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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Monday, 16 September 2019

MOJ CONTROL BY MANAGED DECAY

In some respects the criminal justice system doesn`t know whether it`s coming or going.  That directionless state can, I suppose, be placed at the feet of the four prime ministers of the last  decade who have saddled arguably the most important pillar of our democratic society with no less than eight Justice Secretaries each of whom had his/her "vision".  An obvious example of this antithesis to joined up thinking is the confused attitude to sentencing.  Ever since it was decided that judges and magistrates could not be trusted to sentence according to the structured sentencing system which had been inculcated into them all, Sentencing Guidelines have become the bible for all sentencing decisions from the very simplest to the most serious. The original Guidelines of 2010 have been modified as almost an annual undertaking.  The custodial powers of magistrates courts have been mooted to be increased to twelve months from the current six to being abolished altogether.  The newly appointed current incumbent of Petty France has stirred the sentencing plot yet again by her recent announcements to increase the severity of sentencing for the very most serious offences.  My own view expressed many times here is that institutions must be established to offer a non court pathway for offenders whose substance addictions are driving their offending, such offending estimated to be responsible for 70% of  violent and/or acquisitive crime.  

Notwithstanding the above I was pleased to read of common situations where, in contrast to government direction to avoid immediate custodial sentences at magistrates courts, two offenders were sent to immediate jail for offences and histories which I believe all but fanatic believers in non custody outcomes would applaud. Fortunately most of us will not be involved directly as victims of crime on the streets, in the pub or in our homes but on the roads as drivers or passengers in cars and other vehicles the situation is quite different. My wife`s best friend`s daughter was killed driving her car on the M6 by a repeat disqualified drunk driver who was disqualified, using her mobile phone and drunk at the time. These two examples of society`s retribution for such offending are, I fear, not dispensed perhaps as often as perhaps some would wish. Instead the MOJ recently issued a press release to ban all mobile phone use in a vehicle including those that in most new cars are hands free.  This legislation will never happen.  It is a frightener from the weasels at Petty France in conjunction with "look at me attention seeking MPs" to divert attention from matters which do require our attention; namely returning legal aid provision and CPS numbers to 2009 levels notwithstanding proposals to reduce even further the numbers of magistrates courts.    

That is the system which is being undermined every day by a government which regards it as a necessary evil to its long term target of control by managed decay. Perhaps there are those who look upon courts of the 19th century as the best application of justice for the common man?

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

COURTS CAN PROTECT SCHIZOPHRENICS BUT CANNOT REHABILITATE ALCOHOLICS OR ADDICTS

Every magistrates` court every week has before it a Darren Marples, of no fixed abode. He might have a different name, he might be black or he might occasionally be female but he invariably has a long history of public order offences and is more often than not of no fixed abode. He is always an alcoholic and/or drug addict. It is not unlikely that he has in the past served one or more short custodial sentences. In the past he might have had a court order made to address his alcoholism/addiction. If he were married he is now separated or divorced. If he had children he is no longer in touch with them.


Darren Marples should be confined by a compulsory order to an institution where he could be treated just as those in the appropriate circumstances can be sectioned and treated by mental health workers having if necessary been granted a warrant of entry from a Justice of the Peace. Of course those financially equipped can avail themselves of all the help and assistance available to medical science but for most of the Darren Marples of this world those clinics could be on the planet Mars. The phrase “be cruel to be kind” is applicable in both cases; schizophrenics and alcoholics and/or drug addicts but the former have that protection that the latter are denied

Thursday, 5 September 2019

MUSINGS ON THURSDAY 5

During my tenure on the bench I had several cases where a foreign offender appeared to be eligible for deportation; in theory at least. It would seem from my experiences and cases publicly reported that expelling an offender who comes within the guidelines is virtually impossible insofar as the process is Kafkaesque in its complexity. Therefore IMHO for a district judge to cry "wolf" in this case is bluster and bluster is unwise from judicial figures. 

