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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

NASTY PARTY MAN

The well used excuse by those accused of Nazi atrocities was that they were only carrying out orders.  Perhaps in a political sense Chris Grayling will offer similar words one day when he writes his memoirs of the time he presided over the crass and ill judged innovations which marked his tenure  at the Ministry of Justice.  In my opinion  that introspection will not cloud this man`s horizon.  When commenting on the government`s intention to modify the Freedom of Information Act he is quoted as saying, "It is on occasion misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media.  That isn`t acceptable."  These remarks were made during business questions.  More than twice this blog has published information it has obtained by application  under the FOI Act.  When the right winger`s bible The Mail onLine is so critical of a senior Tory one wonders why Cameron has allowed this hatchet man to prosper for so long. To borrow from Theresa May`s 2002 description; he is the epitomy of Nasty Party man.

Friday, 30 October 2015

POLICE SCOTLAND//A SCOTTISH PARADOX

It is a very plausible argument that the most basic requirement for a modern unified state is a common language.  Governments, local and national have, until fairly recently, turned this aphorism on its head.  Every G.P.`s surgery, council office, Citizens Advice Bureau etc was buried beneath signs and information leaflets in myriad languages from Arabic to Urdu.  And of course this language apartheid led to many immigrants, especially those no longer in the flush of youth, being disinclined and often unable to pursue any type of social discourse outwith the confines of family and others with their shared native tongue.  Somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall a light went on in the head of some bright young thing whose thought processes were considered essential to his Minister`s rise up the greasy pole. A new policy was born.  All these multi lingual information appendages would be abolished in the hope that a need to learn or improve English language skills would be forced upon all those over school age lacking in that department.  No such ruling was of course applied to this island`s indigenous languages.  The Welsh have long had a bi lingual approach to almost everything and this is how it should be.  The Welsh language is a direct derivative of the language spoken by Boudica  and the pre Roman occupants of these islands.  It is understood and/or spoken to some extent by almost a quarter of the population.  Contrast these figures with the other part of Britain where another localised version of that ancient tongue is still spoken.  The use of Gaelic in Scotland is confined in the main to small geographic areas mainly in the North West Highlands and the Western Isles.  It is spoken by fewer than 60,000 people of a population of five million.  With this information in mind................

Fact: The newly amalgamated policing force north of the border; Police Scotland, is facing a deficit of £25 million.
Fact: The Scottish government is preparing to rebrand Police Scotland bilingually English/Gaelic.

The cynic within me interprets this initiative with the SNP`s determination to eventually elicit by fair means or foul a "YES" in the next referendum irrespective of the price of a barrel of oil.  

The political paradox is that nationalism is on the rise everywhere in Europe brought about   by supposedly very wise but myopic decision makers who were determined to stamp it out by removing the differences between nations; their laws, their borders and their trading decisions.  The Scottish paradox is that those self same nationalists are minded to remain in or gain entry to the European Project. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION: ITS RAISON D`ÊTRE DIRECT FROM ITS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

This blogger has with few exceptions been very critical of the Magistrates Association and those leading it.  With this in mind I have copied below the speech The Chief Executive recently made to the Reforming Probation and Rehabilitation Services Conference on 22 October 2015.

It is IMHO a well crafted speech with the underlying motive of explaining why the M.A. is taking money from those who will implement some of the proposals here expounded. He makes no bones about castigating critics of such innovation with little attempt to conceal his contempt for their opinion.  I leave it to readers to make their own judgements.


Implementing Changes to Sentencing to Enhance Probation Services


Chris Brace

Chief Executive
,
Magistrates’ Association

Further joint working between the courts, the NPS and CRCs to implement changes to sentencing and assessment
Extending the role of the magistrates’ courts in the rehabilitation of offenders
Imposing new measures when offenders breach supervision order

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I have been asked to talk about changes to sentencing to enhance probation services.Firstly, however, I thought it would be useful to explain what the Magistrates’ Association is and what we do.


