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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

HEAVEN HELP US

I have a fear of becoming boring and repetitive but when a report of yet another multiple offending scumbag paedophile being given custody suspended I hold my head in my hands. If judges cannot show the abhorrence felt by the public in their sentencing decisions they will lose public support as is happening within our political system. When politics and the law are held in contempt the day of the populist draws ever closer. Heaven help us. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

MAGISTRATES DON`T NEED COMMON SENSE


There are times when I read of sentencing practices at magistrates courts that I despair.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the law is being brought into contempt, if not literally but certainly metaphorically.  There are those who would abolish custodial sentences of less than six months.  Two responses come to mind; increase minimum sentences to six months which has no possibility of enactment or admit that the idea of public protection does  not have a place in sentencing guidelines.  Pressure upon pressure has been placed upon the courts to prevent offenders being sent to custody. There are low level recidivists who are beyond redemption under current thinking.  I have long suggested that workhouses [for various posts put workhouse in search box]  designed for this century where under lock and key inmates can be made to undergo cold turkey regimes to rid them of their drug and/or alcohol habit which drive more than 70% of crime much of which the establishment describes as low level. Such criminality affects ordinary people much more than it touches on the lives of those who make the rules.  The example of this scumbag serves to illustrate all too clearly how inadequate are some courts.  To suspend his sentence flies in the face of common sense.  Ooooops!  I forgot;  common sense is not a requirement for magistrates in this era of sensitivity and safe space political agitation. . 

Monday, 10 December 2018

JUDGING THE JUDGES (AND J.P.s)


In the last three weeks four magistrates have been disciplined by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.   As is always the pattern very few details are published. The whole disciplinary process is cloaked in secrecy.  This involves proceedings more suited to the 1950s than 2018.  Both from the point of the view of the public and the good name of those sanctioned there at least should be the opportunity for the latter to explain their position to a wider audience if so desired. The Law Society Gazette has a similar take on this subject in its article published at the weekend.   

Thursday, 6 December 2018

LIFE SHOULD BE LIFE: END OF

When I was twelve years old I wrote an essay the subject of which was "Why I want capital punishment abolished".  Eight years later when abolition took place I was aware that all the proponents of that unique change (noting the increasing restrictions on its application) in a centuries old policy were very ready to offer their assurances that new sentencing powers would ensure that the public would be every bit as protected as pre abolition.  That was a fatuous guarantee.  However I, in harmony with a majority of the population, was prepared to be supportive on the basis of time will tell.  Well; time has told.  What ever statistics are used and/or manipulated homicides have increased considerably  in the last half century. There are occasions when a significant minority of people has a certain repugnance at the conclusions of the Parole Board.  The furore surrounding the black cab rapist who was scheduled for release a few months ago  persuaded the Parole Board to have a re think. It seems, however, that the great and the good on that Quango have once again given two fingers to public opinion.  The release has been authorised of triple child killer David McGreavy after his 45 years incarceration.  Their reasoning is that he is no longer a threat to the public. This indeed might be the case but it does not justify IMHO his release. Restricted prison accommodation or cost cannot be used as an excuse in this matter. Consideration for him in any way similarly must be ignored. His crime was of the most heinous nature.  There have been few of equal barbarity.  His punishment was life imprisonment.  If this lowest form of humanity cannot serve out his remaining days under lock and key we, the great British public, will find that our respect for the justice system will be accelerated further towards terminal decline. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

JUSTICE: THE COMING DISASTER

I`m not saying the Lord Chief Justice was slow to get off the mark and I`m not saying that I have crystal balls but sometimes I do wonder at the rate at which pennies seem to drop when justice  in all its facets indicates a sense of the direction in which it is travelling or being forced to travel by the executive.  Every year it seems the Sentencing Guidelines have become more prescriptive.  The aforementioned LCJ spoke recently on the emergence of AI in the courts.  He did not specify the Sentencing Guidelines but alluded to other aspects of what we call the justice system that could be involved.  Having retired just prior to the introduction of the digitilisation programme my opinions are based on what I read and hear; certainly a poor substitute for experience. On 7th October 2015 I concluded my post that day as follows:- "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." 


Since then there have been many changes. The Single Justice Procedure has, I believe, come in for its fair share of criticism, many more magistrates courts have been closed, national and regional magistrates have been appointed by the executive presumably on the basis that their support can be shown as an indication of general support of the magistrates on the Clapham Omnibus, video courts are being utilised as if personalities have no importance and of course legal aid is virtually non existent for defendants and a financial  loss for ever increasing numbers of lawyers. On 26th October 2016 the final paragraph of that day`s post was:- "It is only a matter of a generation before such artificial intelligences become even more a part of our daily life.  Who is to say that those advances will not include interaction with current legal processes."  

