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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 28 August 2015

£50 FOR BREAKFAST WITH THE MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION


  Whatever criticism has been laid at the door of the   Ministry   of Justice in the last five years there is one area in  which its efforts have generally received plaudits and that is its ability to make the best of bad news and to trumpet to the heavens whenever smoke of the good news ship appeared on the horizon.  The result has been that its press and media office with sixty nine employees able to conjure such magic with words  could form a subplot for the next series of "In the Thick of It".  The Magistrates Association in contrast has by and large relied upon enthusiastic amateurism to propagate its views to its wider audience which usually was no larger than those it considered able to assist its purpose.  The great British public was not considered worth engaging in its attempts to influence opinion.  Then everything changed a few years ago.  It was pushed, persuaded and cajoled to widen its communication structure the result being that a professional PR person was brought in to widen its voice.  One would have thought that an organisation wishing to spread its gospel to a wider audience than the parliamentarians it has on its e mail list would do all it could in opposing the most iniquitous legislation of recent years; the Criminal Courts Charge.  Chris Grayling as Lord Chancellor in the Coalition steam rollered this most un English piece of legislation  by smoke, mirrors,  political brutality and a supine senior judiciary through Parliament to become effective four months ago. 

In 2014 Jason  Hughes was appointed Head of Communications at the Magistrates Association and as such is presumably being paid a decent salary for his expertise.  His employers have decided to get into the ring with the current Secretary of State in the hope that whilst not hoping for a knock out might gain a few points to win a round or two with the backing of lawyers equally antagonistic to said Charge as well as their own contest against cuts in legal aid. So one would have thought that offering the appropriate movers and shakers it has in its sights to disseminate its opposition a healthy breakfast meeting with such people would be a useful way to persuade some to get onside.  But Mr Hughes and his employer have overlooked or ignored one small point:- asking attendees of such meetings to pay for their own coffee and croissants is akin to driving with the hand break on......you don`t get very far.  The meeting on 29th September will cost those interested £50.  It will be interesting to read subsequent reports.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

RESPECT!

The iniquitous Courts Charge has been a repeated  topic here since its imposition four months ago.  Indeed I left the magistracy shortly before my appointed date so that I would not be in the middle chair having to impose this insult to justice.  News media are now catching up to the reality of this injustice.  This piece in The Independent is a fair synopsis of what is happening every hour in our courts.  The letter from an ex colleague published recently in the Guardian says it all.  I doff my hat to R.Stilwell. You,sir, are an honourable man. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

STUPIDITY OR PLAIN ARROGANCE OF 161 MPH

Being a magistrate and knowing the consequences of being convicted of a serious driving matter it is not surprising that most of us have clean or fairly clean driving licenses.  I am long enough in the tooth to remember when all British motorways were as light with traffic as is now the case with the M6 Toll Road along which I recently drove in addition to about another 1,000 odd miles of motorway driving.  During these driving hours I saw not one police patrol vehicle but endured eons of 50MPH average speed limited miles where not a single person was working on the roads sometimes narrowed and sometimes not but always lined with the ubiquitous cone. The frustration grew too much for many and the instances of simple bad driving and excessive speed were all too common. It was therefore with absolutely no sympathy but with utter contempt I read today of an M3 BMW driver convicted of driving at an estimated speed of at least 122MPH on the M5.  I don`t know whether his stupidity in posting the footage  or arrogance in thinking he could get away with it was the greater of his failings but a custodial sentence although suspended was surely the appropriate disposal.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