The Magistrates’ Association is a charity. It is not a public body and it is not a trade association. It is a charity. It is a charity with a Royal Charter and Bye-laws, which means we have a very strict remit and very strict rules to which we must adhere. We exist to promote the sound administration of the law. That means we discuss how the law is implemented, how it can be done better, the intended and possibly unintended outcomes of the law, whether those outcomes are desirable or undesirable, and what can be done about it. We advocate for change where we think it is necessary, and we talk to, educate, and in certain circumstances attempt to influence those decision-makers who hold the levers of change. We do not comment on what should and should not be the law. We would never discuss whether a particular offence should be decriminalised or whether a particular activity should be criminalised. We would never, within our strict remit, advocate for any particular imposition against offenders to be abolished, but we may highlight perverse outcomes and suggest ways that an imposition may be amended to enable those outcomes to be fairer to those who come before the courts. We always work in the interests of justice. We are a membership charity and have around 19,000 members across England and Wales. The majority are magistrates, many are retired magistrates, and some are interested individuals both inside and outside the justice system. The membership payment is a donation to charity, to support our object of promoting the sound administration of the law. We support our members by informing them about changes to the justice system, to the law, to process and procedure, and we provide sentencing and other exercises to ensure that magistrates keep their skills up to date. We are in the process of developing an extensive continuing professional development offer which will be launched in 2016.



We have 12 full time equivalent staff, but our members do a huge amount of voluntarywork to support us.They make up the board, the policy committees, and the committees of our 59 local groups that cover England and Wales.That’s about 600 people volunteering to keep things running.But our biggest endeavour is our magistrates in the community presentations. Every year our members, on an entirely voluntary basis, give almost 5,000 presentations to about 200,000 people in schools, colleges, universities and community groups to educate their communities about the role of magistrates and the justice system as a whole. That’s about 2,000 magistrates going out in their local communities, voluntarily, because they care, because it is important, and because we believe that’s where reducing offending starts; supporting people to gain an understanding of the justice system, why it exists, why it is important, and what it means to be a good citizen. However, we are often hampered in our work by those who think that judicial independence and  judicial impartiality means that magistrates and, inappropriately but by extension, the Magistrates’ Association should not be working with the other agencies who make up the justice system. Siloed working is far too often not only encouraged, but seen to be essential. That is wrong. There is no two ways about it. How can we see it as a virtue to run a system that is so fragmented that joint working is not only discouraged but sometimes actively prohibited? We must work together. Sentencers must work with the National Probation Service, and not just in court, to discuss the needs of offenders and how our work can support each other. Sentencers must work with the Community Rehabilitation Companies to pool knowledge about what interventions work for different offenders, what don’t, what programmes are available and where, and to discuss how greater flexibility and a wider breadth of innovative programmes can be developed to rehabilitate offenders and reduce reoffending. That shouldn’t be prohibited, it should be seen as an active duty that supports our collective endeavour.


There are those criminal justice campaigners who still bemoan the dawn of the CRCs and who would like to turn back the clock on those changes. Whatever the personal opinion of any of us working within the justice system, we must live in the world as it is now, not as it was in the past. We must work together and openly discuss procedures, process and outcomes with each other, with a view to supporting each other to greater effectiveness and efficiency. If that causes constitutional consternation, then that is fundamentally wrong and structures should be changed to enable that essential work to happen.


The MA Network, an independent subsidiary of the Magistrates’ Association, is delighted to be working with our Founding Affiliates: the Oxford Centre for Criminology, the Probation Institute, the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner, MTC Novo, Working Links and Sodexo. The Network seeks affiliates who are collectively committed to promoting excellence in  the delivery of justice, and supports that endeavour by providing an independent networking hub where different providers and stakeholders in the justice system can come together to pool their knowledge and experience and share good practice, mutually supporting each other to improve their provision to achieve a better experience and better outcomes for all users of the justice system. The Network’s first research project is working directly with women offenders and providers to identify factors which lead women offenders to breach community orders and develop practical recommendations to change practice to reduce breaches. I mention this because we are justifiably proud of this new initiative, and because it embodies the necessity to work together to improve rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. But I also mention it because the criticism the MA has received for setting up this initiative has been hysterical and baseless. Commentators and campaigners who are usually balanced and who also want to see a more effective and reformed justice system, have cried corruption because the Network is seeking paid affiliation from CRCs, and other providers,to develop the capacity to undertake research and promote networking. Somehow the argument conflates the MA Network and the Magistrates’ Association, and then conflates the Magistrates’ Association and magistrates, and cries foul and claims corruption.What a load of nonsense.


If those who wish to see a more effective justice system actively attempt to sabotage  initiatives which seek a more effective justice system, on the basis that it is a legitimate activity for some but not others, then what a sorry mess we are all in.