Only those on the "inside" can hope to have the slightest influence on the catastrophe for individual freedom and justice which is coming our way. It seems that whilst they are in receipt of the Queen`s shilling their mouths remain closed. That, unfortunately, is the way it has always been. But perhaps there are still some who can voice their opinion without fear or favour to avert the coming disaster. 

Friday, 30 November 2018

SUPPORT JUSTICE: SUPPORT HH JUDGE MATTHEWS

The vast increase in the numbers of unrepresented defendants has been a major feature of courts, criminal, family and civil since 2010.  The many Lord Chancellors since then have attempted to deny the subsequent problems arising directly from the cause of this eruption and have sought to minimise its effects by the introduction of ever more applications of digital technology of one sort or another. There are two fundamental foundations to a justice system; equality of arms and a level playing field. . One can only guess how many injustices have been allowed to happen by the imbalance of the former. Within the magistrates` courts there are no statistics of defendants who do not present with a lawyer. The latter in recent years has been undermined by the prosecution`s inability to follow the rules on disclosure.  High profile cases especially with regard to rape have exposed this iniquity.  Whether this lack of information is by lethargy, accident or design will be known only to that small coterie in Petty France where the most hard working section is the press office. 

I retired from the bench in the early part of 2015.  Even then it was becoming apparent that in my opinion a real risk of justice not just being seen to be done but not being done per se was staring me in the face at almost every sitting. It did not happen by calculation but I realised that my manner when presiding over cases involving unrepresented defendants was changing ever so subtly. The traditional approach of seeking only "clarification" when directly questioning a witness had occasionally to be sidestepped to avoid a possible or probable miscarriage of justice. In that year I posted twice on this subject

Similar problems have almost certainly been presented to judges at crown court. How many have gone unreported is anyone`s guess but recently none other than a High Court judge His Honour Judge Matthews has been castigated by the Appeal Court for his inquisitorial approach to an unrepresented defendant. The Law Society Gazette has a recent report.

There is no doubt that very soon those law lords who offer guidance often only when they are retired will provoke discussion around the very basis of trial law in England. My personal justification for sometimes incurring the disapproval of legal advisors was that I would rather push the boundaries of what was hitherto acceptable practice than see a possibly innocent person convicted because s/he was unable to construct the vital question or interpret the obvious flaw which would have exposed the CPS case`s failings. HH Judge Matthews deserves the support of all those with similar opinions. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

COURT STATISTICS: NUMBERS AND YET MORE NUMBERS

For those who like their legal knowledge or some of it in numbers latest court statistics published yesterday can be accessed from here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

DISPLACEMENT ORDERS NEED DISPLACEMENT

Archimedes' principle states that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces and acts in the upward direction at the centre of mass of the displaced fluid.  The word displacement and its derivatives was for many centuries associated mainly with that fellow Archimedes. Anthropologists also found the term useful in describing ethnic or national groups who have been removed from an area and possibly replaced by others.  It is almost twenty years since the principle of displacement entered the legal domain with the introduction of ASBOs where a civil order made with criminal sanctions if breached could enable miscreants to be banned from any area the court designated.  Various other displacement orders have since been legislated eg Drinking Banning Orders followed ten years ago. Offenders were prohibited from a particular area and were pushed into adjoining towns or counties if they wanted to go to a pub.  Indeed there have been cases where a recidivist was banned from drinking in any public place in England. Such prohibition orders are just an easy way to avoid constructive answers to habitual offenders such answers to consist in varying percentages of deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation all of which are costly in comparison.

The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office has since 2010 cut to the bone the resources necessary for the justice system to function for all of us; law abiding citizens, defendants and witnesses and those who work within the whole system. This recent case is a perfect example. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

COURT TV IS OVERDUE


A literate population in times long past was considered a threat to authority. No clearer example was the advent of the printing press and the subsequent availability of the bible in the English language produced by William Tyndale in 1536A.D. whose efforts cost him his life. The first ever manuscript in English of the bible by John Wycliffe c1380A.D. led to his long dead bones being exhumed and crushed into powder on papal orders. With the advent of at least a rudimentary education for the masses in the middle and late nineteenth century the coming of mass media allowed sometimes lurid accounts of court proceedings to be brought to anybody`s attention for the price of one penny. Indeed court reports were a major feature of local newspapers until the increasing prevalence of a television set in most homes about fifty years ago gradually reduced the impact of the written word so far as news reporting was concerned.

