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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE GREAT(ER) MANCHESTER POLICE BREAST SCANDAL

A public organisation by its very title requires the confidence of that public which it is empowered to serve.  Without such confidence whether or not actual or perceived the organisation will exist within a self imposed cloak of self preservation.  Arse covering by its top officials and secrecy in its deliberations, decisions and methodologies will form into a vicious circle of wagons under attack. Such is the handling of the misconduct case involving Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable  Rebekah Sutcliffe.  Comments on her behaviour which led to a misconduct hearing were posted here last November.  This officer was, not for the first time, facing  serious allegations of dubious behaviour.

A disciplinary panel found  that her conduct "had taken her to "the very precipice of dismissal", but accepted it was out of character and recommended a final written warning would suffice". GMP Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling was quoted as saying he was , "all too aware of the damage to public confidence".  Yet despite his own opinion it seems that in contradiction of my opening comments above he was not prepared to dismiss her from the force.  Scandals have rocked this organisation for years.  This is a blog; not an investigation.  Whether or not GMP is any more or any less inhabited by officers unfit for the job or liable to be protected when behaviour is found lacking compared to other police forces is a moot point.  What cannot be disregarded are the effects in this particular case of allowing so senior an officer to get away with such disreputable actions which would be just cause for instant dismissal in almost any other profession.  Admitting his decision will damage public confidence GMP Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling is himself guilty of deriliction of duty insofar as he has deliberately chosen to protect his deputy rather than fulfil that duty.  As for the other party in this sordid tale, Superintendent Sarah Jackson; she has moved sideways to a similar post at Cumbria Constabulary. If people move jobs without promotion it usually has its own story.

The Telegraph report is available here.

Monday, 30 January 2017

HMCTS DOES ITS OWN COURT REPORTS

I have previously more than once commented upon the dearth of local reports of the day to day happenings at Magistrates` Courts.  These posts have not been of universal condemnation and indeed almost a year ago it was a pleasure to praise one local newspaper for its court reports.  The important fact was that it was unbiased reporting by an independent newspaper.  Earlier this month on January 4th I commented that court reports of the events within West Susses local justice area, namely  for cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from December 19 to 23, 2016 were direct press releases from HMCTS. I also made comments re the newly appointed CEO of that organisation on Twitter.  Despite a Tweet from that new broom at HMCTS that I would be given an explanation for this subtle change in supposed news reports nothing was heard.  Recently the Worthing Herald published another press release as news, of cases sentenced also at West Sussex Magistrates` Court this time sitting at  Worthing in addition to cases from S.E. Hampshire Magistrates` Court sitting at Portsmouth. 

There is no doubt in my mind that in sending out press releases to anyone who subscribes for them the Ministry of Justice or Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service are offering information which can be used or discarded as appropriate for the subscriber.  However when such information is published in a newspaper the ramifications are quite different.  The information is not colated by a third party publisher.  Complaints or otherwise would rightly be directed at the editor/publisher.  It is the thin edge of a long thick wedge for HMCTS to take advantage of local news medias` shortage of staff and revenue to offer this page filling content. Reports could conceivably be less than strictly accurate or tailored to be approved by some government authority for for any nefarious purpose.  Such interference with "news" in this fashion must be opposed.
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793

Friday, 27 January 2017

GOVERNMENTS` COMMON SENSE//I`M HAVING A LAUGH

I considered whether another offender stealing to fund a drug habit was worth reporting.  I decided that such daily occurrences at every Magistrates` Court not being available in nicely wrapped statistical bundles to be used as "evidence"  to argue for the forcible incarceration of such offenders I would risk boring my reader with yet another such report.  Surely the day must come when we stop imprisoning addicts for a few weeks for assault or shoplifting etc and try to cure them.  The advantages are obvious; fewer convicts, long term reduction in costs and a safer society.  Forget even de-criminalisation. It is just senseless to continue on the current path. I`m having a laugh. On second thoughts rarely do governments act from common sense.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

WHY NO TOMMY ATKINS J.P.?

It is yesterday`s news that there are about half the number of active Justices of the Peace today as there were about a decade ago.  The reasons for the decline are many,  but fewer court appearances by offenders, fewer magistrates` courts, reduced morale amongst J.P.s leading to increased resignations, increasing age profile and fewer applications are perhaps the obvious.  

During my time on the bench it was IMHO significant how varied was its composition. Bus drivers, business people, academics, musicians, medics & dentists, teachers, lawyers, jewellers, estate agents, taxi drivers, managers both in industry and civil service, housewives and nurses, retired police officers and many others.  As far as I am aware there was not a single former military person on my bench which numbered 300.  I suppose the reason for this apparent lack of a unique professional profile was either such people did not apply or that in doing so they were not considered suitable material. 