So, that is how we see the justice system coming together for mutual benefit, to discuss improvements to the breadth and flexibility of provision, how to improve outcomes, and ensure that we do as much as we can to stop the revolving door of offending. Sentencers can support that with more engagement in court, more targeted sentences, pushing for more drug and alcohol review courts, and encouraging more problem solving principles in court. Probation services can support that by providing more programmes with more flexibility, and more options for more intensive programmes when a rehabilitation order has been breached or when someone reoffends and has already been through a drug or alcohol treatment programme. Community options are very limited when someone has already been through a programme once or twice, and with limited options comes an increased likelihood of having to send to custody offenders who may benefit from another chance in the community. An increased set of community options might see lighter touch programmes for those offenders for whom drug and alcohol use is a contributing factor, but where addiction is not the issue. At the other end there could be more intensive, perhaps residential, programmes for those cases where a drug or alcohol treatment requirement has not worked in the first instance. With those options available, there would be a clear progression of support which may initially help to nip in the bud behaviour which will ultimately lead to more prolific offending down the line, and in more severe cases of addiction help to divert offenders away from custody where they have breached a treatment requirement in the past. There are other options that could be extended too, with more flexibility bringing in a wider cohort. For example, we know that incidence of mental health is very high amongst defendants in court, but the mental health treatment requirement is complex to administer and restricted in cases of dual diagnosis. Currently, mental health treatment requirements only feature in 1% of community orders.


From my own experience on the bench, the building better relationships programme for domestic abuse offenders in London is hugely successful. Places are limited, understandably due to funding and capacity, but it is exactly the type of initiative where, if experience and knowledge are shared openly between providers, local innovation could change national practice. To address breaches, technology is likely to play a key role in ensuring compliance in the future.The Probation Institute is investigating how electronic monitoring can be used to support rehabilitative programmes and alcohol and drug tags provide opportunities to ensure compliance with community orders, but these new technologies must be subject to the appropriate control and oversight, their efficacy must be proved, and guidelines must be developed and adhered to, before they become a part of our standard toolkit.


With the continuing funding cuts, the emphasis these days always seems to be on cost, forgetting that the justice system should be investing in a low offending future.It is often forgotten that the justice system is a service that satisfies a public need for justice, rather than a business to be managed at the lowest possible cost. And, it is also often forgotten that if we improve rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, costs will in turn reduce, not only for the justice system but across society. That is not to say that rehabilitation of offenders should be the sole purpose of sentencing. The sentencing guidelines give magistrates five purposes to consider when imposing a sentence. They are the punishment of offenders, the reduction of crime (including deterrence), the reform and rehabilitation of offenders, the protection of the public and the making of reparation.Following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the sentencing bench must include a punitive element, i.e. punishment, in all sentences. However, it is clear that at least three, and arguably four, of the purposes of sentencing are met by improving rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, so in these endeavours it is in all our interests to work together.


Finally, a word about victims. I haven’t mentioned victims so far, and victims are often absent from the magistrates’ courts. Victims are unlikely to be present at first hearing, may attend to give evidence at trial, but are for most of the time absent when any sentence is given as well. All too often when the bench asks for a victim personal statement, one hasn’t been taken or it is missing from the court file. Victims must be considered as part of the effort to reduce reoffending, and where victims are willing to undertake a restorative justice conference that option should be explored where appropriate. Restorative justice has good results in terms of reducing reoffending, and also improves victims’ satisfaction with the outcomes of their case. Restorative justice work is ongoing across the country, but may well be an additional string to the bow of probation services and have a real impact, over time, on reducing the incidence of crime.


Thank you.


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

FIXED PENALTY? PAY UP OR APPEAL BUT DON`T IGNORE

It is an underlying principle of justice being done and being seen to be done that penalties from the most trivial of offences to the most serious must be proportionate.  Indeed a purpose of  sentencing guidelines is that culpability of offender,  harm done to victim or society and an offender`s means excepting of course the criminal courts charge should normally be considered in reaching a sentencing decision.  When it comes to litter, as with parking offences, means of offender are irrelevant in the fixed financial penalties imposed.  Rich and poor must pay the same.  In the case of Havant Borough Council the website makes perfectly clear the "whys and the wherefores" of dropping cigarette ends in the street.  Milton Keynes does not appear to have the same openness with its citizens or those who walk its streets.  One such,  Tiffany Cobb, found out to her cost.

The report fails to say whether the offender attended. I would hazard a guess to say she did. The offence is Level 4 (max. fine £2,500).  I dare say if she doesn`t pay a means court will be her next appearance.  Offenders like this lady who don`t pay are those who make the headlines a year after conviction, "Litter lout sent to prison for 7 days" and get the Howard League joyously  enraged. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

BEING TRANSGENDER IN PRISON

I would suggest that there are few people who do not have at least a modicum of sympathy and/or understanding for individuals now denominated as transgender......  "adjective denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender."   It would seem that the law has not yet caught up with the many anomalies that can be exposed in such circumstances.  Magistrates in Bath, presumably acting on the advice of their legal advisor, sentenced Tara Hudson to a period of custody   in a male prison on the basis that presumably she is registered on her birth certificate as male. What truly awful days and nights await her under Her Majesty`s pleasure  can only be guessed. This is a situation which should be rectified ASAP if not sooner.