BARRISTER`S PREJUDICE AGAINST MAGISTRATES

The first time I put pen to paper in the public forum as a Justice of the Peace   was to sign an article in the Times repudiating prejudice, allegations and slurs towards the institution to which I had been appointed a couple of months previously  and which had been published a few days earlier.  During my time on the bench lawyer friends would occasionally delight in trying to  provoke me by recalling their colleagues frequent use of the term "muppets" in their references to a lay bench.  Scores of articles, speeches, advice, proposals etc from individual lawyers, institutions, policy advisors, pressure groups, politicians and not excluding Uncle Tom Tobley  have suggested with varying degrees of logic, passion and simple prejudice that the magistracy is not fit for purpose and criminal procedures in the lower courts should be presided over by a single District Judge.  Various reasons are usually offered eg cost encompassing greater efficiency of D.J.s, representative nature of J.P.s being essentially white middle class and elderly and lack of competence.  Generally those who hold these opinions argue vociferously for the right to trial by jury for the very lowest level of either way offences but see no contradiction in the single D.J. replacing a mini jury of three magistrates for summary matters. The *figures for appeals at Crown Court  against lower courts` decisions are an illustration of how often J.P.s get it right.   In short whilst there are logical reasons of cost and efficiency between a lay bench and a professional D.J. to be debated it is the old watchword prejudice which drives the argument amongst those barristers who feel they have to kowtow in court to those without a legal qualification.

PREJUDICE:- an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.

PREJUDICE:- prejudgement, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case. The word is often used to refer to preconceived, usually unfavourable, judgements toward people or a person because of gender, political opinion, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, language, nationality, or other personal characteristics.

A perfect example of such self righteous opinion is that of the blogger The Secret Barrister who seeks to promulgate this decades old antagonism against my former colleagues.  Whilst his language is that of the arrogant know all his logic is that of the rabble rouser using individual failings as he sees them to castigate a majority of members of an institution. 

My own opinion presented many times here is that this government or the next for reasons of control will reduce considerably the powers of the lay bench.  Examples are already with us.  These changes will take place not because of magistrates` incompetence but, paradoxically for the Secret Barrister, because overarching government will no longer tolerate a truly independent minded lay bench over which it has little control when it comes to conscience.  The resignation of perhaps thirty J.P.s over the Courts Charge is but an example.  Professional government employed District Judges do not have the freedom to resign over "principle" .  Aye that`s the rub as the great man wrote.    

*

Saturday, 15 August 2015

J.P. TAKES TIME OFF

After a heavy hour or two blogging I need a break.  Look in again in a couple of weeks when I hope to return refreshed and updated.

MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION TEACHES GRANNY TO SUCK EGGS

Being in a position to deprive a fellow citizen of his/her liberty is an onerous task and a supposedly rigorous vetting system is in place to ensure as far as possible that those appointed are suited for the task. And that task is fast tracking to become a most capable practitioner in a wholly new intellectual activity. To ensure total compliance when in office any word out of turn in or out of court is liable to lead to chastisement.  So it is plainly obvious that Justices of the Peace can be said to have an IQ of at least 100 and a modicum of common sense.  Going by the guidance issued by the Magistrates Association it appears that my former colleagues need assistance in deciding the qualities required when voting every three years for their bench chairman.  I would use the word "patronising" as a description.  Perhaps the MA is truly reverting to form and aping the attitudes of organisations with not a lot to say and a press office to run by scraping the bottom of its intellectually deprived barrel with this unnecessary nonsense copied below.  Perhaps next it will advise magistrates of the long forgotten green cross code to assist when they are crossing a busy street or teaching grandma how to suck eggs..