Of all the iniquitous financial reductions imposed upon the justice system perhaps the very worst is the reduction in the availability of legal aid.  At Barkingside and Romford magistrates' courts notice has been given that there will be  further difficulties for defendants as fewer solicitors will be available to assist them.  This is a national disgrace but apart from most professionals will be recognised as such only by those caught up in the court system. 

It`s unusual for a defendant being given the maximum custodial sentence at a magistrates court also having that sentence suspended. All I will say is that if I were involved the sentence would have been shorter and it would have been immediate. 

At Sheffield Crown Court a remanded defendant refused to appear in court by video link for the first hearing yet the judge did not sentence him for contempt.  Am I missing something or was this another example of a judge failing to use the powers at his disposal specifically available to punish those who treat the law with disdain. 

Monday, 2 September 2019

DEATH OF COURT REPORTING

From time to time I have commented on court reporting or the lack thereof in recent times.  What was once a sure way of a local newspaper filling some column inches and fulfilling its publishing objectives was to have young would be journalists attend the local magistrates court when these courts were truly "local" and return to their editor with a thousand words for publication in the next edition.  Of course that was in pre Facebook, Twitter and Instagram days when using a phone away from home or office usually meant looking for a red box with a glass door near to or on a high street. Those were also the days when shame and shaming went some way in curbing unseemly or unlawful public behaviour. And lo! let there be the internet and mass communication was created and local print media entered the darkness.  I have considered for many years that televising of magistrates courts is a matter of "when" and not "if" and that that this innovation will become reality in the face of opposition from government which indicates increasingly that a more restrictive and opaque justice system would not be unwelcome. Meanwhile there has been an interesting academic study of this reduced public reporting.  A few minutes looking here might be of interest. 

Friday, 30 August 2019

ISLAMOPHOBIA BY CIVITAS

For the first time since this blog began in 2009 I have no hesitation in using my whisper of a voice in copying in full the just published article from CIVITAS on the topic of a proposed definition of that contrived word "Islamophobia".  With magistrates being crucified metaphorically of course if their language deviates from what the MOJ language police deem appropriate this should not be without interest to many whose words are scrutinised as if there were a mistake in the number of angels on the proverbial pinhead. 

 What next for attempts to define 'Islamophobia'?

One of the outstanding issues that Theresa May left for Boris Johnson’s government to pick up this summer concerned demands for there to be an officially-sanctioned definition of 'Islamophobia'. Campaigners have long been calling for one, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims increased the pressure late last year by producing its own definition, describing Islamophobia as a ‘type of racism’. Given that Muslims are of a religious faith rather than a race, this is nonsensical.

Any such attempt to protect Islam from criticism is also a serious threat to free speech, as a new Civitas publication warned this month. The collection featured authors including Peter Tatchell, Richard Dawkins and a range of different religious and secularist commentators, and was edited by Emma Webb, director of Civitas’s new Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism. As Prof Dawkins put it succinctly:

‘Hatred of Muslims is unequivocally reprehensible, as is hatred of any group of people such as gay people or members of a race. Hatred of Islam, on the other hand, is easily justified, as is hatred of any other religion or obnoxious ideology.’

But while Mrs May’s government rejected the definition proposed by the APPG, it did agree that there should be a definition of some kind and set in train a process  to decide a form of words. The appointment of one of two intended advisers was rubber-stamped in haste in her final week in Number 10. 

The new prime minister must decide now where this process goes next. The most prudent course would be to abandon it.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

A JP`s WILFUL REFUSAL OR CULPABLE NEGLECT

During training all new magistrates are told that if they or a close relative, or someone known to them has an involvement in a case which comes before them they must declare an interest and usually recuse themselves from any participation. Obviously the general guidance can be only that; general.  Certainly after a year or more on the bench a magistrate will have learned from colleagues when to consider if they are in breach of said guidance and of course the Deputy Justices Clerk is there for advice.  Therefore there appears to be no excuse for this woman although her name has not as yet appeared in cases disciplined by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. This would seem to be wilful refusal to act judicially or culpable neglect on her part.  No doubt the full story will out. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