Monday, 26 October 2015

SNEEZING COULD BE A DEFENCE IF........

In my years on the bench I have heard the most ludicrous reasons put forward by unrepresented {and occasionally by advocates as per their clients` instructions} defendants as to why this or that motoring offence was not their fault and that the matter should go forward for trial.  And during such trials when the facts were presented one`s credulity was often strained.  I recollect the cab driver accused of using a mobile phone whilst driving telling us that his doctor had suggested that subsequent to his attack of Bells Palsy which caused some facial paralysis .....to the driver; not the doctor.........massaging his cheek with a firm object would be as good as physiotherapy.  He even had medical confirmation of the diagnosis but not the weird self application of this unusual medical advice.  Needless to say his defence was not considered credible.  But there are some occasions when physiological anomalies can be of assistance to a defence of a momentary lapse of concentration.

A phrase often used to describe an experience almost too rapid  to register is "in the blink of an eye".  

Fact: the duration of a  blink is 0.1 to 0.4 seconds or 100 to 400 milliseconds. 
Fact: it is impossible to sneeze without the eyes blinking.   
Fact: at 60MPH a vehicle travels 88 feet per second.  

Therefore a driver at that speed during a sneeze will travel a distance between 9 feet and 36 feet  or over 8 metres with his/her eyes closed. All else being equal it would seem to me that such a defence if appropriate to a situation initiating the charge  is almost irrefutable.Unfortunately for this man such facts were overwhelmed by other considerations.

Friday, 23 October 2015

THATCHER, THE CRIMINAL COURTS CHARGE, TAX CREDITS AND NEANDERTHAL TACTICS

Those more qualified than I express the view that Margaret Thatcher`s political assassination stemmed from her stubborn insistence that, against much advice, the poll tax should be implemented. Scotland was used as a try out and despite the enormous opposition there she insisted it be rolled out nationally.  Public disorder on a level rarely seen until then eventually led to her downfall and her successor John Major kicking the hated tax into history to be replaced by council tax.  That anecdote can be related directly to the Criminal Courts Charge; an iniquitous ill thought out tax brought in with apparently little consideration to its effects and practicalities. It made its first public appearance in February 2014 and in a contemporary  report it seems the Bar Council saw nothing to oppose in the intended legislation. And  note the hope to raise £80 million a year when it is thought that to date the actual amount so far actually paid since April  is less than £500K ; about 10% of the amount levied.    As far as what seems to be in the  public domain the Magistrates Association did not voice its criticism until earlier this year. It is about time that organisation opened its files to its members and the public.  After all the Official Secrets Act is not involved. The blunt truth is that it has been inept and incompetent.  Its toadying up to Whitehall has achieved little.  All those involved should resign.  

And do not overlook the media.  For the last couple of months or so rarely a week goes by without a critical article in the serious newspapers and others.  Yesterday`s in The Times {behind its paywall} was preceded by one similar in the F.T on 18th October.  But where were all these highly paid journalists when Grayling was finalising this legislation?  Presumably they knew of its process through parliament.  A moment`s original thought would have led them to consider probable consequences  but not a word was heard from them until it was too late.  They surely know a winning bandwagon to jump on. 

How did this crass piece of law emerge from Petty France?  Either the weasels there were so incompetent that they did not foresee the consequences that are now such a column filler  for  those aforesaid journalists or they were supine in the extreme in the face of a self seeking incompetent Secretary of State whose political activities seem to defy Darwin`s survival of the fittest but I suppose politics, where there is still space for Neanderthal tactics,  is above evolution.  The bottom line, however, is that there is an abominable  piece of legislation causing unneeded misery in our courtrooms every day of the week and that it is the weakest, poorest and most pityful  members of society who are carrying the can for ineptitude on a grand scale.  This libertarian Tory lite  sees the same folly at work with the current anguish over tax credits. Plus ça change..........