From time to time MPs have debated televising the House of Commons. The first proceedings actually to be televised was the Debate on the Address in November 1989 and the first televised speech was by Ian Gow a Conservative opponent of the experiment. In July 1990 what had been an experiment became a permanent feature and it is now hard to imagine what the reporting of the political world was like without live T.V. from the House of Commons when it consisted of abridged newspaper reports mixed with opinions of newspaper editors and proprietors. Hansard was for the very few. There have been  limited transmissions in Scotland. With the Supreme Court being available live on Sky I hope this is just the beginning.

It is my opinion that those politicians charged with considering the possibilities of live programming of court are of the same mind set as their forebears of fifty years ago; the details might not be the same but the principles most certainly are especially at a time when this government like its predecessor is attempting to limit public access to legal proceedings in the civil courts and is in general under the blanket of reducing costs making life so difficult for defendants in some cases as to be impeding the maxim of innocent until proved guilty. Without doubt there are major areas of concern regarding witnesses but the principle of a public gallery open to all in 60” 3D and surround sound surely is the basis on which this innovation must be allowed to come to fruition however large the gallery.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

WHEN IS "EXCEPTIONAL" HARDSHIP REALLY EXCEPTIONAL

Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)


"Driving ban sentencing needs to be looked at again. Many hon. Members have referred to how the exceptional hardship plea is being used, and suggested that courts and magistrates have been granting it too readily. That clearly needs to be looked at. Maybe there needs to be a change in the sentencing guidelines that magistrates take into account when deciding whether to grant exceptional hardship. That area also needs to be revisited and reviewed". 

I have posted here all too often [for those interested just type the term exceptional hardship into the search box]  that the get out of jail free card that is exceptional hardship indeed appears to be too often accepted by benches. From my experience I suspect that legal advisors are perhaps having too much input into bench sentencing discussions. I recollect that I had to ask a new to our court L/A on her first day who sat without invitation as my colleagues and I were about to begin our deliberations to kindly leave the table and await our decision.  After somewhat heated objections she did as was requested and was more respectful of our independence at future occasions when I was sitting. The shadow minister quoted above yesterday on 20th November perhaps is unaware that this decision is outwith sentencing guidelines but on her general point I do agree. It is scandalous that so many thousands of totters escape their due deserts.  

Monday, 19 November 2018

WHEN A SEX OFFENDER ESCAPES IMMEDIATE CUSTODY

The latest sentencing guidelines on sexual assaults were published after my leaving the bench. Fortunately I did not sit on many such cases because the majority are heard in crown court.  All that I can say is that for any person and a teenage female in particular to be sexually touched by a stranger without consent or to be similarly assaulted against her will must be an awful experience.  The law on all illegal sexual activity has expanded considerably in recent years. The range of offences is listed below.

Most but not all these offences are too serious to be heard in the magistrates court. The report of a recent case at Caernarfon magistrates court fails to mention which actual offence was committed by the offender but was likely to be the offence copied below. The appropriate CPS guideline is also available below.


It appears to this observer that at the very lowest level of culpability or harm this offender has traumatised the victim to such an extent that suspending custody is more of a bench following orders to keep offenders from filling the jails with short sentence prisoners  than simple old fashioned punishment. 

CPS GUIDELINE


SENTENCING GUIDELINE EXTRACT

RANGE OF SEXUAL OFFENCES












Thursday, 15 November 2018

DRIVING IN ALICE`S LEGAL WONDERLAND

Imagine you are 15 years old and after much nagging your parent(s) have given in and bought you an electric scooter.  Unsurpassed joy from the child who sets off down the pavement in a quiet suburb only to be spotted by one of the very few police officers still on the beat.  The happy go lucky child is asked to identify himself and to produce his driving license. Calamity upon calamity; the officer on hearing that there is no driving license, takes the name and address of the suspected offender and warns that a summons might follow. So far this is not a particularly pleasant tale but wait; it gets worse.  A 15 year old boy has been given six penalty points for riding a scooter "at speed". The report makes no mention of whether a police car or a beat police officer made the "stop".  No actual speed appears to have been recorded. We all know ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it but this boy in order to drive legally when he is 17 or older will have to obtain a driving license at quite some expense and then have said license immediately revoked for six months after which he will have to pass a complete driving test all over again. This is the law Alice would have recognised in Wonderland. 

Monday, 12 November 2018

COURT REPORTING

I have commented here previously and it is well known that there is a dearth of court reporting from the magistrates courts.  There are many reasons put forward for this; social media is a substitute for local reporting, local newspapers are in decline and those still publishing operate with reporting costs limited, new journalists are not well paid and court reports are generally served up by such novices in local press, public interest is lacking etc etc.  So three cheers for Grimsby Live.  I don`t know whether there is a hard copy available to the good burghers of  Grimsby but it is a pleasure for this observer to read local reports.  Other local press barons take note.  

