of 3 British Muslims aged 16 to 24 believe that Muslim apostates should be executed.
In the survey of 1,003 Muslims by the polling company Populus through internet and telephone questionnaires, nearly 60% said they would prefer to live under British law, while 37% of 16 to 24-year-olds said they would prefer sharia law, against 17% of those over 55. Eighty-six per cent said their religion was the most important thing in their lives.

Nearly a third of 16 to 24-year-olds believed that those converting to another religion should be executed, while less than a fifth of those over 55 believed the same. The survey claimed that British authorities and some Muslim groups have exaggerated the problem of Islamophobia and fuelled a sense of victimhood among some Muslims: 84% said they believed they had been well treated in British society, though only 28% thought the authorities had gone over the top in trying not to offend Muslims.[47]
January 2007
Four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced into parts of the country, a survey reveals today. The ICM opinion poll also indicates that a fifth have sympathy with the "feelings and motives" of the suicide bombers who attacked London last July 7, killing 52 people, although 99 per cent thought the bombers were wrong to carry out the atrocity.
. . .
The most startling finding is the high level of support for applying sharia law in "predominantly Muslim" areas of Britain.

Forty per cent of the British Muslims surveyed said they backed introducing sharia in parts of Britain, while 41 per cent opposed it. Twenty per cent felt sympathy with the July 7 bombers' motives, and 75 per cent did not. One per cent felt the attacks were "right".
Nearly two thirds thought the video images shown last week of British troops beating Iraqi youths were symptomatic of a wider problem in Iraq. Half did not think the soldiers would be "appropriately punished".
Half of the 500 people surveyed said relations between white Britons and Muslims were getting worse. Only just over half thought the conviction of the cleric Abu Hamza for incitement to murder and race hatred was fair.[48]
February 2006
At least 85 Islamic sharia courts are operating in Britain, a study claimed yesterday. The astonishing figure is 17 times higher than previously accepted
. . .
However, they operate behind doors that are closed to independent observers and their decisions are likely to be unfair to women and backed by intimidation, a report by independent think-tank Civitas said.[49]
June 2009
32% of British Muslim students support killing for Islam; 40% want Shari'ah Law
According to a new survey done at 30 universities in Britain, the young Muslim student body in that country is extremely radicalized. The poll asked 600 Muslim students and 800 of their non-Muslim peers about politically touchy subjects like killing in the name of Islam and Sharia Law—and the results were like night and day between the two demographics. While hardly anyone in the non-Muslim sample accepted killing in the name of religion, basically one-third of all Muslim students in Britain supported this.
. . .
In an ironic twist, this survey and its shocking poll results were made available only through the Wikileaks leaking of Julian Assange. The poll was revealed as part of a secret, diplomatic cable that emerged from the US Embassy in London.
Other results in the pro-Islamist survey results are also troublesome. For instance, more than half of all British Muslim students insist on being represented by a political party that is Islam-based. The clear-cut, overwhelming theme in this poll data from this leaked cable relates to the fact that many Muslims even in so-called civilized countries like Britain still want to relapse to the Middle Ages (or earlier, even) by making Islam central in all aspects of their true-believing lives.[50]
December 2010
 
The recent speech by the Prime Minister shows that there is gradual realisation that  the political getout that the underbelly of those who are committed to violence in the name of Islam is a tiny minority   is not necessarily the case.  Similar arguments can be made about members of or adherents to other religious or political denominations where controversy  might arise eg Scientology, English Defence League to name just two. It is inconceivable that such cares have not entered the thinking processes of those high up the ministerial tree in Petty France.  It must only be a matter of time when jury selection  becomes more inquisitorial and more highly selective if it is to retain its position as central to the legal process otherwise there is a risk that a fully inquisitorial system of continental procedures will be proposed.

 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

METROPOLITAN POLICE AND ITS BIZARRE AND SHORT LIVED INITIATIVES

According to Charles Darwin`s theory as I understand it diversity and ability to exploit and reproduce advantages granted by mutation are necessary for survival.  I suppose in my simplistic thinking process the years since the big crash and subsequent years of austerity such analogies could also be applied to institutions.  The Metropolitan Police Service is as good an example as any.   In 2010 in an effort to retain officer numbers yet cope with the early funding cuts imposed by the previous government the Met limited its recruitment of new constables to those who had served as unpaid volunteer special constables for at least one year previously.  I have been unable to source when this policy was ended.  It seems a penchant for those with all those badges and braid on their caps and blue uniforms is to dream up more new schemes to make more headlines than they make sense.  