Such an omission has been referred to by one of our law makers; Oliver Colvile M.P. whose voting preferences are available here. He doesn`t seem to be a long distance from those that the Prime Minister termed the nasty party in her previous political life. In yesterday`s debate he made the following statement, " I encourage the justice system to make greater use of people who have served in the military as magistrates. That would be incredibly helpful, because at least they have some idea of what happens—"   What he meant  by that last phrase only he might know.  The full debate is available here

The two recent mind blowing election results bring to the fore the question whether indeed our legislators actually know much of what they talk about.  Skilled interviewers, many working for BBC, demonstrate often all too clearly that unless many M.P.s  regurgitate well rehearsed nuances and phrases they are out of their depth in many topics.  The legal and political debacle following the referendum is a mark of disgrace to all those who participated in its conception not excluding the former prime minister and all those supposedly clever draftsmen and civil servants involved in its formation, function, terminology and limitations.  A long term Brexiteer it is my opinion that these culpable individuals have left a legacy of quite unnecessary dislocation in the body politic which we will endure in all likelihood to our collective detriment for many many years. The tale of the M.P. above is just a single solitary sad example.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU

Occasionally I think this blog becomes too serious. Here`s some light relief although I think the song is  more pleasant than the case.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

INCREASED MOTORING FINES//THEM AND US

I have previously criticised the principles underlying the Sentencing Council`s Guidelines for Magistrates` Courts insofar as they consist more or less of the much derided tick box method of imposing penalties.  This seems to be a dumbing down of the whole system  as it appears to accept that a lay bench [or District Judge] is not quite capable of using its own logical processes in coming to a decision appropriate to the facts before it. The watchword cited in favour of the Guidelines which are tending to increased prescription is the supposed avoidance of "post code sentencing" i.e. uniformity in sentencing is the watchword.  A similar argument has been used to describe treatments and outcomes within the NHS(postcode lottery). I would opine that all we want as individuals and as a society is the best outcome for each of us in our own individual circumstances. 

Notwithstanding the above there has been noticeable public disdain over the level of wages paid to Premier League footballers.  This has been tolerated owing to the popularity of football. However when those elite players enter an environment to which plebs can relate the attitude changes.  Media cannot usually report on the level of tips they give to waiters in expensive restaurants or the amount spent on grooming their dogs but media can report on the cars they drive and the penalties imposed in open court for motoring and other offences.  

Speeding, driving without due care and no insurance are amongst the commonest of motoring offences.  Until April 24th the latter two offences will still attract a maximum fine of £5000.  After that date courts will have the power to level unlimited fines which will also be available for drink driving. The days when £50,000 a week sports stars or city bankers and financiers can leave court having paid a morning`s wages as a fine will be over and a gawping public might feel that there is just a small narrowing of the gulf between "them and us". As Marx almost said "each according to his means".........Karl not Groucho.

Monday, 23 January 2017

TREATMENT OR JAIL FOR ADDICTED OFFENDERS?

From my earliest experiences on the bench I have been convinced that not only those whose criminal actions have been based upon addiction to alcohol or drugs would be better off in a compulsorily ordered medical environment but society in general and the public purse in particular would also benefit. The oft quoted comparisons that a prisoner in jail costs more per week than a schoolboy at Eton whilst not strictly accurate  serve to put the case in an easily understood context.  But it is not just the balance sheet presented to the tax payer and the Chancellor of the Exchequrer which ought to provide the momentum to effect change;  it is the outcome for society.  Addicted recidivists not only suffer themselves; their families are contaminated by the knock on effect of their addiction.  Partners are subjected to violence, children are scarred for life mentally if not physically and countless thousands of innocent law abiding people suffer actual or tangential effects for being in the wrong places at the wrong times. Not surprisingly I am also convinced that there must be de-criminalisation of drugs use despite the fears of well meaning experts about the long term possible damage from cannabis use. It is IMHO unlikely to be a subject for serious parliamentary debate until a party is elected with a manifesto commitment and such a clear majority that the passage of a bill to that effect would seem assured. But avoidance of the court process for addicts is a different matter and one more likely to command widespread support. Since the closure of what were known as lunatic asylums.....lunatic:original meaning as someone who went crazy with every phase of the moon: asylum: a health care facility providing inpatient and outpatient therapeutic services to clients with behavioural or emotional illnesses.....and referral to care in the community  the treatment and care of those with mental health problems has become a national disgrace. Indeed the rising numbers of deaths in custody are just the visible tip of this horrific iceberg. Whilst suicide rates in Great Britain are not of the levels* in Eastern Europe for each family involved it is a tragedy. However self inflicted deaths in custody including prison are at record levels.  It is unknown how many are drug related but only an ostrich would refuse to acknowledge that substance addiction is unrelated to such happenings. 