PHONING AT THE WHEEL NEEDS A RE-THINK

Without exception government departments employ hundreds if not thousands of people to spread the word; the word they want we, the public,  to hear on the basis that all  words of opposing opinion  will, if not drowned out, be lost in the cacophony that results.  Nowhere is this attempt at control more evident than within the Ministry of Justice which day by day is becoming an oxymoron. With all the problems facing the MOJ, last week the House of Commons Transport Committee with or without consultation with its colleagues at Justice or Home Office decided to recommend that all mobile phone use whilst driving be banned.  This announcement, of course, made headlines in all media. But in practical terms there is no way that a measure such as this with dubious supposed statistics at its rear end will make it into law.  There are as far as I know no statistics on driving convictions or penalty points allocated for the use of in car hands free phone use.  The so called eminent MPs might have issued a warning against a driver talking to himself or a passenger whilst driving. In addition, for some years most if not all vehicles have been and are fitted with WIFI enabled cabins so that mobile hands free telephony can be installed within the vehicles` own navigation systems in minutes. If government rightly wishes to eliminate the use of non hands free use which is a laudable aim then the method is simple. They must use the argument that such use is as bad for concentration as driving with low level blood alcohol level where the sanction is immediate disqualification for six months plus of course fine and costs. The fact that mobile police patrols have been drastically reduced in the last decade means that the odds against illegal use being observed have increased considerably.  As with many illegal activities it is the fear of being caught that is the most effective sanction against the would be perpetrators acting in such a fashion. Publicise a first instance ban as with drink driving and mobile phone use whilst driving will be immediately reduced.  

Friday, 16 August 2019

ANOTHER COURT INTERPRETER PROVIDER BITES THE DUST

Since 2012 I have been commenting on the less than satisfactory history  of court interpreting that began with the yet to be investigated scandal of Applied Language Solutions` contract with the Ministry of Justice that year.  The MOJ for its part is regularly issuing notices of how efficient the current service is but apparently old habits die hard when it comes to that organisation`s signing of contracts.  

A sub contractor for these services went out of business last week.  It is now obvious that all government departments are obsessed with outsourcing.  In the oft forgotten days of the Callaghan administration and earlier, government employees used their trade union affiliations to cause havoc to public services.  I remember the three day week of 1972 and eating by candle light.  I remember rats searching in uncollected rubbish in 1979.  There was no doubt that Maggie Thatcher`s reforms to prevent such events was welcome relief but now the pendulum has swung to the maximum of its arc.  The principle of such activities has been taken much too far. There are some services which must now be taken under direct control before their inefficiencies  and siphoning off of capital as dividends lead some naive voters to think that the antisemitic communist Corbyn has the answer to our economic problems.  

However I would be being naive in thinking that that is going to happen.  Our capitalist system which has been allowed by the Conservative Party to be relatively unfettered in its greed is liable to be responsible for its own downfall. It would be poetic were it not so dangerous for the well being of us all. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

CAMERON OR JOHNSON; WHAT`S THE DIFFERENCE?



All those interested will have by now made up their minds whether or not our newly enthroned prime minister was showing “leadership” or being unwise in speaking out in support of “tough” sentencing. My own opinions on his and David Cameron`s similar comments and particularly of the Sentencing Council`s tick box structure have been mentioned here on more than one occasion. Cameron when PM revealed, perhaps without too much forethought, his thinking processes on the Sentencing Council.  He is quoted in The Telegraph at the time  as saying,

“My mum was a magistrate for 30-odd years and you don’t go on being a magistrate just reading the handbook and working out exactly what sentence is handed down. You respond to local circumstances, to the sense of right and wrong in that community.”

And that is precisely where the dispute in current sentencing now lies. For some years we have been told to do exactly that which is on the tin or top cover if preferred; read the handbook [guideline] and work out exactly the sentence. The tick box analogy is perfect. Now Johnson wants us to respond to local circumstances when he is well aware that his government is bent in removing “local” from such services as far as justice is concerned.

