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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 19 July 2019

CHRISTIANITY AND THE LAW


Insert "Richard Page" into the search box and you will find a history of one of the most controversial sackings of a Justice of the Peace in living memory. The posts, the most recent of which was earlier this year on January 7th, need no explanation; they speak for themselves. It seems the final chapter of this story has been written.  An employment appeal tribunal has ruled that he was rightly dismissed.  Readers will have their own opinion on the decision made earlier this week.  

The above was the first paragraph of my post last month on June 21st. Another case of interest is the recent successful appeal by a Christian student expelled from his university.  The two cases  of course are quite different but paradoxically similar in many ways. I posted on this topic on 5th October 2017.

Religious belief, Christian, Muslim and Jewish has seemed to be more in the legal news than in previous years.  Considering that this is ostensibly a passive Christian country and that the Jewish population is only 250K it is not unlikely that with about three million Muslims in the UK many of whom are sympathetic to a strict interpretation of Islam  it will be from that area that future legal and social conflict with religion will arise. 


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

COURT FOR PROTESTERS

Many people had their daily lives and routines severely disrupted recently when an organisation which has a one pony policy of alerting us to the perils of climate change took over main thoroughfares in many cities to make their point. Police as is often the case had to decide where the boundary lies between a citizen`s right of public protest and breach of public order. As a result, having been very "hands off" initially the need to keep streets available for all to use led to public criticism and the subsequent arrest of thousands of protesters. The CPS has endorsed more than a thousand prosecutions to be undertaken at Westminster Magistrates Court. This decision has led to the expected objections of those who have been called tree huggers in the past.  In this subject they are on the wrong side of the argument. Street disruption is straight from the anarchist playbook.  Whilst those in the current matter might have had altruistic motives their methods would be a demonstration of what would befall us as a society were extremists of left or right to mobilise supporters to emulate their sandal shod predecessors.  Criticism might be made of police being too slow to enforce the law. The fact that those arrested are to face the reality of what the law considers their behaviour is a welcome decision to this retired magistrate. 

Friday, 12 July 2019

COUNCIL TAX NON PAYERS AND JP DIVERSITY

Facts; that`s today`s simple post.  Too many observers throw out emotional statistics about short custodial sentences eg those imprisoned for non payment of council tax.  Last year there were five such cases. 


There`s a growing trend from some quarters that above every other requirement the magistracy must be as diverse as the population it serves.  I disagree.  Justices of the Peace must be selected on perceived ability to do the task for which they have applied. If that procedure produces anomalies cf diversity statistics  then it is regrettable but must not lead to selection by quota. Latest such statistics are below.



Tuesday, 9 July 2019

A NON TOO ROSY FUTURE

A long long time ago when trams and later trolley buses travelled our high streets our justice system was recognised by most as amongst the finest in the world. A system admittedly ruled and administered by a public school and Oxbridge educated minority but a system nevertheless where noblesse oblige much of the time. And then came the swinging revolution begun in the 1960s where the cockney sparrow became the tweet of the masses. Prime Ministers` lies did not remain hidden for a generation but soon became public knowledge. Diversity in its myriad forms became the name of the game and legal protection was legislated for it in ever widening patterns.  Increasingly the opinions of the masses were sought and occasionally acted upon. Parliament enacted laws in ever more areas of our lives; much to the good of all but not all to the good.  Margaret Thatcher, loved by many and perhaps hated by more changed society almost as much as World War 2 but with fewer casualties. But there were still areas where civic cohesion was beginning to strain at the seams; namely at Mastricht and Lisbon but few were able to sense the arising murmurings. And then came 2008 and the world fell apart as did our politics. As a direct result in 2010/11 the budget of the Ministry of Justice was proudly cut by 23% by Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Justice and has continued to be cut so that Justice is not now considered a pillar of our democratic society paid for by the state in the same way as the armed forces are paid for by the state but a necessary function which must as far as possible pay its way in the grand scheme of budgetary things. He also instigated the destruction of the concept of local justice resulting in the continuing closure of hundreds of courts the latest sales figures of which are published today. As a result of the disastrous tenure of Chris (failing) Grayling with, we must suppose, the support of cabinet, a Criminal Courts Charge was initiated in 2015 which attempted to increase income from offenders irrespective of their ability to pay. Such was the iniquity of that legislation that it was revoked within a year by his successor at Petty France.  Under the control of the Home Office, the dismal performance of which competes with the MOJ for the most inefficient not fit for purpose government department, police forces have been emasculated in numbers and demoralised in practice. 