Thursday, 22 October 2015

THE COURTS CHARGE AND MAGISTRATES AT THE COAL FACE

On 10th September I posted on the contents of a letter sent 09/04/2015  to all west and north east London  benches within the kingdom of justices` clerk Julian Vantyghem and highlighted the following:- "There have been various comments in the media about the introduction of this charge [Criminal Courts Charge].  I shouId remind you that magistrates are required to refrain from commenting on matters of political controversy at any time but especially at such a sensitive time as this". I would assume that readers of this blog are well aware that  50 or more Justices of the Peace  have resigned as a direct result of this iniquitous legislation.  There have been media reports from Cornwall to Carlisle of how benches are tailoring their sentencing to avoid as much as possible the imposition of financial obligations which they considered so unreasonable that the likelihood of their being paid was pie in the sky.  Currently there have been no publicly disclosed sanctions against those ex colleagues.  In my experience this is as near to a Peasants` Revolt as  magistrates have ever been.  However where those 14th century peasants had a leader the resistance to the Charge has arisen spontanrously.  It is now considered inevitable that the Charge, at least in its current form, will not last until its designated three year review. Indeed it will be surprising if it continues until next April.      

It is not before time that J.P.s,  fed up with the kowtowing "In the Thick of it" or "Yes Minister" approach to government  followed decade upon decade by the "waiting for my gong" cardboard cut outs of the Magistrates Association,  decided at the coal face to make their point of view heard.  I salute them. Justices` Clerks will admonish their behaviour at their peril. 


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE// AN (R) EVOLUTIONARY EXPLANATION

Domestic Violence is an emotive and evocative topic. It encompasses so many facets or totems of various political philosophies that questioning some of the tenets surrounding the subject can be like a red rag to certain bulls some of indeterminate gender. It is an all embracing description for certain actions but, to coin phrase, there is still no actual law against it. It can and has been used by feminists, racists, fundamentalist religious fanatics, biologists, economists, lawyers, politicians and many others in support of or against prevailing tendencies or attitudes within and towards families and their relationships. In England the courts consider eg that violence alleged between distant brothers in law should be heard in a dedicated DV court. And so the simple definition of male violence upon female when in an intimate relationship has changed over the last couple of decades.

And so it was I happened upon the opinions of an evolutionary biologist in America who must have  expected all manner of reaction after he was reported as saying that it [DV] carries a selective advantage, tied with reproductive success. In other words, men who are violent are trying to make sure that their partner has his child and not another man's.

This subject is all too often treated as consisting of some sort of unquestionable facts and those who do not follow this line akin to flat earthers. I hope the researcher David Buss survives long enough to allow his views to be considered and if appropriate refuted by his peers and not by fanatical opposition devoid of all reason.

Monday, 19 October 2015

PRISONS AND PROBATION RECIPES FOR DISASTER TO BE AVOIDED

When I was sitting some of the most difficult decisions involved a  child`s non attendance at school.  Owing to the legal framework under which these cases were brought it was sometimes required of us to find a verdict of guilty where saying the word stuck in the craw. A determined father in the Isle of Wight used the letter of the law to convince magistrates that he was not guilty of failing to ensure his daughter attended school regularly. I would hope that this well intended legislation whilst Michael Gove was in charge will be seen now for what it is; a well intended act with unintended consequences and be suitably  amended.  When political conviction runs ahead of common sense trouble ensues.  Just ask George Osborne.......bedroom tax, disability allowance, child benefit, tax credits.  Perhaps the penny will drop at Petty France that prisons and probation service farmed out to pay by results providers is a recipe for disaster.

Friday, 16 October 2015

51% OF NEW J.P.s ARE OVER 50

For those who rightly or wrongly consider the age profile of magistrates  is too old the figures released this week on new J.P. appointments will bring little to cheer about. Over half are over the age of 50.  The reason for this is really quite simple; only those who can afford even the limited time they must serve bother to apply and those of course have seen off most of their mortgage and occupy well paid positions.  I am not for one minute an advocate of paying magistrates but this profile is another reason why the position of the traditional J.P. must be in jeopardy.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

MAGISTRATES AGREE THAT OFFENDERS SHOULD PAY FOR JUSTICE

The Magistrates Association has recently disclosed its answer to the Justice Select Committee`s  request for consultation on the Courts and tribunals fees and charges inquiry.  The vast majority of the just under 1,000  responses was predictable: overwhelming opinion against the non means tested charges. What was of more interest to me was the response on p9 to the question; "Do you agree with the principle of a courts charge so that offenders contribute to the cost of the state bringing them to justice?"

Yes 539: 56.15%
No  407: 42.40%
No response 14: 1.46%

My opinion for what it`s worth is that a justice system in all its multiplicity affordable,  available and open to all is the second of the two pillars  of our system of government, the other being defence of the realm, the provision of which government alone must take total responsibility including of course, the  cost.