Politicians are like ladybirds; they never change their spots, some of them have a nasty bite and they fly off and leave the scene when disturbed.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

HOW AWFUL

There is no doubt, unless the opinion is emanating from an MP on the Tory side where it`s waffle from dawn to dusk or from the Opposition where it`s based on, "they`re wrong whatever the topic", that most clear thinking individuals when pressed will admit to apprehensions about our justice system.  For this short post the justice system is a loose term encompassing the process from the law being broken to a defendant being found guilty or acquitted. In order to bring a defendant to court s/he must first be arrested for an alleged offence. However only about 8% of such people are actually charged.  In the last eight years the number of prosecutions has fallen by around 45%. Eight years ago there were just under 900,000 cases at magistrates and crown courts. Latest figures are just under 500,000. Ten years ago there were 20,000 more warranted police officers than there are currently. And nine years ago in Bradford the crown court was being overwhelmed with cases it could not handle with available resources. I posted on this particular city`s problems in this regard on 13th April 2018 with reference to an earlier post almost eight years prior.  

It seems that the situation in Bradford is no better now and arguably worse as the parliamentary answer of last week shows below.  For the complete exchange access is here

We used to read of the dreadful delays in places like India where defendants awaited trial for many years and sometimes waited in custody on remand.  "How awful", would be the opinion of most of the legal world.  We used to read of the corruption of police in Pakistan or in some Eastern European countries. "How awful", would be the outcry of British police authorities. We used to read of political double dealing in our near European neighbours and our parliamentary representatives would answer interviewers` questions, "How awful". 

Our justice system as an appendage of our total democratic system can now be summed up by just those two words "How awful".  


Thursday, 1 August 2019

MUSINGS ON THURSDAY (2)

Sometimes magistrates courts and information of interest to those who use them are bereft of interesting items and at other times the pieces of news flow like buses after a hold up.

Whilst on the bench the most onerous decision making for me was not about whether to convict or acquit, to jail or not to jail but to decide if it were unsafe to bail an untried defendant especially in cases of alleged domestic violence.  Since then the procedure regarding bail has changed drastically. If I were a cynic I would suggest that these changes were designed to reduce the number of people kept in prison on remand but of course government does not operate like a black market shyster during World War 2.  Being now unable to keep suspects on almost unlimited bail with the associated conditions imposed police must release them without any conditions until they are ready to charge; this is called released under investigation.  This has been the case since April 2017. Since then the Metropolitan Police have released 97 out of 284 murder suspects.  During the same period 807 suspects have been similarly released. Of those suspects no figures are available for what subsequently happened to them.  Once again as has been the MOJ philosophy for at least two decades the tail of the target to reduce the numbers of prisoners has wagged the dog of the duty of a government to keep its citizens safe. 

It is against the law to use a mobile phone whilst driving; the operative word being use. At least that is what I and tens of thousands of judges, JPs and lawyers thought was the law.  But, and it`s a very big but, yesterday at the High Court the pronouncement from the bench was that the legislation does not prevent all use of a mobile phone held while driving. The defendant claimed in his defence that he was shooting a video with the phone`s camera.  This decision opens up a large can of worms. The press report is here although there might be some difficulty tracing it.   

The conviction of the offender who gained notoriety as "Nick" has produced not unexpected ramifications.  The newly installed Justice Secretary has backed a call from Sir Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini to ban the naming of those arrested for rape and other sexual offences. A report can be accessed here for those who wish to note opinion other than from  their usual media. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