The result of the above and more is that British society, at one time a concept familiar to all, is now so fragmented that the petrol of Brexit, itself a result of supine stupidity by governments since the ill fated Gordon Brown occupied number 10,  has lit the fire under our whole idea of democracy. With justice denied to so many by so few our headlong dive into a dark future seems unstoppable. The scandal of the appointment of our next prime minister, the undeniable antisemitism within her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition and many of its supporters and the demagoguery of competing interests here and abroad paint a non too rosy future.  

Friday, 5 July 2019

SOFTEST OF TOUCHES AT YOUR REGIONAL MAGISTRATES COURT

I have been posting on the problems of court interpreter services for six years.  Before I retired I was in a position to report from the "front line".  Now like most of us who become aware of so many matters from media of all kinds my knowledge is limited. It appears that I am in good company. The Ministry of so called Justice does not know or says it does not know of the true extent of the problems dealing with those witnesses and defendants who say they require the use of an interpreter. Those last few words are quite deliberate.  There is no requirement for an objective standard to be used when a court assesses the need for such services. Whist an active bench chairman I (and my colleagues) was often faced with a defendant at pre trial stage requesting an interpreter when to all intent and purpose that person`s age, apparent intellectual capabilities, occupation and years of UK residence would indicate that his/her knowledge of English was well able of being of a standard to understand and partake in court proceedings.  I recollect all too often after clear questioning of a defendant my observations that an interpreter would not be required being over ruled by the legal advisor stating more or less that the court is powerless to refuse such a request even when the situation would suggest otherwise.  An incident comes to mind when an Arabic speaking interpreter failed to turn up. A colleague whispered to me that he was fluent in an Arabic dialect very closely associated with the defendant`s.  I asked him to interpret for the court for the short time required to formally adjourn.  In the retiring room the legal advisor told me my actions were borderline if not misconduct at least putting into jeopardy the impartiality of the court.  I told her I`d do it again in similar circumstances where the alternative was further delay and time wasting for all involved. 

The statistics below would not reflect that situation.  Courts are afraid to even think the term "robust". All manner of means are employed to reduce costs even when justice itself is at risk but when it comes to the treatment of offenders truly the softest of touches is not soft enough for some at all levels from Petty France to what was once upon a time your local court but now is your regional magistrates court. 


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

LEGAL AID?????????????????

The availability of legal aid has been reducing for the last nine years; every worker within magistrates courts is well aware of this and the consequences it poses for ensuring that every defendant has a fair crack of the whip.  Quite simply the concept of a level playing field between the state and the citizen no longer exists as a practice or a philosophy.  It is now shown that in our crown courts where the consequences for unrepresented defendants are so much more severe than in the lower court reductions in legal aid are all too apparent.  A short article in today`s Law Society Gazette is worth a glance.  

Friday, 28 June 2019

AN OPINION?

It is unusual that a judgement at the Court of Appeal might appeal (excuse the pun) to the reader of this site. However today`s result on when is "opinion" "opinion" is quite interesting. 

Monday, 24 June 2019

INQUEST INJUSTICE

Only a tiny minority of the population has been or will be involved in a terrorist attack. Of these unfortunates a significant number has been or will be killed.  In those circumstances an inquest would normally be held in order to establish the facts of what happened.  Unlike court proceedings it will be inquisitorial not adversarial.  All the government agencies involved will be represented by highly qualified legal teams funded by public money; your taxes and my taxes. The relatives of the bereaved will not be so funded.  Legal aid is usually unavailable for such people unless "it is the public interest" and only after an intrusive and means tested process.  That is one example of how our government hides its secrets.  It is a disgrace about which most people don`t know or care. It is a prime example of how very rotten our governing classes have become. It is yet another example of the bedrock of our society disintegrating before our very eyes.  But of course the MOJ has an explanation: "Our thoughts remain with those who lost loved ones and while our review showed that legal representation is not necessary for bereaved families at the vast majority of inquests we are making changes to ensure there is more support for them."

