Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




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Wednesday, 2 March 2016

POLICE WITNESSES AND NOTEMAKING COLLABORATION



Thankfully only a minority of the population has been required to answer to a court for its behaviour although it has been estimated that one third of men have been placed on the Police National Computer data base by the age of thirty. There is, however, one group which has court appearances as part of the job description and that is police officers who attend court  as witnesses. 


All magistrates receive intensive training and advice on structured decision making.  The "I feel it in my bones", "he must have done it", "it`s obvious he did it", and countless other similar expressions of randomised opinion or conclusion have no place in the Magistrates` Retiring Room where decisions are reached and indeed they could conceivably lead to a complaint by colleagues of incompetence requiring additional training for an individual to continue in the job. With that observation in mind  there is one aspect of the trial procedure at Magistrates` Courts which I suspect causes JPs more soul searching than any other and that is when the accuracy or truthfulness of the evidence of police officers is brought into question. Officially the evidence given by a police officer is to be given the same weighting and judgement as evidence from a civilian.  But there are crucial differences.  No officer will give evidence without his notebook being available "to refresh his/her memory".  The use of notebooks is highly regulated. Hampshire Police eg have eight pages of guidance for their officers on correct procedures re notebooks. Civilian witnesses have equal rights to "refresh their memories" when acting as court witnesses if they have had the initiative to make such notes as soon as possible after the event where they thought their evidence might be of use in court at a later date. Often more than one officer will have been witness to some or all of the actions which have brought a defendant to trial. In such matters officers are allowed to collaborate in the writing of their notes.  This consideration has caused unease in certain quarters in the past and the Independant Police Complaints Commissionhas and others have  suggested reform of this practice .


I can recollect when a bench on which I sat, in two trials for Section V Public Order  offences preferred the evidence of the defence over that of a pair of PCSOs in one case and two police officers in another.  Whilst we did not reach conclusions that these public servants, who like their colleagues frequently face unprovoked and unexpected violence each working day on the beat, lied to us we came to the decisions we did because the content and presentation of their evidence vis a vis the defence evidence did not allow us to be sure the offences had been committed as alleged. Obviously for each JP there might come a time when such disquiet appears to be becoming routine.  Thankfully we are in my opinion served on the whole by honest, truthful and dedicated police officers but........................

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