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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 12 December 2017

BENCH GOT IT WRONG

I suppose upon some reflection that I have commented here when it has seemed apposite on sentences being too weak rather than the reverse.  Today I find myself in the opposite corner. Curfew is a useful sentence because it is a deprivation of liberty and can be applied immediately upon a finding of guilt without the need to have a pre sentence report.  For those reasons it is essential that the bench takes on an inquisitorial role to ensure that the punishment fits the crime and the offender fits the punishment.  At least that is the way in which I personally approached such a disposal. For a bench to impose a curfew on a grandmother of previous good character who deprived the DHSS of £12,500, a relatively small amount for an offence  in such circumstances, is a disgrace. The report does not state under which section of the law she was charged.  If defence lawyer did not immediately appeal against sentence she ought to be ashamed as should the bench for the imposition of a sentence which was totally unsuitable in the circumstances.

Monday, 11 December 2017

POLICE MISCONDUCT//LATEST NEWS

Earlier this year on 18th October I posted on the change in regulation which had previously allowed police officers under misconduct investigation to resign and avoid such investigation.  Not surprisingly I was pleased. Well; today I`m not. In short this  new legislation in some circumstances allows officers to retire while under investigation.  The College of Policing appears not to have this new information on its website.

It would be interesting to know statistics of police chiefs charged with misconduct. 


Friday, 8 December 2017

FREE SPEECH MUST FOLLOW VOLTAIRE

FREEDOM OF SPEECH:- While lovers of liberty in all lands have urged the necessity of freedom of speech none put the case more pointedly than Voltaire when he wrote, I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Perhaps that sentence exemplifies the difference between those of a libertarian bent from all others whether of the Left or the Right.  In 2009 The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was allowed entry to the UK after appealing successfully a ban imposed some months previously by the Home Office. His visit passed without incident.  Currently there is growing opposition to a proposed visit by Franklin Graham an American evangelist preacher on the grounds that he is likely to provoke a possible reaction from Muslims, gay people and others whom Graham has castigated in speeches in the USA.  The rise of a British Muslim population of 3 million has simultaneously led to increasing criticism of conservative Christianity and its adherents` proselytising. Cases of people wearing a cross around their necks have hit the headlines when their companies have ordered them to remove such items. For generations the Plymouth Brethren in England and the "Wee Frees" in Scotland have quietly lived their lives within their own strict rules and communities.  They too hold views not dissimilar from the aforesaid American and Dutchman. In short outside Northern Ireland religion was a private topic in this country until the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people from lands where religion was not only public but carried with it political inferences long dismissed here.  

The latest manifestation of perhaps anti Christian bias within the justice system was demonstrated by Lincoln Magistrates on 14 September when a Christian preacher was convicted of using threatening and discriminatory language whilst preaching in that city. That verdict was overturned on appeal at the crown court.  

I have posted three times in the last year or so on the topic of hate crime: 9th August 2016, 3rd April 2017 and most recently 22nd August this year.  It truly requires senior judiciary to halt this apparent upping of the ante as to what constitutes "hate".  Provided no incentive to violent action can be construed from actual words used, those opposed to the views and opinions of people like Geert Wilders, Franklin Graham and others whether of the Right or the Left, Christian or Muslim, gay or trans or whatever should make their arguments orally, in writing or through social media. Banning those who voice what some consider unsayable is a short slope to the unthinkable.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

SCHOOL CENSUS

For very many years the governments; Labour, Coalition and Tory have been less than expansive about the number of illegal immigrants in this country including those who arrived legally and overstayed. Indeed that evasiveness was no doubt a factor in the arguments on immigration prior to the Referendum.  The Right criticised the Left for its attempts to play down the problem and the Left accused the Right of little short of racism and bigotry.  There is one certainty and that is government still does not know the numbers of foreigners living  here.  From time to time we read in the media of those illegals having children in the UK and using that as an argument under Human Rights that their stay in this country be legitimised.  Since June 23rd last year various measures have been put in place to determine the nationalities of people who fall into certain groups which have contact with state authority.  All defendants in court must now state their nationality. Surprising no one the legal profession has been blowing its top into a so called breach of rights.  Now a similar uproar has occurred over the requirement of childrens` parents or guardians to name their child`s nationality as part of a schools` census.  IMHO with education defects being seen as a major problem from low industrial productivity to the limiting of lower social class children being able to climb out of poverty it seems perfectly reasonable to have facts on the nationality of such where eg lack of English as a native language in the home might be proving a detriment to inherent ability.    Of course the Left immediately cries racist or fascist in any situation where it thinks it will enhance its support amongst new arrivals.  To that extent a High Court Appeal against the census is underway by a group calling itself Campaign group Against Borders for Children.  I sincerely hope that appeal fails.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

