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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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

Thursday, 23 May 2019

WHAT A PREDICTABLE PROBLEM


Every day thousands of demands are made of those in the probation services the efficiency of which as readers will know was decimated by Grayling`s disastrous incompetence at the MOJ.  One such demand is when an offender is being considered for unpaid work as part of a community sentence. Whether or not s/he is represented the bench should make detailed inquiries as to that person`s availability for such work; eg whether a disability could be a problem, childcare duties, employment obligations  etc etc. Since every court appearance by every offender costs the state money  it is in everyone`s interest that when sentencing all possible questions are raised as to any unforeseen problems that might arise. In the case reported here unless one was in court the quality of such pre sentence investigation is unknown but we do have reported the result.  Perhaps with the culling of senior JPs by retirements inexperienced magistrates are being let down by their legal advisors or perhaps pressures of time through overlisting are having not unexpected consequences. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

US AGAINST THEM:WHEN NOT IF

There is no doubt that at many levels the criminal justice system is badly damaged if indeed "broken" is too severe a description; an opinion I do not hold. The civil courts still manage to operate with a modicum of fairness to those who use it.  Its being employed by very high net worth individuals to settle their disputes and divorces lines the pockets of those lawyers who specialise in such matters where legal aid is akin to band aid for billionaire pop stars.

It is unquestionable that there is a great temptation for unrepresented defendants in magistrates courts to plead guilty to "get the matter over with at the lowest possible cost".  Even before the introduction of Grayling`s iniquitous Criminal Courts Charge I as well as many colleagues had the personal experience of explaining to such defendants the downside of such hasty ill considered decisions often to little avail. For many years and with varying frequencies depending on the MOJ press office priorities and the loudmouth of the newest Minister to sit in Petty France, there have been hints that short custodial sentences ie those handed down by magistrates courts should be abolished.  The last few months have seen a resurgence of such "hints" on social media. Then a few weeks later we are told that the probation service grievously wounded by Grayling amongst his other failings is to be given a new lease of life as a quasi nationalised service in 2021. Every month prison numbers are published.  Most recent figures below:-

All manor of the MOJ`s arts and crafts are employed to reduce these numbers including the automatic release after half a sentence has been served. But the current judicial system just like the current political system is not fit for purpose.  Every day in every magistrates court in England and Wales benches (and District Judges MC) are making decisions which fly in the face of common sense and purpose. This is but a single example.

The very basis of the pillar of justice can no longer be relied upon whether "justice" is used in its simple legal definition or its application to the trials through which many of the public are put when dealing with government departments.  The NHS eg is considered by many to be a totem; to be sacrosanct in its current form when such a system is demonstrably failing those who bet their lives on it. But any who dare utter any criticism are regarded as pariahs.  There is so much gone awry in our politics in its widest form that in historical terms indicates a populist uprising of "us" against "them" is but a matter of "when" and not "if".



Thursday, 16 May 2019

FAILING GRAYLING`S ROAD TO AUTHORITARIANISM

The current Lord Chancellor (how long will he remain in post) announced today that the probation service will in effect be re nationalised in 2021.  Thus another "innovation" of the worst of his predecessors and least effective cabinet minister of modern times bites the dust. The probation service pre Grayling was, in my area, a service teetering on the brink of failing those in whom the courts had placed their future hopes of offenders  leading a law abiding future life.  Virtually every group or organisation involved with the delivery of probation services advised Grayling of the pitfalls in his proposals. The due diligence and pilot projects reinforced those predictions but he continued like the proverbial bull crashing into all the china. Not satisfied with what would be a ruinous policy he proceeded to inflict more of his ill considered policies. He removed the rights of prisoners` having books in their cells. Books were to be allowed to prisoners only when they displayed good (compliant) behaviour. To his eternal shame he reduced by tens of £millions the legal aid budget and enforced severe financial cuts on the CPS. Perhaps these two decisions have contributed more than anything else to the calamitous state  of today`s justice system. Arguably his crowning glory was effecting the Criminal Courts Act in 2015 by which the imposition of court charges for all offenders irrespective of their ability to pay or original offence was so iniquitous IMHO that I retired shortly ahead of my allotted date so that I would not have to utter the pronouncement of said additional costs. His disastrous tenure at the MOJ was merely the latest in a line of questionable policies beginning in 2010 when the then Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke proudly announced in line with the austerity policies of the Coalition his forthcoming budget cut of 23% for the Ministry of Justice before any of his cabinet colleagues had announced theirs. Graylings lamentable period in his office was from 2012-2015.  Michael Gove who followed Grayling lasted in post for only one year but during that time he abolished the Criminal Courts Act and undid many of his predecessor`s actions re the prison service. From Clarke to Gauke ie from 2010 until the present time there have been six Secretaries of State for Justice.  Is it any wonder that our justice system is in terminal decline?    