Last week as every week in most English Magistrates` Courts  an offender pleaded to be given a custodial sentence to enable him to overcome his drug habit.  The short sentence in prison resulting from his breach of a civil order will not cure him of his addiction. The medical and probation sevices are unable to cope.  The NHS is in crisis. Prisons are overcrowded to the point of chaos. Drugs and alcohol are as easily available as ever inside prison and out. Lobbyists are pressing for the abolition of short custodial sentences. MOJ budgets are not cut to the bone; they are cutting through the bone. The current methods and theories of  rehabilitation are failing the poorest.   As mentioned once previously here in a different context and attributed to Einstein but not verifiable, "insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  By this definition our rulers are in need of treatment as much as if not more than any of us. 

*


Friday, 20 January 2017

HIS HONOUR`S TOLERANCE

An essential part of making a success as a bench chairman is one`s  colleagues having confidence in one`s  being able to control the court. Of course that is taking as a given having the required knowledge both in theory and practice. There are some  making clear their opinion especially on Twitter who consider that Justices of the Peace are under trained and who would prefer to see only professional single judges presiding over the lower court.   I have long held the opinion that just as one cannot consider every M.P. prime ministerial material or even worthy of cabinet membership or every colonel worthy of ascendancy to four star general however proficient his training one cannot train a bench chairman who hasn`t got within him/her the basic round personality to fit the round hole required. Judges by their very position do not require the confidence of their colleagues whilst actually in court. They sit alone and omnipotent unless their failings stimulate higher powers to take more than a passing interest. There are habits in all of us which in themselves might be minor but to those with whom we have regular contact  can be irritating or worse.  

On Tuesday I posted on the failure in my opinion of a crown court judge to assume the position of the keeper of order and decorum in his own court. It is therefore somewhat surprising to read that the self same judge in the self same court  is reported yesterday as having tolerated behaviour by a defendant which was arguably at the very least worthy of a short time in the cells to cool his demeanour instead of merely a warning.   That action of course would have delayed the proceedings and those following. Perhaps HH was conscious of his duty to HMCTS to avoid such delays. Did any person in the public gallery have an increased or reduced respect for the law and our judicial system by his forbearance? Judge Tabor is by all accounts an honoured and respected judge. He was appointed Honorary Recorder for Gloucester earlier this year.  I wonder if sitting as first amongst equals with a J.P. on either side  during a crown court appeal in similar circumstances  they would have felt his tolerance went too far.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

THEFT OF DISCARDED FOOD

Here`s a forthcoming trial to exercise the little grey cells of the J.P.s who will be involved. It might also be a guide for others. Without delving into the legal minutiae  of theft it seems to this observer that the law is quite clear; the goods were the property of the supermarket irrespective of what it as the owner decided to do with them.  I suppose it comes down to the tabloids` view of the morality of the whole situation eg the sight of food banks no longer apparently being an unusual situation.  You pays your money, or in this case you don`t, and makes your choice.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

COUNCIL TAX DEBT AND IMPRISONMENT

 Imprisonment of single mother over council tax debt unlawful – High Court

This is required reading for every magistrate and legal advisor.

ALMOST LOST FOR WORDS

Most officers of the court and especially those who sit on the bench are aware of and/or have used the disposal of detention within the court building as a means of punishment for certain minor offences as a parent  would send a child to bed early for misbehaviour.  It is almost but not quite impossible to understand the thinking processes of a vagrant who, offered the opportunity by Blackburn magistrates to rid himself of a £350 debt by remaining within the court`s precincts for two hours, rejected said offer:  `nuff said. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A DISMAL DUTY OF J.P.s AND AN EVASION OF DUTY BY HIS HONOUR

There are occasional matters before magistrates` courts when one wonders just how incoherent families can be.  When that matter involves a child`s non attendance at school the instinct is to put the interests of the child as a priority.  Whether or not that direction is followed sometimes decisions have to be made that irrespective of the parent`s or guardian`s efforts the child in question is so mentally or emotionally damaged that no amount of effort would have enabled them to escape being found guilty.  At the very least they would appear in court to plead their case or at least to personally explain their mitigation to the bench. 