Friday, 21 June 2019

THE SACKING OF RICHARD PAGE ex J.P. PART 4

Insert "Richard Page" into the search box and you will find a history of one of the most controversial sackings of a Justice of the Peace in living memory. The posts, the most recent of which was earlier this year on January 7th, need no explanation; they speak for themselves. It seems the final chapter of this story has been written.  An employment appeal tribunal has ruled that he was rightly dismissed.  Readers will have their own opinion on the decision made earlier this week.  

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

PARLIAMENTARY JUSTICE COMMITTEE REPORT

The Parliamentary Justice Committee has just published its latest report on the magistracy.  It seems that these worthy representatives of ours are once more wasting their time and effort not to mention our pounds.  Since 2010 the Conservative governments including the Coalition have steadily and painstakingly reduced the budgets of the justice system as a whole; from the curtailment of legal aid to the bare bones resulting in the impoverishment of the young lawyers seeking to secure their professional status by the imposition of pay rates in many cases no better than those of checkout workers to the acute shortage of judges who actually preside over crown courts and sit at the high court and whose position must not be overlooked even although many corbynites might consider they are already overpaid.  Then they would wouldn`t they.  Their modus operendi is to sow discord and confusion. Hundreds of closed courts based on government lies about the time and transport costs of alternative venues have taken place in the last decade. Prisons are a disgrace for a supposed enlightened nation.  And so to the magistracy: numbers of JPs have almost halved in the last decade.  Training costs have been decimated.  Probation services are not fit for purpose owing to Grayling`s failings. Bleatings are repeated by a desperate MOJ press office for more JPs to be appointed especially those from ethnic minorities and from disabled individuals who might or might not be able to offer 100% of what is required for the job. The list goes on.

Our justice system of which I as a new magistrate twenty or so years ago was so proud is now but a historical footnote. But all these newly appointed magistrates are unaware of that history.  They are represented not by elected colleagues (the Magistrates Association is but a figleaf)  but by government appointed lackeys and are known as national magistrates.  Where will this salami slicing end?  The apologists for all the above and more  will say that as a result we will have a streamlined system where justice is done to all.  The Jeremiah in me overcomes my natural optimism to conclude that on one side with a government more incompetent than any in my lifetime,  a parliament stuffed with self seekers whose main task is re-election and an opposition led by an antisemitic communist pied piper calling out a tune to dash our country on the rocks morally, defensively and economically, the prospects for our justice system are very poor.  But I forget; our civil courts at the highest level will still be targeted by unconvicted unscrupulous billionaires and their legal henchmen when their profits and/or their wives are failing. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

NUMBER OF MAGISTRATES COURT SESSIONS

A recent parliamentary answer by  Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice was as below:-

The number of sessions sat in magistrates’ courts in England in the calendar year 2018 was 208,711. We don’t count days sat in the magistrates’ court and instead count sessions. A session is usually half a day in length.

A Freedom of Information request as to how these sessions were allocated to magistrates or District Judges(MC) was unable to be answered. " I can confirm that MOJ holds some of the information you have requested. However, to provide as the request currently stands would exceed the cost limit set out in the FOIA. Section 12(2) of the FOIA means public authorities are not obliged to comply with a request for information if it estimates the cost of complying would exceed the appropriate limit. The appropriate limit for central government it is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days determining whether the department holds the information."  

Perhaps a number crunching reader can offer some insight into the significance or other wise of these figures bearing in mind my post of April 24th.  