  
"Electing the bench chairman is a very important decision
for every magistrate. With elections taking place in the
Autumn months we have put together some key pointers
on the qualities that bench chairmen should ideally have
to help you to decide who will get your vote.
Experience
Clearly, elections should not simply be on the basis of seniority within the bench — magistrates must look for the best person to fulfil the role. However, a bench chairman must have sufficient experience of the magistracy to deal with the whole breadth of a chairman’s work.Previous involvement with aspects of court life apart from just
court sittings is important. This does not mean all bench chairmen have first to serve as deputies, but chairing another bench committee or sitting on the management team in a different capacity would help.
Management and leadership skills
The bench chairman is a key part of the judicial leadership and management team which helps ensure the judicial business of court runs effectively. This involves working closely with the justices’ clerk, liaising with the advisory committee or training and development committee (TDC) and attending the justices’ issues group (JIG) and area judicial forum (AJF) meetings. S/he will also need to cooperate outside the bench with other bench chairmen
or various other meetings such as court user groups. To work at this level, the chairman must be authoritative and tactful and needs to be able to look at issues strategically.
Community involvement
Bench chairmen are the public face of the bench and should help to promote links with the local community, working together with the bench Magistrates in the Community (MIC) coordinator. They should be prepared to attend events and support magistrates who work in the community eg being present at the local heats of the national Mock Trial Competition. They may also speak for the bench in the media.
Pastoral care
The chairman has a pastoral responsibility for all magistrates on the bench. Together with the justices' clerk s/he should be the first person that a magistrate contacts with any concerns.
The chairman needs to be approachable, readily available and able to keep confidentiality. S/he will need to be an empathetic source of guidance to magistrates who may be experiencing difficulties either on the bench, or in their personal lives.
Grievances and complaints
The bench chairman has a specific role as a first port of call in the disciplinary process, together with dealing with grievances, ie concerns best resolved outside the formal disciplinary process. A prospective chairman should have the right mix of tact, delicacy and robustness to handle grievances effectively. S/he must act with impartiality and be seen to be impartial.
Conduct cases and appeals
While s/he is not a formal part of the disciplinary process, the bench chairman has a specific role in conduct cases and appraisal appeals. A judicious, dispassionate approach to these matters is necessary.
Communications skills
The bench chairman's role is very wide and involves working closely with those both in and outside the court and liaising with other groups such as the local Magistrates’ Association. Being an effective communicator can be a key to his or her success. S/he will need to be able to develop good working relationships with others, be robust, empathetic, tactful and relate easily to those within and outside the justice system. The bench chairman will need to be a confident user of e-mail and the internet.
Consultation
As a representative of the bench, the chairman needs to ensure he or she is aware of members’ views and properly represents them. The ability to consult with the bench on key issues is essential for anyone in this role.
Commitment and teamwork
Being a chairman need not be all consuming. Of course a
candidate will need to be able to devote the time, energy and
commitment necessary for the role. But at the same time, s/he needs to know how to delegate appropriately (eg to the deputy) and work effectively in a team. The ideal bench chairman shares responsibility and is keen to develop a good team and nurture the leadership skills of other magistrates."

Friday, 14 August 2015

A JUDICIAL WAKE UP CALL

Professional people must jump hurdles of varying heights in order to be entrusted with the tasks and duties they have voluntarily offered to perform for those who directly or indirectly pay for or receive their advice and/or services. Only in the most heinous circumstances do those individuals receive the ultimate sanction for departing morally or professionally from their chosen path. Mass murderer Harold Shipman was a known drug addict and was supposedly rehabilitated and allowed to continue to practise as a physician. When it comes to members of the judiciary misbehaving, a casual onlooker might opine that the higher up the ladder of seniority the alleged “justice” is standing the greater the saturation of redness must appear on his hand before action is taken. 

Magistrates [and others] in my opinion operate within what is arguably the most politically correct organisation in the country……Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunals  Service and under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. The well known and accurate description; “justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done” is not merely a snappy phrase; it gives meaning to a necessary pillar of a free society.