The Met yesterday announced that for a trial period of a month all new aspiring recruits must be able to speak a second language other than English.  The obvious caveat to this policy is a would be recruit without such language skills will postpone any application until this trial period has run its course.  After all anybody making a career choice to become a police officer can hold off for a month. However if this nonsensical policy is to be taken seriously {remember when every doctor`s or dentist`s waiting room or town hall  had leaflets in umpteen languages until some wise old owl of a civil servant realised that doing this did nothing to encourage the use of English by immigrants} one would have thought that the required ability to converse in a foreign tongue would be applied to those which would most often be encountered on the streets of London.  One would have thought wrongly.  Indeed the languages required are:-

• Yoruba (Nigeria)
• Hebrew
• Arabic
• Hindi
• Punjabi
• Italian
• German
• Turkish
• Greek
• Spanish
• Polish
• Portuguese
• Sinhali (Sri Lanka)
• Bengali 


Hebrew is the language only of prayer for many Jews worldwide  and native Israelis of whom only about 10,000 are thought to live in London.  The Jewish enclaves in London where over 200,000 people live are populated 90% by native British born people so the Met Commissioner can`t be thinking of having multi lingual bobbies in Golders Green.  In Hackney or Stoke Newington where the Jewish residents are mainly of the black coat Chassidic variety Yiddish is the spoken language. Although written in Hebrew characters it is a Germanic/Polish tongue so that a Hebrew speaking recruit would be wasting his/her skills.  Perhaps he thinks that he should not recruit Arabic speakers without offering the quid pro quo to the other side.  But he is seeking Sinhali  and not Tamil speakers where refugees from a most recent and vicious civil war are still at odds.  And for Cypriots of that ethnically divided island he is recruiting Greek and Turkish speakers so no favouritism there. German is on the list I have rarely met here or abroad a native of Germany or Austria who was unable to speak English almost fluently. Perhaps the Met knows something the rest of us are ignorant about.  With the influx of immigration from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania where Russia is a second language there is no inclusion of any of these four languages.  And Romanian and Bulgarian are also excluded when Spanish is on the list.  Gujarati is omitted whilst Hindi and Punjabi are included........bizarre!

This policy will be as short lived as the above mentioned "be a special first" policy.  It will wither without a whimper. No worries for the Met.  It`s PR department can soon persuade more hard up TV production companies to put together a few more hours cheap reality TV to tell us how wonderful they are.  

Monday, 20 July 2015

MAGISTRATES BEING "OFFENSIVE"

The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) (formerly the Office for Judicial Complaints) recently published its annual report.  Nothing unusual in that one might say and one would be correct except...........when the figures are looked at more closely and especially compared to those of 2012, 2013 & 2014 as far as magistrates are concerned.

In 2012 14 J.P.s were involved.  Of these 6 were removed by reason of being low sitters and therefore not fullfilling their obligations when appointed. 8 were  removed from the magistracy.  Notably there were none who were merely given "advice" as to their conduct or were reprimanded.  Similar numbers are recorded for 2013.  7 were sacked for not meeting the minimum sitting requirements and 3 were removed for other reasons. Once again there were no complaints that resulted in non dismissal decisions.  All that changed in 2014.  There were 40 J.P.s investigated of whom 7 were sacked for low sitting and a similar number was given "advice" as to conduct.  The major change was that 24 were reprimanded over their conduct which seems largely to have been misplaced comments usually within the court or retiring room. This year to 11/05/2015  has seen 16 brought before the investigating committee of whom 5 were removed from the magistracy for being low sitters and a similar number for other reasons. 6 were reprimanded.

It seems that complaints within the court buildings  by colleagues on colleagues are increasing in number. In other activities "whistle blowers" have been newsworthy for some time usually when risks of harm to third parties are involved.  Now perhaps increased sensitivity to the spoken word has become common both in the courtroom and the retiring room. It is beyond dispute that Justices of the Peace have a duty of circumspection in what they say outside the privacy of their home and especially in the public arena but even so perhaps "offensive" has been applied in circumstances beyond the meaning of the word.  