Friday, 9 November 2018

BAKERS AND BARRISTERS

A few weeks ago a Belfast baker won his Supreme Court appeal against the lower courts` decisions that he had no legal right to refuse to bake a cake and decorate it with what he  claimed was a message with which he had fundamental disagreement. A few days ago a female Afghan barrister practising in this country was told by her instructing solicitor that his client did not want her to represent him in court but instead wanted a white male barrister to do the job. It will be interesting to see the future ramifications of this incident. The comments following the report are as interesting as the case itself. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

LOOK BACK IN ANGUISH


Earlier this morning I had reason to revisit the first post published on 19th November 2009 by The Justice of the Peace on a site now long since withdrawn from the internet. On the second anniversary of that first post I posted the following:-

"Exactly two years ago today my first post appeared on this site. It was entitled CAUTION GIVEN AFTER A CONVICTION FOR A SIMILAR OFFENCE. That was 804 posts ago. With approaching seven thousand visitors monthly this blog is still miniscule in its numbers of readers cf the other one. However I thank all who have found my literary meanderings of some interest. This exercise has however provided an avenue of escape for the writer`s frustrations at the underlying decay which is eating away at the foundations of this grand old institution, a decay which has been caused 100% by government`s determination to continue to impede the quality and efficiency of justice available to the common man in order to try and obtain it on the cheap. There are two foundations which a democratic government must provide for its citizens; protection from invasion and a justice system to allow citizens to register their agreements and to resolve their civil disagreements and to protect the them from breaches of the peace which would or could disturb a contented life. All other interventions are secondary.

In the last year or so I have in consultation with my colleagues twice refused to begin a sitting at 10.00am because the non CPS court to which we were allocated had itself not had an usher allocated to it owing to non replacement of the “natural wastage” of employees. For those unfamiliar with the terminology non CPS courts involve prosecutions originating from various prosecuting authorities except the CPS eg local authorities. Inevitably many more lawyers are involved than usual as are the defendants and without an usher chaos reigns. The first such refusal produced an usher in 30 minutes, the second: 20 minutes.

However much courtroom events can be converted into dry statistics I have tried to convey the reality of real people in real situations. The sheer stupidity of some of those who appear before us sometimes takes some believing. During the summer a 25 year old was in court after admitting breach of a community payback requirement. He didn`t take kindly to having a curfew imposed as a punishment in addition to the existing order. He smashed his way out of the non secure dock screaming obscenities and pushed his way out of the courtroom. A swift phone call later he was eventually arrested outside the building having damaged a couple of large flower pots. He was charged with criminal damage and resisting arrest. However on being searched he was found with a wrap of cannabis in each shoe. What kind of individual comes to court with excessive footwear of that nature? Events such as that leave one sceptical of the possibilities of rehabilitation which perhaps ten or fifteen years ago might have had some beneficial effect on him and spared society the clearing up process.

Along with my colleagues I have watched the decline of CPS efficiency and despite the efforts of those in front of us its quality drains away before my eyes. I have experienced the trebling of the numbers of non represented defendants owing to the restrictions imposed upon legal aid. I have seen L.As who admit to having to be more effective in trying to get their overlisted courts through most of the work than ensuring defendants are treated with respect when at 4.00pm they are told their case despite assurances will not go ahead. I know that those self same good people are under the threat of redundancy when their financial outgoings are at their most precarious. I know the outrageous redundancy terms that have been put to our liason officers in the forthcoming re-organisation. I have experienced during the riots being pushed hard from on high to remand in custody; a dictate which with colleagues, I refused. I have noted that Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service treats J.P.s with disdain or even contempt. I am continually dismayed at the kow towing of the officers of the Magistrates` Association in their dealings with government brought about in part from the lack of a desire for democracy within that organisation. Simple researches for subjects worth discussion have shown that however tough the job of a police officer is the police in general are lions ordered about by donkeys in their great war against a disorderly and often dangerous section of our society. And finally some of the crass and plainly stupid statements from members of government who are making decisions which affect justice in this country lead me to have had my cynicism quotient ratcheted up by a factor of two since this self imposed release of my frustrations began.

Roll on year three. Feel free to inform a friend/colleague of this website. It might assist in easing their frustrations also. I feel a bit better now."

Courts have been described by some as theatre. It is extremely disappointing to admit to myself looking back in anguish as well as anger that much of the above content is still applicable to the situation within magistrates courts; indeed it would not be difficult to argue that the position is measurably dire in comparison to 2011 as above. I dread to predict what the position will be nine years hence considering that it is unlikely that LASPO and its iniquities will be repealed or that funding will be available in sufficient quantities for all the agencies which have historically been contributing to what we call our justice system,