The lamentable history above is but a microcosm of what has befallen this nation as a result of the Referendum; a device hastily thrown together to serve the interests only of the Conservative Party.  Grayling`s failings were all and I repeat all approved in cabinet. That miserable collection of incompetents for their own selfish reasons and laterally serving under the most incompetent personally unsuitable holder of the title of prime minister allowed the country to drift politically adrift from all reality.  Grayling as a hard Brexiteer was kept in Cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport where  currently he is continuing to demonstrate his complete and utter unsuitability for office.  Paradoxically his being there is final proof that the government has not only failed the country and its people; he has reduced confidence in the democratic norms we have taken for granted since 1945.  If this country tends to populism and subsequent authoritarianism a route from Grayling in 2012 until today can be directly traced as having nurtured the unthinkable. 

Monday, 13 May 2019

MAGISTRATES COURTS MUST RETAIN POWERS OF CUSTODY

There has been a flurry of announcements on social media particularly Twitter that the MOJ is seeking to abolish "short" prison sentences.  That is a press relations department`s way of talking up a ban on any magistrates court being enabled to send offenders to custody.  Instead any outcome would be of a financial or so called rehabilitative nature overseen presumably by some sort of probation service which owing to the incompetence of failing Grayling is utterly incapable of providing such a service.  Such is the way the iniquitous weasels at Petty France perform their duties. Despite the usual moaners and groaners who have been pressing for such changes in the powers of the lower courts for as long as I have been involved in such matters it is almost a dead certainty that their desires will be as pie in the sky in the next decade  as they have been in the past. 

To return to real life as it is lived in court this offender has been correctly treated as the law allows.  To all those in the aforesaid moaners and groaners camp please indicate how they would prefer such a miscreant be treated were custodial sentences to be prohibited in the lower court. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019

2007-17 FINES AND MORE FINES

Today the MOJ released its latest batch of criminal justice statistics.  No doubt most major news outlets and commentators  will be giving their opinions on what they all mean and then the politicians will weigh in.  I cannot and will not compete with that but I can comment on just a snippet of information from the myriad of numbers below which can be seen more clearly with the Windows magnifier tool.  They cover the years 2007-2017


The inflation rate in the £ over those ten years was 31.89%. The average fine (top of table left) in 2007 was £172 and ten years later (top right of table) was £256; a rise of 49%.  At the other end of the scale for fines over £10,000 there were 276 offenders in 2007 and in 2017 such offenders receiving over £10,000 fines numbered 2695. That major increase seems to be a direct policy result of using fines as punishments in place of other outcomes. There is much to decipher in this table. Readers more acquainted with statistics might have their own knowledge and opinions. 

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

RAPE AND DIGITAL HISTORY

Not surprisingly this page is usually used to air problems, grievances, histories etc of matters  normally associated with magistrates courts and/or their users. Generally matters of law are beyond the competence of the blogger and best left to those who are more qualified to comment.  However there are from time to time matters where the principle underlying that law or decision can be open to comment to any thinking member of the public.  Such a situation arose last week with the lurid headlines in most of the press of the victims` lobby denouncing new police procedures when there is an accusation of rape.  During my time on the bench I have seen the rise and rise of this lobby to such an extent that the impartiality of our legal system can rightly be called into question. On the issue of rape this has had a profound effect on the manner in which complainants (pre a guilty verdict the "victim" is a complainant), have been and are treated.  Whilst there is little doubt that in the past such people have been less than justly considered by police and prosecution there is a real danger that the legal pendulum has swung too far. It seems that the words of that great thinker Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) "That it is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer", is a maxim that has been long and generally approved in law books but in current times has been placed in the waste paper basket of our legislators. Shrieks from vocally enhanced left thinking activists have left the facts of the situation far behind. There are strict conditions to be applied when application is made to examine complainants` phone records.  If there had been no infamous cases of late of false allegations of rape it is unlikely that the changes would have been considered. By denouncing the procedures outlined there is no doubt that a green light would be given to more such false allegations. The mere fact is that the spectrum from lawful consensual sexual intercourse to rape is a difficult legal road to travel when in most cases it is a case of he says she says. There are in our midst those who have in their minds the "she was asking for it" scenario when a woman`s clothing, sobriety and behaviour have had a bearing on their attitudes to sexual intimacy whether in the privacy of a home or in the steam pressure cauldron of the jury room. Franklin`s adage was correct in the male orientated society in which he lived and is equally correct in our supposed times of enlightenment. 



Wednesday, 24 April 2019

REAL COST COMPARISON OF DISTRICT JUDGES AND MAGISTRATES

I have long opined that an unsaid policy of the Ministry of Justice is that the role of Justices of the Peace should be in managed long term decline in order that government would have  total control of the court process. In the last decade JPs` numbers have halved to around 15,000. District Judges(MC) numbers have been fairly constant over the last five years at around 115 with a slightly greater number of part time Deputy DJs. The argument that such an opinion is misguided is usually based upon the vastly greater costs of employing professional judges, ie DJs. The official statistics of the comparable costs are tabled below. 