I do recall about ten years ago a colleague commented to a Saudi national convicted of theft that he was lucky he wasn`t in his own country where he would have been at risk of losing a hand.  She was asked to explain her comments before the Deputy Justices Clerk who had been informed of her remarks by a winger.  She duly did making it clear that she wasn`t prepared to be reprimanded for making a statement both true and pertinent to the situation. To give him the credit due the DJC took the complaint no further. I wonder what the situation would be today.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

RENEWAL

Over the last few days the British Medical Association has been making clear the views of its members in opposition to the Health Secretary`s stated intention of ensuring a fully operational seven day service at NHS hospitals.  Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the BMA there is no doubt that it is putting forward its policies and arguments effectively. Compare that with the Magistrates Association`s responses to the actual and proposed closure of about a quarter of magistrates` courts since 2010.  The following is its response:-

MA National Chairman Richard Monkhouse has commented:

“Our members know that court closures are coming, the Lord Chancellor and his predecessor have both said as much. We accept that there is scope for efficiencies in the system and that frankly some courts are underused due to a variety of reasons, not least the trend in fewer cases coming to court over recent years.
“As with previous closures, our prime concern is that access to justice and the administration of the law is not adversely effected. To that end we will be engaging with the consultation and making our views known accordingly.”

Now........it is beyond question that comparing magistrates and the M.A. to doctors and the BMA is almost but not quite like comparing chalk to cheese.  Their membership, finances, constitution  and functions are totally different but that IMHO does not excuse the MA from appearing to be a lapdog kowtowing to government dictat.  Surely there is room for a new organisation which actually works on behalf of and in the protection of Justices of the Peace.  

Thursday, 16 July 2015

THE ARROGANCE OF POWER

So..........more courts are to close........oops! apologies for misleading my reader.  The government has just issued a consultation on the topic.  That makes a big difference of course.  It`s available here but after reading through all the self congratulations by the minister the appropriate page appears not to be available. 

P.S. Notice where he describes courts` availabilities by car travel.  Perhaps it doesn`t occur to the arrogant worthies who write these pieces that so many attendees at magistrates` courts rely upon public transport. 

LEGLESS DONKEYS

If prizes were awarded for  an  ability on meeting a donkey  to leave it without the benefit of its hind legs  it would surely be awarded to the rabid left wingers in academia and politics who rarely fail to use one word when a dozen are available.  With the spectacle of Greece before us there are still so many who don`t acknowledge that King Cnute contrary to popular belief did not attempt to show his earls and thanes he could control the waves but indeed the exact opposite; that he too was a mortal being who had no powers to that effect. With Michael Gove exorting more lawyers to work pro bono is this the new  government`s way to improve productivity?

A group writing under the banner of Respublica believes there are professionals who owe it to society to work for nothing.  They wrap up so much verbiage in the 36 pages they take to offer their message I fear for the future of the donkey as a species.  Who am I to argue with such enlightened minds.  I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is a subscriber or even the aforesaid Mr Gove?

TRANSLATION SERVICES BY CAPITA plc

More numbers to be crunched upon with regard to translation services provided to the MOJ by Capita plc who you might recall  secured their contract in somewhat unusual circumstances at the beginning of 2012.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

"THIS IS YOUR FINAL FINAL CHANCE"

Considering that about 70% of crime is committed under the influence of or for the acquisition of drink or drugs I am firmly of the belief that our laws should be amended so that confirmed and unrelenting alcoholics and/or drug addicts who are  a danger to themselves and/or the public should be incarcerated in a medical institution where their addictions can be treated by specialists.  This of course would be expensive but not as costly as the merry-go-round of offence, arrest, court, prison, release, offence............The case reported here is a typical classic example of where we are now  from the bench chairman`s patronising words......“You could say a suspended sentence order is a suspended sentence order and he should go to prison. “He is making progress with the probation service and they still want to work with him..........“He has shown gumption and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.” “This is your final, final chance.” to the utter disrepute into which the meaning of justice is brought.  A suspended sentence order is meaningless if it is not executed to some degree without good cause.  One third sentence reduction for an early guilty plea is a joke thought up years ago to encourage villains not to try for an acquittal at trial when there is absolutely no hope.  In a case like this and a million others it makes a mockery of the system yet again.  So this being a final final chance what hope is there for the protection of the public including supermarkets?  Where are the politicians with  cajones big enough to make the appropriate proposals?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