THE MOVING FINGER WRITES



Following on from my recent tweets when I alluded to the themes that have driven this blog along for almost ten years I surely must add perhaps the one of which I have most confidence that my fears will be realised; namely that the functions of Justices of the Peace comprising independent finders of fact and sentencers of the guilty will be but a historical memory within the next five or ten years. The pathway to our being snuffed out by governments with little regard for opposition within the whole panoply is there for anyone to see. Since the early 1990s an independent magistracy has been constrained and eventually consumed by what is now Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service via the disestablishment of magistrates` courts` committees and the local arrangements alongside; arrangements such as the daily rostering of J.P.s` benches by independent court elected rota committees. Instructions for such procedures are now directed by senior judiciary. Management structures have been put in place to serve the needs of government as opposed to the concept of justice. J.P.s have been increasingly encouraged to participate in out of court functions eg serving on committees with police to overlook the functioning of the system of Fixed Penalty Notices, to serve on groups whose function is restorative justice and other forms of what is termed “neighbourhood justice”. The appointment of professional District Judges(M.C.) has accelerated corresponding with a 50% reduction in the magistracy over a similar period; this at a time when, owing to various factors, the through put in the courts is down by 30%+.

Quite simply the Ministry of Justice cannot be trusted.  As I write its PR weasels are propagating the history of legal aid being founded 70 years ago today when in truth its availability has been removed for the vast majority who require it notwithstanding the fact that derisory rates of pay to practitioners has decimated the numbers prepared to offer their services under its umbrella and demoralised the rest still attempting to make a living offering their expertise to defendants.  The die has been cast irrespective of the name of the passing stranger sitting in Petty France and his cohort. The decision has been made. We are to be transformed or at least our role must be transformed. The runes are there to be read. The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ: all those who have refused to read the writing on the wall must surely now be convinced. All magistrates courts will be presided over by District Judges who for their part of the bargain will have to dispense with legal advisors. Indeed the term “magistrates courts” will likely be changed to “District Court” or “Local Royal Court” or similar. J.P.s such as remain (perhaps 5,000 – 7,500)will be precluded from remand courts but will be given the sop of sitting as permanent wingers on trials with perhaps or perhaps not an input on sentencing.

Such is the emasculation prepared for the magistracy.


Tuesday, 23 July 2019

LEADERSHIP MAGISTRATES ARE MOJ TOADS


Whenever there is talk on line, in the press, on TV and in Parliament of magistrates and their diversity or lack thereof, keyboards and throats get on their metaphorical high horses and proclaim how diverse the magistracy is in almost all aspects of gender, age and ethnic origin.  They try to be so transparent as to be free to the wind.  But when it comes to policies that affect magistrates courts those weasels in Petty France and Fitzrovia are rather less likely to be what you see is what you get organisations. 

For many decades the Magistrates Association has existed and I suppose still exists as an organisation of paying members of the magistracy to be their representative in dealings with government in its widest form.  At its peak about a decade ago or so there were around 30,000 magistrates of whom about 80% were MA members.  Now numbers of JPs have halved and the MA membership is a much lower percentage putting great financial strain on that organisation.  It has even stooped to the level of doing some dubious deals with probation providers to raise capital.  Nevertheless its clout with government has been reduced to a whimper.   A couple of years ago advertisements in appropriate media were placed by the Ministry of Justice for the appointment of a "national leadership magistrate" notwithstanding that there was already functioning an organisation The Bench Chairmen`s Forum which consisted inter alia of the chairmen of all the benches in England and Wales.  Considering that each chairman is the result of a bench wide election one would have thought that as a collective their opinions had merit. After the appointment of the aforesaid magistrate further ads appeared inviting applications for seven positions as regional leadership magistrates. I posted on this as early as  14th June 2018 . Last week a pressure group,  Transform Justice, also posted on this topic.

These people are the toads of the MOJ.  They represent nobody. Perhaps they are seeking long term non financial benefits  eg gongs.  Perhaps they consider themselves to be superior to their colleagues. One factor of which there is no doubt is that their identities are secret; SECRET in this supposedly age of openness. Copied below is yesterday`s  written question to Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice and his answer. 

This action of withholding the identity of these lackeys is nothing short of an affront to open government.  Their names should be published forthwith and as the old adage said "if they find the kitchen is too hot for them then they should bugger off".  

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.