Within the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office it seems there is no such consideration as “three strikes and you`re out”. It is sometimes  more a matter of slip up once however minor and out you go. It is questionable whether that philosophy operates amongst other professional supervisory bodies.Then pity or castigate John Harrison  ex J.P. on the Lancaster Bench who in 2010 was thrown out for nodding off whilst chairing an assault trial. It seems that judges, however, can fall asleep during a trial, admit such and continue on the bench. Such was the situation with His Honour Judge Michael Coombe [now deceased] who fell asleep during a robbery trial in 2002. Although convictions against the defendants were held at appeal in 2004 three of them had their sentences reduced. Interesting reports are available here and here. And his is not the only example. In 2001, Judge Gabriel Hutton was disciplined for falling asleep during a rape trial. In 1999, Judge Victor Hall was 'severely reprimanded' after he was convicted of drink-driving. There is more to read at Mail on line 

.
It seems that the propensity to conceal judicial incompetence at the higher levels like all such attempts at cover up from Watergate onwards will lead to more revelations. Sleeping judges are a not uncommon consequence of advancing age, stuffy courtrooms and listening to sometimes boring people talking boring nonsense.

A more recent "caught napping on the job" report was that involving  Recorder Philip Cattan. He was reprimanded in February and lives to judge another day.  Whether the same benevolence is allowed to magistrate Gary Kirkley of Bury & Rochdale Bench remains to be seen; his case has not been finally adjudicated.

So for any former colleagues especially those sitting in afternoon sessions……….an inability to have time for more than a cup of tea and a sandwich as opposed to a three courser and wine as our senior colleagues at Crown Court can avail themselves is no cause for despair. The motto is there is usually no second chance; keep awake or be fired!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

NAMING AND SHAMING

To name and shame was in my memory a major factor in ensuring tolerable standards of behaviour within the family and wider circle but also when malfeasance and/or  outrageous  impropriety involved those in public office.  That naming and shaming could range in its reach from the family to headlines in local or national media.  When adults enter a British courtroom, unknowingly or uncaring to many,  they enter an environment and institution which is open to any member of the public.  This apparently simple and commonplace facility could arguably be described as one of the essential  pillars supporting our free society.  However for many generations it has been accepted that inter alia children and young people must have protection against the promulgation of their identities during proceedings where they are involved as witnesses or defendants. All those involved in the workings of criminal courts are thus familiar with s39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (“CYPA”) and its current incarnation Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 s.45.  Full details can be found on p15 of Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts.  

The current case making the news without there being public knowledge of the name of the teenager  convicted of stabbing his teacher in Bradford has caused a certain disquiet amongst newspaper editors and others. The likelihood of his serving only three years custody from a headline sentence of eleven years has added to the controversy.  Whilst that sentence (and others in similar circumstances where youth are involved) can IMHO be argued on the basis of the as yet still undeveloped juvenile brain where the biological connections which socialise us as a species are still some years from completion the prohibition on naming and shaming by the judge cannot be justified.  I will not fully rehearse the arguments here; they are, I am sure, well known to readers.The judicial decision seems to imply that naming and shaming at least in this case is no longer applicable or desirable.  I for one disagree.    I would go so far to suggest that the lack of such sanctions in general has led us into a situation where anything goes and shame means absolutely nothing especially to those  in public office. The investigations into Police and Crime Commissioners is an indication of the almost Banana Republic attitude of publicly elected or appointed officials.  Indeed a couple of years ago at this blog`s previous site I gave vent to similar feelings.  When ASBOs were introduced  it was  thought that the shame of the public disapproval bestowed would assist in attempts at rehabilitation. By all accounts that desire was misconceived. Approbation a plenty was often the result from the reprobates` peers.  The College of Policing has recently published an interesting report on Chief Police Officer misconduct. It does not mention by name any officer whose frailties or misconduct are already in the public domain and whose histories are likely to have been utilised in the study.  Depending on how one reads that omission naming and shaming might still be operating even if beneath the surface but then again.....................