JUSTICE OF WHICH TO BE PROUD

There is much to be said for the opinion that justice for all but the rich is no longer the certainty that it was a couple of generations ago. But then a little reported event happens along and all that can be said is that there is still a flickering flame within the system of which we should be proud.  "A Muslim suspected of involvement in "terrorism-related activity", who complained that Home Office movement constraints prevented him from visiting McDonald's and treating one of his children to a Happy Meal, has failed to persuade a High Court judge to relax restrictions." The report makes no mention of how his appeal was funded but I would hazard a guess that he was legally represented under legal aid.  I wonder where else he could have pursued his appeal on such grounds at state expense.  The brief report is available here.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

TOO MANY CHIEFS AND NOT ENOUGH INDIANS? (2)

On 25th July 2013, shortly before my previous host site was taken down, I commented on the numbers of serving police officers in England and Wales and the ratios of how the various ranks were proportioned.


4.86 constables/sergeant
3.26 sergeants/inspector
3.49 inspectors/chief inspector
2.2 chief inspectors/superintendent
2.24 superintendents/chief superintendent
1.82 chief superintendents/ACPO rank





On 8th August 2015 I posted as follows:-

Although I am cautious when reading of a latest form of crime statistics which appears to indicate that the trend is up, down or sideways there is more than a little fascination in the structure of those in blue employed (in reducing numbers) to keep the peace. According to current figures there are:-

1.68 chief superintendents for every ACPO ranked officer

9 inspectors and chief inspectors for every superintendent

3.3 sergeants for every inspector

5.2 constables for every sergeant

Figures for 2013 were:- 

4.86 constables for every sergeant
 

3.26 sergeants for every inspector
 

3.49 inspectors for every chief inspector
 

2.2 chief inspectors for every superintendent
 

2.24 superintendents for every chief superintendent
 

1.82 chief superintendents for every ACPO rank



I have no knowledge of the internal workings or management of large organisations but it does seem that the police are top heavy at the higher ranks of chief inspector and above. The army also seems to be similarly afflicted with around 200 brigadiers and  generals  for a force of around 100,000 reducing. 

Perhaps this is a historical anomaly and recruitment and promotion are trapped in a time warp? 


I followed those figures up on  22nd July 2016:-


Current figures are for 2015:-



Thus the ratio of ranks is now:-


5.17 constables/sergeant
3.36 sergeants/inspector
3.44 inspectors/chief inspector
2.02 chief inspectors/superintendent
2.43 superintendents/chief superintendent
1.68 chief superintendents/ACPO rank

Are there too many chiefs and too few indians? The numbers above indicate a constable:ACPO rank of 493.78. Perhaps somebody more knowledgeable than I can comment on the significance of these numbers?
                                                   
______________________________________________

Latest figures and ratios are:-


5.11 constables/sergeant
3.40 sergeants/inspector
3.43 inspectors/chief inspector
1.80 chief inspectors/superintendent
2.76 superintendents/chief superintendent
1.55 chief superintendents/chief officer


The current ration of constables to police chiefs is now 458.56/1.   I have no idea of the optimum staffing ratios for an organisation like the police.  But I do know that with various constabularies rationing their investigative procedures public interest in these numbers is bound to become more critical.
 