POLICE ETHIC

Police officers don`t like being argued with.  Anyone familiar with magistrates` courts proceedings will be only too familiar with the scenario; a police officer tells a by stander or otherwise disinterested passer by to move on or similar and that person comments on the activities before him or her or contests the officer`s authority.  Before too long the matter has escalated and the 3rd party is in handcuffs.  It comes to court and the defendant is acquitted and the question in the retiring room is how could such a matter after supposedly being reviewed by CPS actually come to court. Although the report here is sparse and it seems it has yet to come to court the thrust of the case is the manner in which the defendant complained of the treatment to which he was subjected as a result of objecting to the original police action.   Is it really in anybody`s interest except a cop getting another collar for such apparent aggression to be part and parcel of the police ethic?

Friday, 10 July 2015

MUSINGS ON FRIDAY

Yesterday`s blog by Jack of Kent is as well presented a narrative of the current situation re legal aid, or rather the lack of it, as I have read.  The practical results of legal professionals making clear their disdain for what is happening in our courts were  yesterday`s actions in Liverpool and Newcastle.  I wonder when a magistrates bench will at least discuss the possibility of withholding  their court presence for just a single sitting.  Or perhaps a member of the Justices Clerks Society will stand at a bench meeting and order said bench not to discuss such matters.  Indeed some years ago such an individual attempted to stop discussion at a bench meeting where I had proposed a vote on a particular topic by trying to overrule the Chairman of the Bench.  He failed.   Justices of the Peace are in a unique position to echo a "community" view.  After all isn`t the mantra "local justice for local people".

Disciplinary hearings for most professional bodies take place in public and that is as it should be.  But there is a glaring exception and that is for police officers although recently the rules have been changedThese are two of the first cases that can be reported.  But if you`re a Chief Constable and found guilty of misconduct at a closed hearing you can get your job back because the misconduct wasn`t "gross". 

For many years on my former bench Friday mornings in Court 6 were video courts where bail applications would be heard.  In the often chaotic situations at the two or three prisons which served the area it would be no surprise to be told by a prison officer that prisoner Q was not on their list of appearances and indeed was not listed as being in the prison at all.  Often the session would close where nobody.....the prison in question and the other similar establishments and also the solicitor representing knew the current whereabouts of Q.  It seems the opposite happened at Pentonville Prison in London who had a prisoner they did not realise was in their care.  Well...........nobody`s perfect..........

The final observation for today comprises a case that included that most common of sex offences, the iniquitous newly functioning court charge and the rather peculiar question put to the offender by a bench chairman.  The offender might be thought to have gotten off lightly for being convicted of exposure but his financial burden for escaping a more onerous and serious disposal will be a reminder for some time unless as is so often the case he fails to keep up the payment schedule.  But what really sets this case apart from most are the quoted remarks of the bench chairman who must have had a senior moment....."  Before the magistrates retired Mr Cinammon asked Gawronski if he had a large penis. He replied: “I have a little bit more but I do not know. Do you need to know the size?”  The report is here


Thursday, 9 July 2015

WHAT THE JUDGE MEANT!

Blogging by magistrates came in for some severe criticism from the Senior Presiding Judge about three years ago. Content per se was not  the subject of such criticism but the very act itself. Others will have  judged the implications of such criticism. Those who lived by the sword were not to be surprised if they died by the self same instrument. Needless to say his threats of fire and brimstone were just an example of judicial hufffing and puffing.  Remarks by more senior judiciary, and for J.P.s all judiciary is more senior, from time to time go unreported except in the provincial press. To focus attention to what is already in the public domain, albeit unremarked, has long been a feature of this blog. Readers will have made up and I hope continue to make up their own independent minds on such topics. 