It seems that over half my ex colleagues are taken over  by the hypnotic mantra of austerity or they  do not realise the enormous philosophical and political meaning of what they voted for. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

MAGISTRATE IS "JUSTICE CHIEF"

To describe the chairman of a magistrates` bench as a "justice chief" is poetic licence gone too far. It illustrates the dangers of some egotistical J.P.s forgetting who they are, what their function is, to whom they have responsibilities and to whom they are accountable.  Add to that error of judgement the fact that there is no M.P. who does not wish to be associated with efforts to prevent the closure of a court in their constituency and one has a juicy headline. For any M.P. and this one in particular it is a golden opportunity for a few more quotable lines on his website whatever the final decision regarding the court in question.  Perhaps Mr Chris Woodland, chairman of South East Staffordshire Magistrates, considers the kudos of the publicity worthwhile.  I suggests he reads or reminds himself of the Media Guide for the Judiciary.

SHAMBOLIC INDICTMENT OF FAILURE

"Stranger than fiction", "beyond belief" are just two phrases commonly used to describe events outwith the imagination of most of us.  To leave a convicted felon outside a court without supervision awaiting transport to prison because there was no place for him to be held securely certainly can be described by those phrases.  It is nothing short of a shambolic indictment and example of all that is wrong but is happening every day in any magistrates` court somewhere in England and Wales.  

Monday, 12 October 2015

DEATH OF THE MAGISTRACY IS A LITTLE CLOSER

The iniquitous courts charge is finally beginning to make the news in the general press. The Times behind its paywall has an article by the long serving Frances Gibb describing how lay benches are tailoring financial outcomes where there is a sense of injustice in not so doing owing to the non means testing of the "charge". There has been no news as to whether District Judges have taken a similar route where intolerable financial burdens would have been imposed if the "rules" had been followed.  I would suggest that these professional civil servants would not dare  upset their paymasters by veering off the straight and narrow of the Guidelines. I think this is but a very early indication of independent J.P.s` individual defiance of government.  It is unlikely there will not be more pieces of legislation during this parliament where similar considerations might apply.  Such open opposition to government law making will just hasten the day when the lay bench in a courtroom will be a historical footnote.

Friday, 9 October 2015

JUDGE IGNORED OFFENDER`S ABUSE

An interesting scene recently at Newcastle Crown Court where a prolific offender verbally abused an Asian Crown Court Judge led to HH stating that the foul outburst by said offender was disregarded in his sentencing decision.  In my limited consideration this soft approach to a reprehensible thug is not to be applauded.  Notwithstanding underlying judicial considerations to be alert to prison over population in a matter such as this in open court it does little to indicate what should be  our correct reaction to such contempt for judicial authority; namely that that piece of trash should have been charged with contempt and brought before another court that very day.


REJOICE

With the prison system falling apart, a once proud and efficient probation service on its knees, a legal defence programme breaking down, family courts under increasing pressure from litigants in person, undertaking civil actions beyond the financial reach of many  and a police service hardly fit for purpose  we should be pleased because Michael Gove has allowed books back into prisons and confirms a smoking ban initiated by his unlamented predecessor.  So in the words of the immortal lady, "Let us rejoice!"

Thursday, 8 October 2015

18 YEAR OLD MAGISTRATE

I have looked at some of the many definitions of wisdom.  Qualities variously required to achieve this noble state are knowledge, good judgement, intelligence, understanding, insight but that which seems to figure most is experience.   Therefore it is completely unsurprising that in most societies past and present age and wisdom complete a perfect couplet.  At the other end of the chronological spectrum youth is associated with exuberance, enthusiasm, impetuosity, idealism, impulsiveness, generosity and similar attributes.  These fine human qualities were on show at the Scottish referendum last year and the cult like fascination Jeremy Corbyn appears to have for his often young supporters. The lampooning directed at young right wing supporters of the Tory Party whether in comedy fiction or real life seems to support the view that Tory voters are more mature and emphasises the incongruity of a youthful Tory in stark contrast to the respected and seemingly natural position of being a young left wing socialist.   What all this has to do with a retired magistrate`s blog is the recent appointment of one Alex Hyne as England`s youngest Justice of the Peace at the tender age of 18.  This young man I am sure must have many fine qualities which impressed the appointments committee; and after all he has now reached voting age, can be sent to fight for his country and can be married without parental consent but do those arguments and comparisons compensate for his lack of that indispensable requirement of experience?  I would posit that at 18 lack of life knowledge is a major handicap in being able to exercise judgement over fellow citizens. Indeed even at 21 the human brain has not been completely formulated.  