Monday, 10 June 2019

NO INNOVATIVE THINKING AT THE MOJ

Main stream news unsurprisingly reports legal matters at the top of the legal tree; violent criminality, criminal suspected activity by famous persons, international infamous criminality, multi billion cases from the civil courts etc etc. These are the headline makers; the two minutes in a ten minute news bulletin. These events are not the legal stuff that affect the vast majority of the public. The million and more cases before magistrates courts every year are those which have an impact on the lives of most of us. And all the processes involved in these matters are treated with contempt by government. Police are so under resourced that most so called "minor" offences are in simple language "written off". Those that actually get to court, the tip of an unknown criminal iceberg, are often undercharged, undefended by people who have not the wherewithal intellectually or financially to present their case and who face a punishment if guilty determined by MOJ budgetary restraints rather than joined up thinking. Around 70% of those million cases have alcohol or drug addiction at the root cause of their offending and no government has has an answer to this problem which is costing billions of £ and thousands of lives annually. Those policy makers are bean counters with the occasional answers from innovating thinkers squeezed out of the process as was David Nutt. I am no innovator by training or inclination but a moment`s thought must lead to the conclusion that change is overdue in the treatment of such offenders as this. There is no sentence suitable for her or to address her offending. My answer is, to use the term offered by the Victorians, the workhouse. Not the institution we all read about as described by Dickens but an institution fit for the problems of the 21st century. Type that word "workhouse" into the search box on the side of this post for further information of my proposals which of course have absolutely no chance of being acceptable to any authority steeped in the ways of those who govern us. Innovative thinking is not a requirement for the MOJ just as common sense, a requirement when I was appointed JP, is not needed now to sit on the bench.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

U TURN ON SENTENCING BY MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION

Shortly after my appointment as a Justice of the Peace like most of my colleagues I signed up to the Magistrates Association happy in my mind that the modest annual membership fee was a worthwhile payment for services received directly and indirectly.  I attended  not only local training sessions but more intimate brainstorming sessions.  Indeed at one such get together I suggested that with so many talented individuals with varied skills surely it would make much sense to invite such members to utilise their skills in direct service to the MA eg in marketing, public relations, statistics, informative writing, teaching etc etc etc.  This was at time when the members numbered about 90% of 30,000 JPs and when MA professional staff was minimal.  My suggestion made at the highest level was, as far as I know, never formally adopted. The MA around the millennium sponsored an interactive forum on its website after an initial member`s attempts failed. That effort ceased after a few years coinciding with the beginning of the government`s initiatives to bring the magistracy under closer control and at a stage now where HMCTS treats magistrates as unpaid employees and the MOJ appoints magistrates to represent magistrates. It was only around the millennium that government advisory panel considered increasing magistrates courts custodial powers to twelve months.  Now we have a situation where an emasculated probation service is being lobbied to take over all previous instances where custody would have been employed to ensure rehabilitation of a high order is available for the 4% of such offenders from well over a million cases annually where immediate custody is the outcome. This week the MA announced its backing for the abolition of all custodial sentences less than eight weeks. I would ask the Association upon what basis does it have its members` opinions to make such an announcement which is a major policy turn.  There is no doubt that heavy pressure must have been applied by government and that is its prerogative but if the Magistrates Association, a mere rump of its previous incarnation with only about 80% of the current 16,000 JPs as members, makes such an obvious U turn on its members` behalf the process of that decision being made must be made public. 

Friday, 31 May 2019

BENCHES GET IT RIGHT

Latest annual figures indicate there were 1,462,441 cases at the magistrates courts.  Of these 4,739 were appealed at the crown court against the verdict. 2,061 were allowed.  3,600 were appealed against sentence and 1,752 were allowed.  As a non statistician or lawyer I would suggest that this shows that benches did their job fairly well. 


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

THE PILLAR CRACKED

I really hope I`m not being repetitive but it seems that cases like this are more frequent than perhaps a decade ago.  Even if that is not the case the process of dealing with them has failed, is failing and will continue to fail until old ideas are swept away.  As with 70% of such offending alcohol and/or drugs are responsible for the recidivism.  Only by treating that underlying cause in a new and radical fashion will there be a possibility of rehabilitating such people.  The current so called choices for sentencers and probation service are next to useless. I have argued here for many years that that new form of institution required to carry out treatments for such offenders must have them under lock and key and subject to compulsory detox procedures. Write "workhouse" in the search box and take your choice of posts. Dismiss the underlying theme as is your wont but consider how you would address the problem. Add the comments to your reading. Apart from the ill informed ones most of the them indicate a legal failure to deal with the issue.  Public lack of confidence in our judicial system which these comments represent is another crack in the justice pillar which is the mainstay of democracy.