Most sentencing in our criminal courts is now contained in a little black book known as Sentencing Guidelines. Judges and magistrates are well used to making clear their route which led to their eventually pronounced sentence. Decisions on bail are also ensconced with guidelines based on the precept that all defendants, innocent until proved guilty, are entitled to bail. It is a matter of judgement that they should be remanded in custody when the bench has fears eg of interference with witnesses, committing further offences or failing to appear which cannot be allayed by any conditions offered by the defendant or on his/her behalf eg residence, tag, security etc. There are also situations where the judgement of the bench is to decide whether or not to accept jurisdiction on a matter which can be heard at either their own court or is more suited to being tried at the Crown Court. Even where such a case has been heard at the lower court a bench has the option to send the offender to the Crown Court for sentencing.  In the light of all the above it is remarkable to read the reported comments last October of HH  Judge  Jeremy Richardson QC at Hull Crown Court.  From his lofty perch he  publicly criticised local Justices of the Peace for putting the case in the hands of his court.  "Cases such as these should be resolved by the magistrates' court," said Judge Richardson. "Then, when issues are resolved, you apply your mind to the committal provision. "Crown court is purely a sentencing exercise. Stage one needs to be sorted entirely before stage two commences." He was not referring to a single decision. He made a generalised comment which in effect has denigrated his junior colleagues and IMHO has brought the judiciary into disrespect. The guidance on blogging to which I referred above contains the following, “They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.” It would seem, by that statement, that my criticism of H. H. Judge Richardson is more likely to damage public confidence in the judiciary than the remarks uttered by the judge himself. Two extracts from the Media Guide for the Judiciary might offer some illumination:-
“Making planned statements in open court.
Courts and most tribunals operate in public, and any comment made by a judicial office-holder in public session is regarded as open to reporting. This extends to comments made when there’s no reporter in the room, as long as someone has repeated it to them. Judges may occasionally read out statements in open court, for example commenting on misreporting of a case."
"Lord Mackay a previous Lord Chancellor has stated that” judges must avoid public statements either on general issues or particular cases which might cast any doubt on their complete impartiality, and above all, they should avoid any involvement, either direct or indirect, in issues which are or might become politically controversial”",
This begs the question whether or not public criticism of magistrates by a crown court judge is politically controversial. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

HEADS SHOULD ROLL AT BROXBOURNE COUNCIL

On June 29th I posted on the increasing number of quasi uniformed people patrolling our streets enforcing something or other on behalf of some council or other.  The wages for such employees are around minimum wage or not much higher and the educational requirements are commensurate with those rates of pay.  Discretion, judgement and good old common sense  are not necessarily part of the job description. Is it any wonder therefore when their jobsworth attitude leads them to situations where they are little more than robots doing what they are programmed to do; no more and no less.  However it is almost beyond belief that paid officials at Broxbourne Borough Council failed to take a realistic position on transgressor Luke Gutteridge and pusued him as a greyhound pursues the hare only for their case to be thrown out of court by magistrates at Stevenage.

It was precisely this type of authority gone mad which has led to the widespread disdain for traffic wardens even although we are all aware that some parking control is required in our towns and cities.  Only last year I was ticketed for parking precisely one minute into a time prohibited zone with ambiguous signage.  Like over 50% of others my ticket was overturned on appeal. Now recent pressure at Cabinet level has required traffic wardens to allow discretion to be applied in such circumstances.  Similarly there can be no reasonable  citizen who does not consider litter dropping a disgusting feature of our environment and that sanctions must be in place for those who disregard the advice to "take it home".  It is, however, giving powers of ticketing with financial inducements for those poorly paid council employees to issue as many as possible, without an emphasis on discretion which brings once again all those quasi uniformed little hitlers into the headlines.  Considering the reduction in cash receipts upon which councils have to balance their books those council tax payers in Hoddesdon should be demanding the heads of those officials which allowed this debacle to hit the buffers to the tune of £8,000  

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

ANSWERS TO A FEW QUESTIONS

Sometimes there are some seemingly simple questions of the state of our legal system and practices within it that seem to be without answers.  But...........sometimes the answers are available from poorly attended parliamentary debates or written answers from ministers.  There are four such question and answer replies here, here, here and here on topics of interest to magistrates and others perhaps.......enjoy! 

Monday, 6 July 2015

JUST WHAT IS THE MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION?