The lowering of age related requirements is paying lip service to a philosophy originated in the 1960s of equality for almost anything or anybody per se without any regard to any other qualification. The fact that the last census equated being a Jedi Knight to being a Catholic, or Jew or Sikh or Hindu or Moslem insofar as it was considered a religion shows how far we have travelled down this particular road to perdition. I wish this young person nothing but good fortune but I fear his mentor and other bench colleagues will have their good natures put under some unnecessary strain to force feed him that wisdom which his youth must sorely lack. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

SENTENCING GUIDELINES TOMORROW or COMPUTER SAYS NO

Prior to Sentencing Guidelines being introduced for the first time into English sentencing practices in 2003 officials at the time took particular note of the guidelines in the American state of Michigan.For some years judges there  had been using  a system of points such points being allocated to various factors to be considered in reaching the final sentence.  In England in my early days on the bench we used what was described as structured decision making; we considered the factors involved in the offence and offender and built up a sentence which would correspond to these factors and where necessary add considerations based upon local knowledge and concerns.  In hindsight I can now see that although the purpose of the first Guidelines was ostensibly to eliminate what was known in the NHS as a "post code lottery" where there was inequality of treatments and outcomes with the justice system it seems to be that elimination of local variables was the purpose thus facilitating a system of "national" as opposed to the local justice  espoused by generations of Lord Chancellors and M.P.s.  Even today the cry of "save our local court" or "we must not lose local justice" rings loud from Westminster and local print media. It is a chimera. Increasing appointments of District Judges[M.C.] and DDJs were not based on their local knowledge or associations.  True local justice by local magistrates was not fully under the control of the Ministry of Justice and that for government was no longer tenable.   Local Magistrates` Courts` Committees were abolished in the name of greater efficiency.........it`s always that reason that`s given.  The reality is that centralisation offers greater control. A full history of this development is on Wikipedia

The new Sentencing Guideline on Theft to be implemented in February next year  has taken itself to new heights of "sentence by numbers". In practical terms it is barely a whisper away from Michigan`s points system.  Indeed in my inexpert opinion it lends itself to total digitisation; I doubt any competent programmer would find difficulty in producing a logarithm to give a bench or D.J.  instant outcomes at the press of a couple of keys on the keyboard. 

There are those who fail to see this changing face of justice and there are those who see it but don`t recognise it for what it really portends but the most disheartening factor of all is that there are many on and off the bench who do realise what the future holds but remain silent for reasons not always honourable  IMHO of course.


Monday, 5 October 2015

DO THE STABLES OF THE MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION NEED A HERACLES?

Some readers might have noticed over the months that I am not an avid supporter of the Magistrates Association.  There are many reasons why I resigned from that organisation some years after appointment to the bench but this is not a post to rethink previous actions.  Rather it is to demonstrate the limited and downright misleading thinking processes of those at the top of that organisation and of equal importance the withholding of important information on how it intends to cover the hole in its finances.

Currently we are ruled by a Conservative government with an overall majority in parliament of twelve seats.  Owing to the form of our electoral system that majority was gained by the Tories winning 36.9% of the vote where the turnout was 66.1% of those on the register. Uncomplicated arithmetic shows that of those on that electoral roll 24.9% voted Tory.  That  form of simple calculation has been used  in the last couple of weeks to justify the new leader of the Labour Party`s assertion that he has a mandate for change and to justify his support for politics to be taken to the streets.  David Cameron is also using similar logic to restrict the terms under which trade unions can lawfully call their members out on strike. This in a nation when a  referendum took place in 2011 on changing to an electoral system of proportional representation where the turn out was only 41% and the No vote was 67.9% indicating that only 27.8% of the eligible voting population was in agreement.  It seems that the chairman of the Magistrates Association in the June-July *issue of its in house magazine The Magistrate is using the same  argument as indicated above that his efforts are indeed supported by its members depending of course on which side the preferred outcome suits the argument. He argues initially that because 75% of magistrates belong to the M.A. an undisclosed  sample of their views supports his actions.  To bolster his argument that he is representative of J.P.s he derides the opinions of the 25%  of non members disregarding the simple fact that they conscientiously refused to join. Compare this with the apathy of many members. 

*As your chairman I am but a mouthpiece for the aggregated views of the magistracy. There are those who still repeat the mantra that, because not every magistrate is a member we do not represent the magistracy. Sorry but that is rubbish. A view gained from sampling 75% of magistrates is not going to change significantly, if we also sample the other 25%. After all, we have just voted in a government with well under 40% of the population who bothered to turn out to vote, and that is being called a decisive victory.