Tuesday, 11 August 2015

POLITICAL MYOPIA

As I have posted here more than once 70% of acquisitive or violent crime is considered to be caused by addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.  This is not "hot" news.  All those in relevant government departments know it; the medical profession knows it..........it is indeed common knowledge.  Any sane or rationally governed society would make provision for the unfortunates who cause such damage to themselves and a wider society and by that criterion we are certainly not a sane or rational society.  Examples are before the courts every day of the week.  However when a chairman in a magistrates` court makes an announcement like this to an admitted alcoholic offender I truly despair;   "This idea of drinking and being drunk in a public place is beginning to be a problem. However, we're going to fine you for this matter today. and the costs are going to be considerable."  I realise the sentencing options are limited.  From the sparse court reporting we have no information on the offender`s previous history but it is unlikely he was of previous good character.  

There are hundreds of thousands of offences annually from the simple as above to the most serious arising from drink/drug addiction.  All the asylums and large publicly owned buildings closed in the last two decades to be converted into luxury flats or other developments were worth their weight in much more gold than their sales or the sellers realised. I suppose that with politicians`  myopia, having a five year horizon and their own re-election  their first consideration we can expect nothing better.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

APATHY AT MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION ELECTION

When elections of any sort for any post are held and the winner(s) declared, after their majority is announced the next figure usually published is the turn out.  This latter number can often cause as much interest as all the others put together an example being the percentage of voters in the recent general election who did not vote Conservative or the Conservative vote being expressed as a fraction of all eligible voters.  These figures have been bandied about in comparison to the recent overwhelming vote to strike by the workers on the London Underground.  I make no comment on the relative significance of either percentage  vote but merely as an illustration.  In a similar vein I have for readers to access here the results of the recent election for the next chairman of the Magistrates Association.  In my opinion my former colleagues who have remained members of MA  have nobody to blame but their own apathy for the likely inadequacy of their representatives vis a vis govenment over the next three years.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

SCALLYWAG J.P. BLOGGER REMOVED

About four months ago a new blog by somebody who was apparently a serving magistrate appeared on blogspot describing its content as "views of a scallywag" [a person, typically a child, who behaves badly but in an amusingly mischievous rather than harmful way; a rascal](my definition)The author was content to offer her/his views on current events likely to interest colleagues and I can`t recall s/he ever referred to any matter from her/his own courtroom experiences unlike this  blogger before retirement April past.  Today the message below appeared on the site:-

Sorry, the blog at magistratemusings.blogspot.com has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.

The other blogger of the genre changed his format when, I presume, fears of the Senior Presiding Judge`s strictures three years ago reached his backbone.  

If scallywag has indeed been admonished for her/his outpourings it is a sad day for freedom of expression.  I know s/he reads this blog.  It is open to her/him to update us on the situation if s/he so wishes.  

HOW MANY POLICE CONSTABLES DOES IT TAKE..........??

Although I am cautious when reading of a latest form of crime statistics which appears to indicate that the trend is up, down or sideways there is more than a little fascination in the structure of those in blue employed (in reducing numbers) to keep the peace. According to current figures there are:-

1.68 chief superintendants for every ACPO ranked officer

9 inspectors and chief inspectors for every superintendant

3.3 sergeants for every inspector

5.2 constables for every sergeant

Figures for 2013 were:- 

4.86 constables for every sergeant
 

3.26 sergeants for every inspector
 

3.49 inspectors for every chief inspector
 

2.2 chief inspectors for every superintendent
 

2.24 superintendents for every chief superintendent
 

1.82 chief superintendents for every ACPO rank


I have no knowledge of the internal workings or management of large organisations but it does seem that the police are top heavy at the higher ranks of chief inspector and above. The army also seems to be similarly afflicted with around 200 brigadiers and  generals  for a force of around 100,000 reducing. 
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Perhaps this is a historical anomaly and recruitment and promotion are trapped in a time warp?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

GUT GEMACHT DEINE EHRE*

Readers who are not magistrates or district judges are obviously interested in the legal process and will make up their own minds as to the efficacy of the following short report from Germany.  Those who view these pages with experience of being sentencers  might ask themselves why the sentencing guidelines which restict thinking out of the box are often more of a hindrance than a help in appropriate sentencing.  Similarly visitors here who, apart from the previously mentioned groups, are football fans might be wary of misbehaviour whilst watching their team in action if a bench eg in London ordered a Spurs fan to buy an Arsenal shirt to compensate an Arsenal supporting victim or a Liverpool bench ordered an Everton supporting miscreant to do similarly with a Liverpool shirt for a Reds fan.  That unusual sentencing outcome is just what occurred to a free thinking judge  recently in Munich.   