I`ve been keeping a close watch of late on the activities of the Magistrates Association.  And there`s good reason to be interested; a sentiment which has been posted here more than once in the last couple of months primarily in that organisation`s quest to increase its income from new sources.  It might be a million miles from a FIFA situation but when a controller of services required  receives income from research supplied to organisations which provide such services at that controller`s  request albeit indirectly it is hardly surprising that eyebrows are raised. But today my observations are a little more factually based upon a combination of two comments in the media from officers of the M.A.

On July 4th The Times published a letter from the M.A.`s Chairman Richard Monkhouse.  I have copied it below:-


I posted at length on 02/07/2015 my opinion of the LCJ`s thoughts on the removal of the dock insofar as Magistrates` Courts are concerned.  It seems that my thoughts are way out of line from those of the esteemed letter writer above.  But more to my point today is his assertion concerning defendants being enclosed in a dock that "Magistrates.........have long voiced concern about its use and its influence......." From my own experience and from knowledge of others` opinions I would assert that this statement is pure fiction and is made from ignorance or to serve the writer`s own situation to ingratiate himself with the senior judiciary. In the remainder of the letter  he neatly puts an opposing view from the opening  in the style of a true politician. It is just another example of a few people speaking for themselves without the interest or care of the silent majority which for its own reasons let them be put in place.  

My second comment is based upon a podcast made on  by the M.A.`s CEO Chris Brace and Deputy Chairman M.A. Malcolm Richardson detailing the M.A.`s Board of Trustees recent meeting of May 19th.  During the podcast where mention was made of a drastic drop in income owing to an equally  drastic drop in membership fees from "retiring and resigning  members" no mention was made at all of possible reasons why members were resigning.  Retirements are self explanatory but one would have thought that an organisation would do all it could to discover why resignations were occurring and discuss it at a Trustee`s meeting assuming the podcast was  a full and frank  report. Presumably a full minute will also be available of said meeting or perhaps not.......I don`t know.  In any event any marketing expert would tell them that it costs perhaps thirty times as much to recruit new customers as it does to retain existing ones.  Whilst that is not an exact analogy it points a finger.  

Perhaps I can offer an explanation.  An organisation which appears to many of its members as a vehicle primarily for the agrandisement of a few, which seems to have little control over the destination to which government is taking its members  and which for decades has paid lip service to its members` needs for the services of a truly functioning protective organisation offering benefits of representation against possible accusations laid against said members is not worthy of annual dues.  Never mind..........M.A. has assets in cash of approaching £2 million and owns the freehold of its Fitzrovia headquarters which will be worth much more than that.  Where all that came from is beyond the resources of this blogger.  So don`t shed a tear when questions start being asked about its developing relationships with those newly set up probation companies to whom it is supplying research information at £10,000 a throw.  Perhaps Lord Gnome will have an answer in the fullness of time. 



Sunday, 5 July 2015

JUST A VERY NAUGHTY BOY

Whilst an active J.P.  and also subsequently I have been surprised or perhaps amazed is a more appropriate description of my demeanour at how many magistrates, enveloped in the mushroom cloud that has been created to place victims  at the centre of the justice system, have forgotten that they must always be aware of the public interest and its protection.  Therefore I find it incredible that in this case of multiple speeding an offender has not been disqualified as a totter from driving.  It would appear that a plea of exceptional hardship must have been accepted by the bench and having reached that decision against all the odds a period of disqualification less than the usual six months was not even imposed.  To allow such an offender to continue driving even without a full report of the case before us is just the sort of sentencing that brings the bench into contempt. By treating him as a very naughty boy those involved do the office of lay magistrate  no good service.

Friday, 3 July 2015

KNIFE CRIME AGAIN

So..........here we go again just like clockwork..........a government promising to go down hard on those carrying  knives.  We`ve been here so often before that it appears to be a right of passage for newly installed ministers at Justice to proudly announce their latest attempt to make our streets safer although no one name is associated with this latest pronouncement.  