Basildon Magistrates recently had what I would describe as the dismal duty to fine parents of non attending children who themselves failed to turn up in court. One can only wonder in dismay at the internal dynamics of such families. 

There can be few Justices of the Peace who have had the privilege of chairing a court who have not had to speak directly to witnesses or attenders who have shown their contempt for the proceedings by behaving in a manner incompatible with the solemnity of those proceedings  and which  must not be tolerated.  To farm that job out to a court usher outside the court is an evasion of responsibility but that is exactly what happened at Gloucester Crown Court when HH Jamie Tabor was presiding.  Shame on him for putting such pressure on an overworked and vastly underpaid member of staff when he himself should have chastised such people within the confines of the courtroom.

Friday, 13 January 2017

ARROGANCE, FAILURE AND USEFULNESS

Apropos my last post and Tweet the "I must be nice to all those underlings I have to control" CEO of HMCTS in her arrogance has still failed to make contact to explain or otherwise the report in the Littlehampton Gazette last week. She owes all who believe in press freedom an explanation.



On more familiar territory this case at Cardiff Crown Court is in a nutshell symbolic of all the failures with the justice system at the level where it matters most; in our courts.  Personally I encountered many similar circumstances on the bench and no doubt current active colleagues have their own tales of woe. 

Council Tax liability cases are  familiar if sometimes boring sittings for magistrates.  I would opine that those weasels at HMCTS and Petty France are cooking up plans to add them to their single justice list alongside TV licensing and similar. Read this case reported at the Court of Appeal on landlords` compliance.  It might be useful in limited cases applicable.  I certainly had quite a few in my time.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

IS IT MISLEADING THAT NEWSPAPER PUBLISHES HMCTS PRESS RELEASE AS NEWS?

Yesterday was the cut off day for consultation on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.  Naturally the newspaper industry and this blogger amongst many hope that the government will repeal this iniquitous piece of legislation.  In general terms when government departments issue press releases they are published at the discretion of the media concerned and are subject to editorial comment.  News and comment are not to be confused.  

I have blogged previously that it is generally recognised that court reporting in local print media has become an increasingly rare event.  On January 3rd the Littlehampton Gazette apparently published  a direct press release from HMCTS as news of court results.  I commented on this the following day. As a result of this I received a Tweet from the CEO of HMCTS requesting my contact details such request being complied with. My impression was and is that I would receive some sort of reply. 




For the newly appointed head of HMCTS to be so sensitive to my suggestion that it might not be in the public interest for the press release to be published in a form that might be construed as the news as published by an independent newspaper indicated to me that there was some reasoning behind the release that would be a useful explanation.  One week on and I have heard nothing more. I can only assume that either Ms Susan Acland-Hood CEO of HMCTS thought better of asking one of her minions to get in touch with me or that those concerned have forgotten to do her bidding.  Either being the case I now must assume that the Littlehampton Gazette knowingly published a government press release as news without making it clear that it did not exercise any editorial control of it or a similar explanation.  

It would be iniquitous for similar future press releases to be published as news.  This is not the way to compensate for a lack of local courts` news reports compiled and edited by independent journalists. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

BRITISH TRADITION

Sometimes events widely separated in distance but with a common theme appear almost simultaneously to throw us into deep thought over our own convictions or opinions.  Last week a suspected villain was shot dead by police in West Yorkshire.  As per the British way an investigation was immediately put in hand notwithstanding the publicity given by media to local ethnic compatriots screaming for "answers".  The comparison between such police actions in the U.K. and America are striking.  Nevertheless the Metropolitan Police Federation is surveying its members as to whether they wish to be armed.  Many such exercises over the years have consistently indicated that police officers do not wish to be routinely carrying guns. Whether the British public wants its police officers armed is a moot point. Some polls say yes and others indicate a resistance to such a change.  Whether the traditional bobby on the beat syndrome can survive is IMHO doubtful.  Police are by all accounts deserting the concept of "the beat"  becoming a reaction force similar to the Fire Brigade which in certain areas is being brought into a joint command. From my own experience a few months ago waiting on the platform at Lille train station for my TGV connection to the South I was not disturbed, indeed I was comforted by the sight of an army squad of eight soldiers patrolling the platforms as a reaction to the atrocities in France. 

Such changes in this country are often done by stealth incrementally.  I will be surprised if routine arming of police does not become reality during the life of the next parliament.  