These numbers, however, have a hidden story. Taking the 2017-18 figure for DJs alone £22,012,824 simple arithmetic results in a cost per DJ of £194,803. Now consider that the current salary of a DJ is £110,335 with an additional payment of £8,000 p/a for London appointments and that the MOJ contributes around £8,000 towards the DJ`s pension. DJs must devote a minimum of 215 days each year to judicial business. It is reasonable to assume that about seven weeks holiday is paid for.  So in reality the individual costs about £120,000+ per annum in addition to the cost of holiday cover of the lost seven weeks by a DDJ of at least £500 per day which works out at about £17,500. The costs imposed to reach the figure of £194,803 amount to £57,500.  These admittedly crude calculations lead me to believe that this last figure is the cost of a qualified legal advisor sitting with the District Judge. Without knowing exactly how many sittings are performed by DJs, DDJs and lay magistrates it is impossible to calculate the actual cost of a DJ + L/A  to compare with the expenses incurred by magistrates` costs of  £9,143,381.  What can be implied is that if the qualified L/A attending with a DJ were removed from the calculation or replaced with a low level unqualified clerk the cost advantage currently favouring using magistrates would be considerably reduced perhaps to the level where my previously stated opinion would be likely to be implemented. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

TO PUNISH OR NOT PUNISH;THAT IS THE QUESTION

Every day thousands of cases hit the magistrates courts. This observer can generally comment only on what reaches the public domain although from time to time information is available from other sources. In the former category I noticed this week two examples of what I believe are real but subtle changes in how we ie the law, treats miscreants at the lower level of harm.

Freedom of expression is perhaps the most basic of all our "freedoms".  And most importantly freedom to express that which others might find objectionable is arguably one of the most difficult areas in law as to where the line of freedom  is drawn that one person`s freedom is another`s hurt feelings or worse.  The laws of slander and libel have developed over the decades to cope with social media but many cases are much less clear cut than those which involve wealthy corporations and whistle blowers. 

Earlier this week Southark News reported that "A man from South Norwood has been charged after a video of a burning cardboard model of Grenfell Tower was shared online. Paul Bussetti, aged 46 (30.05.72) was charged on Friday, April 12, with two counts of sending, or causing to be sent, grossly offensive material via a public communications network. This is contrary to section 127 (1) (a) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003.He will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, April 30."

Type in the search box exceptional hardship and my reader will read many of my examples where IMHO those on the bench applying the non guidance on this matter to the advantage of the offender are just plain soft and afraid to use the law as it is meant to be applied. They might be impressed by a junior counsel`s heartfelt apologetic  words or the seniority of the accused.  They might feel that they themselves if in that position would beg steal or borrow to avoid the mandatory disqualification on reaching 12 penalty points.  One reason I had offered by colleagues more than any other to accept the hardship argument  is the old story; leave the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head until the next time. What a fatuous argument in a matter where the current offence is at the very least the second in the three year period.  Indeed in most cases the disqualifying offence is the third or fourth example of the law being broken. Where is that useless sword to be sheathed?  

Here is another example where a bench, at least according to the report, did not have the cajones to do its job to punish habitual law breakers on our roads. 



Tuesday, 16 April 2019

DRIVING AND MOBILE PHONE "USE"

Every magistrate will have had his/her own experiences of excuses offered by those defending a charge of using a mobile phone when driving.  Such a  driver convicted of using a mobile phone whilst driving has been given leave to appeal his conviction at Willesden Magistrates Court and a subsequent upholding of that conviction at the crown court.  The High Court will consider the matter: should be interesting. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

CHICKENS HOMING IN TO THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

I have long advocated here and elsewhere that offending drug users should be removed from the court pathway and transferred willingly or otherwise to a medical pathway where they can be treated for their addiction under lock and key until it is considered that they are no longer dependant. These institutions I have described as workhouses for a modern age. To view such posts type "workhouse" in the search box.

It seems that the Sentencing Council in its wisdom has made wide sweeping changes in its Guidelines for sentencers of addicts (and others).  This is a promising start for such cases.  Around 70% of violent and/or acquisitive crime is committed by addicts. Police have more or less washed their hands in pursuing cannabis possession for own use.  It is only a matter of time until contrary to the opinions of some outspoken right wing so called thinkers a format will be achieved to remove cannabis possession from the criminal law.  Until such time those responsible for our judicial system like its political counterpart will have to undertake radical  revision of processes which are so obviously not fit for purpose. The country is in a mood for change.  It is a dangerous time. My fear is that if clear thinking people in positions of power and influence do not appreciate the problems only a short time ahead of us decisions will be taken out of their hands. The complete and utter incompetence of Theresa May and her Cabinet have changed our political landscape for ever.  There is a high risk that dark forces will prevail to fill the vacuum of the current lot of MPs who have lost the confidence of those they should be representing. 

I have not been a supporter of much of what the Sentencing Council has produced in the decade or so of its existence. But this much is clear; the public will not for much longer tolerate sentencing which allows so many custodial outcomes to be suspended nor automatic release from custody when only half or less of a sentence has been served.  The Ministry of Justice since 2010 under that arch EU appeaser Kenneth Clarke has been deprived of such amounts of capital that it is a miracle that it still functions. It cannot continue.  The chickens at the Home Office have come to roost. The door is open at the coop at Petty France.