This was just one of previous attempts to deter and/or punish those caught on the streets.  For the numbers watchers reading this a comparison between last year`s and current figures might be of interest. The arguments, however, will not go away.  The Met Commissioner recently expressed his opinion that reduction in stop and search has hampered his force`s ability to take weapons off the streets.  Before the last Holyrood election in Scotland where the SNP won a majority Scottish Labour had promised prison for all knife carriers.  That proposed policy did not go down well with police in Scotland.  I would be surprised if south of the Wall opinions differ.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

THE UNREALITY OF THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE

Yesterday I posted on the silence of the senior judiciary regarding the unequal status of unrepresented defendants owing in the main to the withdrawal of legal aid for many in the magistrates` courts. Today the Lord Chief Justice is once more making his pitch for the abolition of the dock and the adoption of the American preceedure of having the defendant sitting in the well of the court with his advocate.  I wonder why he is pursuing this line of thought? He is repeating remarks he made in January.  Is it owing to the savings he thinks could be made?  He admits to the fact of unruly defendants posing a problem.  Oh really..........how perceptive of him.  He considers how  a court would  distinguish between those who would be the benefits of this new process and those who would not.  He doesn`t actually say that a dock should be kept in reserve for such circumstances.  Over my time on the Bench there were many occasions where only the secure dock both at first hearing and trial  prevented a defendant from running amok.  Perhaps from the rarified heights of his position he doesn`t realise that there is no security at most hearings in magistrates` courts. He speculates that such changes would lower court costs:- 

"One reason was expense — retaining docks for magistrates’ hearings was costly because it required old court buildings with a traditional layout to be maintained, instead of switching to cheaper alternative venues. The need for security staff to guard docks also added to the cost".


In that remark is he being an apolitical mouthpeace for his political masters? Every American court I have attended has had at least two armed police officers or state troopers in attendance.  I doubt His Lordship has that innovation in mind.

Until I was appointed as a J.P. I had a healthy respect for senior judiciary.  The more interest I have taken over the years in this subject the more I conclude that just as the Senior Presiding Judge in 2012 preached fire and brimstone to J.P. bloggers this archbishop of our legal system is as much out of touch with judicial reality as is his religious counterpart with society as it is and not as he would wish it.  For all his high falutin` talk his attitude to Justices of the Peace can be described at its best as one of tolerance.  I`d bet a pound to his Lordship`s penny that he has not discussed this "initiative" with magistrates under any of the formats available to him.  Respect is a two edged sword but I suppose if there is only one sword he who wields it has all the power............

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

NO LONGER EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW

Is it at last time for the senior judiciary to make public with some force its concerns regarding the removal of legal aid for many defendants in the magistrates` courts  and participants in the family courts?  There will of course be a constitutional element to that question which I am not qualified to answer but there is also  an enormous public interest factor and misreading that ephemeral concept can cause misgivings and recriminations at the highest level as has been recently demonstrated.   Michael Gove is already over his honeymoon period as Justice Secretary.  Any goodwill  he had with natural Tory supporters from his long period at the Dept. of Education is   rapidly evaporating.  The legal profession is virtually united in its opposition to the latest situation regarding fees.  What smooth faced intern in his department who suggested he incorporate into his recent speech that wealthy criminal lawyers should offer to work for nothing thought might be the result?  In the past I have had a pro bono barrister offer assistance to me when I was appearing before their Lordships at an Appeal Tribunal.  He appeared prior to the hearing having, unknown to or uninstructed by me, been assigned my case by his clerk as a matter of his chamber`s policy.  His total contribution was that reading the papers he considered I had no chance of success and therefore left me at the door of the courtroom.  I won my case. But he had not been offering his services as a result of prompting by a justice secretary.  Imagine if, to increase the through flow of NHS patients, his counterpart at Health told medical consultants to reduce their private practices by half and spend the time saved at their NHS posts.  

Any successful business manager knows how to separate the wholesome and productive wheat from the unneeded chaff when making financial cuts to his/her organisation.  Michael Gove must convince his colleagues sooner rather than later that his department cannot be treated as the others are being treated.  Red ink on the Justice budget has not and is not going to bring blood to the streets but it is and increasingly will damage beyond repair what this country once held beyond price........that everybody is equal before the law and there is a level playing field upon which our adversarial system could be the place where the verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt meant just that for the yeoman as well as his master, for the poor as well as the rich and for the uneducated as well as the educated.