On a lighter note I have often wondered why non sentient beings such as dogs are credited with so called "bravery".  They are creatures of instinct and training yet we still have them being awarded medals or commendations.  It does no harm and of course reflects well upon the trainer. Like our unarmed police this is just another typical example of British tradition; like it or not.

Friday, 6 January 2017

REPEATING FAILURE PRODUCES FAILURE

I apologise in advance if this post seems boring, repetitive or the literary equivalent of banging one`s head against the proverbial brick wall. On the day when the government`s latest release shows the prison population is 84,737 i.e. it is running at 98.15% capacity, continuing tales of overcrowding, three to a cell being common and only a few weeks after the worst jail rioting in decades  an offender appearing at Boston Magistrates` Court pleaded, perhaps not in the normal sense, to actually be sent to prison. Faced with this typical example of an addicted recidivist  stealing at least without violence the bench refused his request. 


What will it take for the nonces at the MOJ and their supreme commander to grasp the nettle that court inflicted measures are futile for such people?  The system as it is constructed and likely to be for years to come is unable to rehabilitate or detox such as Sergejs Danilevics.  It surely cannot be more costly to divert certain offenders to compulsory medical units. Even the capital costs would be less than building more prisons. 


Sometime or other a government will have to face the reality that the current situation is unfit for purpose and that ending of short custodial sentences would do nothing to alleviate the problem which is people not fit for society and not sentences unfit for criminality. Repetition of a failing policy is futile. Possibly attributed to Einstein the following quotation says it all, Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A STAB AT JUSTICE

Contrary to what many people outside the legal environment might think alcohol is considered an aggravating circumstance in the committing of a criminal offence i.e. it is grounds for increasing a sentence from the starting point in the range recommended for the offence.  In the light of perennial ministerial comments about sentencing for even carrying a knife or bladed article never mind the use thereof it was therefore quite surprising to read of a case where a Recorder did not sentence to immediate custody a woman who in a state of inebriation stabbed her equally drunk partner in the chest. 

I suppose the anti prison lobby will be happy.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

LOCAL COURT REPORTING OR BIG BROTHER HMCTS?

Social media, increasing costs, reduced advertising revenue  and myriad various reasons have been given for the reduction in court reporting by local print media.  That being said it was unusual to see in the Littlehampton Gazette the headline, "HM Courts Service;Results list for December 19th to 23rd 2016".  The format seems to indicate that the report was a press release from HMCTS directly and not written by a press reporter who was present or even an agency reporter`s submission. If the report was indeed compiled by a third party I would deem it a worthwhile contribution to the local population`s awareness of its local court  but if it were submitted by the former and published uncritically I would be less than joyous.  There has to be independent scrutiny of courts. Publications should not rely upon the state as the sole provider of such information. As a secondary thought; from the above  report of Joshua Lee of Hatfield Walk, Durrington, who was jailed for a total of 18 weeks what would the "ban short custodial sentences lobby" make of his case?

Joshua Lee, 22, of Hatfield Walk, Durrington, was jailed for a total of 18 weeks

Read more at: http://www.littlehamptongazette.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-december-19-to-23-2016-1-7756014
HM Courts Service: Results list for December 19 to 23, 2016

Read more at: http://www.littlehamptongazette.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-december-19-to-23-2016-1-7756014
HM Courts Service: Results list for December 19 to 23, 2016

Read more at: http://www.littlehamptongazette.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-december-19-to-23-2016-1-7756014
HM Courts Service: Results list for December 19 to 23, 2016

Read more at: http://www.littlehamptongazette.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-december-19-to-23-2016-1-7756014
HM Courts Service: Results list for December 19 to 23, 2016

Read more at: http://www.littlehamptongazette.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-december-19-to-23-2016-1-7756014

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

IMMOVABLE OBJECT OF SENTENCING-v- IRRESISTABLE FORCE AGAINST

Sometimes the futility of available sentencing disposals and the weary facile words of a bench chairman really do not invigorate my generally optimistic spirit. This example is not just a Christmas prezzie; it is repeated up and down the country every day in every magistrates` court.  The immovable object of a suspended sentence order the reason for not activating of which if breached must be made clear in the courtroom has met the unwritten irresistible force [advice?] at all levels not to impose custodial sentences especially short such sentences if there is any glimpse of a way of avoiding it. 

It is precisely for offenders such as he that efforts must be put in place by compulsion if necessary to treat addiction.  Without a properly funded government controlled national probation service this is impossible.  Until such time the whining moans and groans of those who wish to see custodial sentences less than six months banned completely will continue to fill the media from Twitter to The Times.