Friday, 1 December 2017

SUSPENDING CUSTODIAL SENTENCES

Today December 1st the prison population is 86,859. Prison capacity is 87,411. That equates to the fact that prisons are at 99.37% of their capacity. It probably is not unconnected to the fact that suspending custody seems to be a preferred option when at all justified and at times without that justification. My last sitting was in March 2015. According to the Sentencing Council "the percentage of cases sentenced to a wholly or partially suspended sentence decreased sharply, from 6.0% in 2013–14 to 0.5% in 2015–16. This decrease coincided with the abolition of suspended sentences in the Magistrates’ Court for offences committed on or after 1 September 2014".  I therefore have no first hand knowledge of the current situation. But I do read court reports.  Caught driving whilst disqualified this person was given custody suspended. Why he was not banned for an increased period but subject only to six penalty points only those present in court would know.  A registered sex offender who re-offended in what one assumes in a similar fashion was given a suspended sentence at a magistrates` court. Perhaps a legal eagle can explain this apparent contradiction vis a vis Sentencing Council as above. However my main thrust today is the apparent proliferation of suspended custodial sentences notwithstanding again the figures above. In 2016, 56,317 offenders had a suspended sentence order imposed, representing five per cent of offenders sentenced. In the twelve months to June this year 1,216,915 were sentenced at all courts of whom 88,091 were sentenced to immediate custody and 55,450 to custody suspended. Figures for 2010 were 1,334,083, 103,770 and 48,976 respectively.  There are those who shout loudly that far too many offenders are imprisoned.  This dovetails nicely with the severe restriction on prison capacity; a situation wholly owing to government policy.  The single irrefutable fact is that when offenders are incarcerated the public is protected from their further offending. That fact is debated by criminologists as being no antidote to further re-offending after release to the detriment of that very same public. 

I doubt there will not be similar controversy for decades to come.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

JURY REFORM IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME

I have never served on a jury so my knowledge and opinions could be termed hearsay to some extent.  Lord Justice Singh certainly is an expert although from his exalted position he too has no practical experience of what it`s like behind closed doors sitting with eleven people he`s never met and trying to decide what would probably be a life changing decision for an individual.  

I`ve posted here more than a few times on problems with juries. Two such posts were 14th April 2015 and 13th February 2017.  L.J. Singh is following very very slowly in well made footsteps as is the snail paced progression on the legal topic so common when a government and senior judiciary are walking on eggshells.  He suggests eg that jurors should be presented with written information on presenting themselves for the forthcoming trial; my my, what a superb suggestion........no, more than that; what a brilliant suggestion that could only come from one so steeped in the law as a Court of Appeal Judge.  Judges are just too afraid to grasp the nettle.  There never will be confirmation but I suspect that there`s more than just a minority of judges who would gladly dispense with the jury system.  Perhaps their silence is one of intent.  Allow more cases to be seen to be called into question by irregular actions in or out of the jury room and the case will eventually be clear to all, so they might think, that judges are in a better position to ascertain innocence or guilt than the common man formally seated on the Clapham omnibus. 

In practical realistic terms should a potential juror firstly be restricted to being a British citizen?  Would it not be a simple matter to send to those selected printed or digital information of what is expected and what is prohibited? Should juries in England & Wales not be reduced to the odd number of 11 and requiring eg a 7:4 majority if unanimity cannot be achieved? And what about a juror with specialist knowledge  of some technical matters which might be heard in evidence. S/he would not need to consult Mr Google or Ms Wikipedia to know the truth or otherwise of these matters.  Is making his/her knowledge available to fellow jurors worthy of report to the judge, contempt of court and a re-trial?  I recall a case where my own expert professional knowledge was in direct contradiction of a witness`s evidence.  I did not withhold that information from my two colleagues and I do not consider that my action was against my oath.

There are of course many aspects of jury selection that can be criticised. If my previous posts as above have been perused any more comment now is superfluous.  But one thing I`m sure of: the jury system as currently prevailing is on borrowed time.  How and when it will be reformed or abolished is a matter for a TimeLord not a retired magistrate but it will come; of that I`m sure. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

I`M A VERY SILLY MP

Written parliamentary answers cost over £150.00. It is almost impossible to credit but recently a London Tory MP asked the purpose of supplying drinking water to witnesses at magistrates` courts.  No! I couldn`t believe it at first. The proof of the pudding is copied below.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

LAW BY LOBBY GROUP

"So far there haven't been any prosecutions for FGM, so would you argue that the law about FGM should be done away with, too?"  That question was put to me in comments made by a commenter to yesterday`s blogpost.  It set me thinking.  Should the law or should legislation be enacted by parliament to, using the easily understood colloquialism, make a statement?  Take the example of early day motions which are motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons for which no day has been fixed. As there is no specific time allocated to EDMs very few are debated. However many attract a great deal of public interest and media coverage. EDMs are used to put on record the views of individual MPs or to draw attention to specific events or campaigns. Topics covered by EDMs vary widely.By attracting the signatures of other MPs they can be used to demonstrate the level of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view. MPs, especially those new to parliament, besides putting their cause in the public domain can put themselves into the public eye and add some lines to their website about how much effort they`re making to justify the votes of their constituents. But the law should not be about making statements.  The rule of law is the legal principle that it is law which should govern a nation as opposed to being governed by decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society particularly as a constraint upon behaviour including behaviour of government officials.The law serves many purposes and functions in society. Four principal purposes and functions are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The law is a guidepost for minimally acceptable behaviour in society. It serves nobody if it merely advocates the opinion of the current legislature. 

The abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation has been against the law in this country for over thirty years but the history of its prosecution or rather non prosecution is abysmal: a single case prosecuted and the defendant was acquitted. It has brought the law into disrepute.  It has been treated with disdain. It is illegal to smoke in a car when there are child passengers. Being drunk in a pub is surprisingly illegal.  These two activities are and were driven by public opinion.  In the former to emphasise the dangers of so called passive smoking where there is some debate as to cause and effect and in the latter to satisfy Victorian morality activists of the evils of working class drunkenness. For different reasons prosecutions are virtually non existent. The Hunting Act 2004 was enacted by Labour under Tony Blair to appease his left wing. It was therefore a demonstration of power and intent rather than legislation to improve the well being of society.  It was for the very mirror in reasoning that persuaded Theresa May to put in its election manifesto earlier this year that if the Tories won a majority she would allow a free vote to overturn that act.  61.8% of all organised hunters charged with Hunting Act offences have escaped conviction.86 of the 165 Hunting Act charges made were dropped either before or at trial [52%]. 40 of these related to the big Heythrop trial. Complete statistics can be accessed here

There are other such laws that might be regarded similarly.  So to answer the question at the beginning of this post my response is that if legislation is enacted the will and the means to prosecute it must be available for all the law enforcement bodies associated. Failing to do so is a luxury we cannot afford. It is tantamount to rule of the mob where the mob is the lobby group or groups with most to gain for their own sometimes nefarious purposes.

Monday, 27 November 2017

A QUESTION OF LAW

Sometimes questions made to Ministers of the Crown indicate the ignorance of the questioner [in this case ; ignorance of max sentence on single count in magistrates` court] rather than merely a lack of knowledge expected of MPs. This question also leads one to question the necessity for legislation when its employment is rarely required. 


Friday, 24 November 2017

LINCOLN JUDGE FAILS TO PROTECT PUBLIC

There are those who would gladly scrap short custodial sentences ie six months or fewer and those who, knowing a particular sentence demands custody, would do all in their power and find all the reasons under the sun to suspend said sentence thus following recommendations from on high to keep our prisons from mass explosions of discontent.  

On the bench I presided over few occasions when a case involving firearms came to court and we retained jurisdiction.  About 15 years ago one such involved a fake firearm being waved in the face of an innocent bystander. Despite all the pleas from the defendant`s representative our legal advisor sustained our position that immediate custody in such a situation was the only appropriate disposal.  On Monday of this week the judge at Lincoln Crown Court considered suspending custody to be appropriate for a similar offence. I consider that HH failed in his duty of public protection. IMHO this is typical of the nonsense within our courts to follow government whispers to keep offenders out of jail. 

That same day in the same court before the same judge HH Simon Hirst once again suspended a custodial sentence for an offender who admitted dangerous driving by ramming two police cars and driving with excess alcohol. How can we have confidence in a system where such criminality is seen to be acceptable insofar as immediate custody seems to be not just a last resort but virtually off the table for incidents where nobody is actually physically harmed?  Indeed the Howard Leaguers and their ilk in our midst would indeed retain custody only for violent criminality.  The bestiality in mankind will not be removed by such sentimentalist sentencing.  How long must we go along this path?

Thursday, 23 November 2017

SENIOR JUDICIARY HAVE NO CAJONES

Subsequent to the election of 2010 when G. Brown made his exit from 10 Downing Street and after kisses in the Rose Garden a certain N. Clegg and D. Cameron discovered that the objective of politicians before anything else eg philosophies, money, integrity or relationships is power and as much of it as possible.  Having acquired that state of being and appointing a cabinet to implement austerity; a laudable intention then as now, the appointee as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor was Kenneth Clarke, he of the "my part of Nottingham loves the EU" party. When the Treasury issued its demands that year he was the very first Secretary of State to knock at the door of 11 Downing Street to offer his 23% reduction in his department`s budget. Plus sa change etc Yesterday`s budget included a requirement to make  £600m in savings at the MOJ by the end of the decade. The Treasury has committed to reduce the department’s spending from £6.6bn in 2017/18 to £6bn by 2019/20.  This forecast indicates a 40% real cut in funding for the Ministry of Justice from 2011 to 2020. One can almost hear the sound of the knife scraping the justice bone because the meat has already been removed. 