I suppose in what we describe as a democratic society it is up to anybody to use real numbers in the way in which they consider their arguments best made.  In advertising such practices are subject to authority.  In many other situations it is a case of caveat emptor.

On 02/06/2015 I posted on the fact that the M.A. was actively soliciting funds from  Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Defence of this little publicised activity reeks of disingenuity by its proponents.  In the August-September issue of The Magistrate pp8&9  there is a lengthy **article part copied below on how the Association is being funded and where there might be avenues to obtaining increased income.  Nowhere is there mention of contributions, actual or in the process of negotiation, by CRCs.  I would opine that keeping secret such a change of fundraising activity where sentencers receive income from those being paid to carry out those sentencers` sentencing is nothing short of a scandal yet to be uncovered.  


**Funding core activities So how are we going to fund our Policy and Research activities over the forthcoming years? Members have told us that, of all the work we do, influencing the agenda is valued most highly. However, success in influencing policy has no impact on income generation and so this work must be funded in other ways.One of the ways of achieving this could be if all members, who want this invaluable work to continue and grow, would consider increasing their annual donation or indeed adding to or replacing it with a monthly donation of say £5 or £10, which, of course, is still eligible for Gift Aid. Such increased donations will help but are unlikely to be sufficient to fund everything that needs to be achieved and so other sources of funds are needed as well. Here are some ideas where each of you can help ensure that the MA continues to have sufficient funding to continue all of the work that you wish it to undertake on your behalf:
Around 16% of our annual members have not signed up to enable us to receive Gift Aid on their donations. Remember for every £1 donated to the MA we can claim 25p from the Government as Gift Aid, so long as the donor is a UK income tax payer and has completed the Gift Aid form, which our membership department will very happily supply. If all annual members signed up to Gift Aid our income would increase by at least £20,000.
Many of our life members have obtained the bargain of the century by making a one-off payment many years ago. Perhaps they would consider making a regular or one-off donation.
Many benches are now recruiting new magistrates after some years of low recruitment. We should all make efforts to ensure that we sign up as many of these new JPs as possible, whilst, of course, not forgetting to persuade any existing non-member magistrates to help the magistracy overall by becoming a member of the Association. It is never too late to join!
We are undertaking a programme to recruit more individual Associate members. Associates are not JPs, but people who have an interest in the magistracy. They receive all the benefits of being a member, but are unable to vote in any of our elections.
     We are always pleased to accept small regular or irregular monthly or quarterly donations, as     well as any legacies or other one-off donations, just as other charities do

In the wider scheme of things such apparent  petty malfeasance or sins of omission count for very little.  Within the organisation puporting to represent the junior judiciary which as a charity must function for the public good  and whose members` activities private as well as public must be above reproach I would argue that the stables are not as clean as they should be.
 

Friday, 2 October 2015

LORD THOMAS SPEAKS OUT

I have mentioned here from time to time that IMHO the apparent failings of senior judiciary to  speak out on the undermining of our justice system since 2010 whilst perhaps paying lip service to constitutional niceties does nothing to protect individual liberties from the overwhelming power of government in the form of justice for all in the courts. That justice for all ranges from treatment of unrepresented defendants in magistrates` courts to limits on judicial review. 

Lord Chief Justice Thomas in a speech on September 15th has entered the public arena with some force.  The latter part of his remarks, it is to be hoped, will be noted carefully and thoughtfully by those currently in control who espouse "free at the point of use" for the NHS but "users must pay" as far as justice is concerned.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

YOU COULDN`T MAKE IT UP

Joined up government is a well used phrase.  It is simple and self explanatory and more often than not it isn`t achieved.  Smoke gets in your eyes and more significantly although less lyrically it gets in your lungs.  There is no doubt at all that children can be seriously affected by second hand smoke whether in cars or the living room.  Living rooms are private. Cars drive on public roads so today the government announces with pride that it will be illegal for a smoker to light up in a vehicle where there is also sitting an under eighteen year old.  A laudable attempt one might think to protect these juveniles until it comes to policing the miscreants.  Police have said they won`t be doing so because, not unreasonably they argue,  they have more important matters to pursue eg burglars and other assorted individuals intent on doing harm to people or property and the resources to satisfy these priorities have been cut to the bone and often through the bone.  

"Yes Prime Minister" should have been viewed by the new Labour leader for inspiration re Trident.  This latest carry on must be on the ideas short list if there is another series of "The Thick Of It". You couldn`t make it up.