Would that our senior judiciary and others had not allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by the greasy pole climbers at the Ministry of Justice in implementing the proposals for sentencing guidelines a decade or more ago and perhaps we would now have fewer in prison as reported in the previous post.  

*Well done your Honour

PRISON POPULATION BULLETIN

All that there is to know currently about prisons, prisoners and some unanswered questions.



Tuesday, 4 August 2015

DIVIDE AND RULE

At least the provincial press is taking notice;  matters even loosely connected to "justice" per se are rarely the topic of news editors.  Court cases from both the crown and magistrates` courts do provide regular column inches easily filled but "justice"; that it is a different concept entirely, rarely considered by more than about one third of the population with whom it makes contact unlike the NHS where almost everyone has a story  to tell:  that is until recently.  

Grayling`s emasculation of much that is just  has left  a cold unresponsive ice to his successor.   This ice has been broken now by the actions of criminal lawyers of both persuasions.  With only a modicum of fanfare but great internal support those whom governments have tried to denigrate by calling them fat cats have shown they have fangs.  Actions which a decade ago would have been unthinkable have finally caused a Justice Secretary to consider his options. As with teachers, doctors and many other groups with multiple representation governments of all hues operate the ages old policy of divide and rule. It is too early to predict the winner in this contest but meanwhile unrepresented defendants especially in the magistrates` courts must rely upon an under resourced CPS staffed often by agents who are not empowered to make any decisions, legal advisors trying hard to complete the court list and magistrates struggling to ensure justice is done with the level playing field and equality of arms being often outdated philosophies. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

20/20 HINDSIGHT WILL BE CAMERON`S EXCUSE IN 2020

Civil liberties...........a phrase and concept which can cause the best of friends to engage in bitter debate.  It can be one person`s license to defy authority or another person`s excuse to call for greater control of unpopular demonstrations of minority opinion. There is rarely a controversial civil liberties situation that can clearly be argued black or white; the answer or solution is usually one of determining which shade of grey is applicable.  That is until the recent outburst from the Police and Crime Commissioner of West Yorkshire.  He wants to use his powers to ban lawful protests because he can`t afford to police them. 

Just what sort of society are we becoming?  The ruling party has made itself a hostage to the NHS and that has resulted in the Home Office and Justice Department undermining  our whole justice  system  from inter alia  border controls at seaports and airports, general policing, probation services and  courts system to deaths in police custody and prisons.  Somewhere in Whitehall there must be voices telling their political masters that all this has to stop or we will wake up in 2020 with only 20/20 hindsight to excuse the calamity of what we will have become.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

THE ANOMALOUS SITUATION OF DRINK DRIVING ON PRIVATE LAND

There can`t be many magistrates who haven`t listened to a defendant before them for drunk driving or drunk in charge  using as his/her defence the proposition that the road or area where the alleged offence took place was in fact private property and therefore  the offence of drink driving is not committed.  Such arguments can succeed if the evidence is there to support it which shows that the public are specifically excluded from the land in question or there by invitation of the owner.  This argument succeeded in a particularly sad case of a child killed by a farm worker who was well over the drink drive limit whilst driving a tractor in the early morning after drinking the night previously. 

The terms of this anomalous  situation might be where the boundaries exist of the castle which is the Englishman`s home.  In the light of the numerous exceptions to the privacy of that castle and what lies within it I doubt there will be much resistance to the tweaking of the legal situation so that another event like the tragic one at Swithens Farm will not go unpunished.