Our concept of justice underpins our whole way of life.  The Babylonians lent on by Moses a thousand years later pointed the way. Alfred the Great had his input. Magna Carta is rightly regarded as another milestone in the journey from the savagery of the jungle to the rights of man. The installation of Justices of the Peace nationwide 650 years ago and the right of indicted individuals to have a trial by jury were and are steps in the process to where we are today when a level playing field of the law court is witness to argument based upon an equality of arms before a blindfolded lady justice.  Or so it was but no longer.  The withdrawal of legal aid for all but the poorest has laid bare the myth of equality of arms.  A Crown Prosecution Service cheerleading increasing guilty verdicts irrespective of the state`s upending its end of the playing field  to achieve those verdicts makes one consider whether it would hope that ever more success would be measured by 80% guilty verdicts or 90% or perhaps 99% as in China.  Increasing court charges to make "offenders pay"; a policy by the toadying ignoramus Chris Grayling who also banned books from prisoners was rightfully rescinded by his successor.  Sacking thousands of prison warders and then looking aghast as prisons became places of fear for many inmates seemed to bemuse those in political authority although it provided the gloating MOJ press office with substance when announcements were made that recruitment of prison officers was going ahead successfully although numbers are well below those previously in place and required for prisons at 99% capacity.  A similar scenario can be sketched out about police, probation, forensic science and security forces allied to law and order. 

A country cannot put justice on a financial diet; indeed one likely to be an anorexic diet without damaging this pillar of our society to all our social detriments. Yet that is precisely what is happening. Only mass disobedience by the senior judiciary to their constitutional concept of being seen but not heard has a chance of altering this situation and sadly I don`t think their bewigged honours have the cajones for that.   

   

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

FOOD FOR LEGAL THOUGHT

During my time on the bench I sat on very few cases concerning indecent images of a child.  Those that do come to mind were of  category A or B and were of course sent to the crown court. The 21 year old male sentenced by Blackburn magistrates last week has in my humble opinion reason to feel aggrieved at a justice system which in effect came to its conclusion by finding him guilty by applying the concept of strict liability in theory if not in practice.  In England and Wales if you are under 18 you must have parental consent to get married. However, if you are 16 or 17 years old and you are from England and Wales you can be married in Scotland. The child in the case in question was 16 and had on her own initiative sent an image to her then boyfriend. The report is available here. It provides food for thought.

Monday, 20 November 2017

LESSONS LEARNED OR NOT?

On November 19th 2009 I published my first post for this blog on a host site which was taken down by its owners some years ago.  On re reading that post now copied below, no longer being an active member of the bench, I do not have the information to decide whether its content is as accurate now as it was then.  However judging by various although necessarily limited published reports I would not bet against the conclusions of 2009 being remedied currently.  That being the case it doesn`t increase my confidence that past lessons have been learnt by current participants at all levels of our justice system.

"Problems within the criminal justice system generally make the headlines on the relatively limited occasions when a serious mishap occurs. Unlike the NHS where most of us are "customers" the majority of the population has still just managed not to be engaged within the system although the numbers are gradually rising but that`s a tale for another time.


Most caring parents would never dream of giving a very naughty toddler even the mildest slap on the leg or arm for an action which the child could not possibly know was dangerous or in some other way to be avoided. When my own son was three years old and stuck the prongs of a fork into an electric point I grabbed the fork from him and made it clear that action could have been very dangerous and could have hurt him. A few moments later, whilst my back was turned he did it again. I took the fork and lightly slapped his leg whilst repeating the danger warning. I graduated the punishment to suit the circumstance.


Recently when faced with a defendant convicted of criminal damage and considering sentence the list of previous convictions showed he had first been before the courts in 2007 for criminal damage and had been sentenced to a community order. The next and final entry was again for criminal damage less than a year after the first offence. On that occasion he had been cautioned by police! Doesn`t seem right does it? Repeat the offence and the punishment is reduced.


Of course cases like that don`t make headlines but they give such a clear indication of the direction in which the Ministry of Justice and the Police are travelling. And these directions seem to be at right angles to each other. Would it not be better for us all to be travelling in the same direction?"