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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Yesterday I posted on proposed new sentencing guidelines on breach of court orders and in particular breach occurring whilst an offender is under a suspended sentence order.  My conclusion was that the greatly increased minutia of the sentencing structure has allowed sentencing per se to have become almost a tick box exercise, such a philosophy having supposedly been considered and rejected when Sentencing Guidelines was first published.  With a lay bench of three magistrates there is always the possibility of a single voice suggesting a variation from the guidelines when there is sufficient reason to back up such a  proposal.  When a District Judge (MC) is presiding that option is removed.  A recent development is for a single magistrate to sit alone in an office albeit with a legal advisor in simple matters which do not have a possible custodial outcome and are generally strict liability.  My initial comment on that scenario is the difficulty that that J.P. might find if for whatever reason within lawful boundaries s/he has a different opinion from the L/A on outcome especially with some L/As tending to advise to or sometimes beyond the limits of their responsibilities. Considering the trend over the last decade it does not appear to be fanciful to predict the possibility of a non human digital approach to trial and sentencing.  Verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights have been subjected to analyses which predicted verdicts of a computer accurately in 79% of cases. 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. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


When the concept  which became Sentencing Guidelines was in an embryonic stage great consideration was given to the tick box thinking behind guidelines of the State of Michigan USA.  This approach was rejected at the time [2006]  With the latest consultation likely to be incorporated into the current Guidelines in 2017 it seems that we have travelled from London to Michigan via the North Pole or  its southern counterpoint; take your metaphorical pick. It now appears that public protection is to be a consideration in sentencing for breaches of court orders.  What`s so innovative about this aspect of the job?  I, and many former colleagues, applied such  modus operendi to our sentencing structure years ago even when a legal advisor thought it inappropriate.  In doing so we would make the point clearly in the sentencing pronouncement.  No bench on which I was a participant was ever appealed on that basis nor was any colleague`s as far as I know.  Now it is likely  to be official policy.  

Interesting comments in the documents published today concern suspended sentence orders or more simply custody suspended.  As I had to advise various colleagues and also probation officers upon their pre sentence reports recommending SSOs; the custody threshold has to be crossed before consideration can be given to its suspension. It would seem that not all sentencers follow that line of reasoning because amongst other matters in the documents is written, "Since there is no current guidance on all types of breach of court orders and where there is, its scope and format varies, this will replace the existing out of date instructions that have seen some suspended sentences being imposed when a custodial sentence was not the appropriate sentence". [my underline] In another curious observation there is a statement of what is an admittedly lack of information on sanctions for breaches of SSOs; "Very little evidence is available regarding current sentencing practice for breach of suspended sentences. The Council therefore explored this in discussions with sentencers and probation officers and staff. A review of case transcripts was also conducted, to identify factors currently influencing activation of custodial sentences upon breach, and when it may be unjust to activate a suspended sentence in full or in part." I can say with full knowledge that this is wilful head in the sand obfuscation by the MOJ.  

A Freedom of Information was made last year on this very subject........ Dear Ministry of Justice,
     For the last five years how many suspended sentence orders have
     been made by magistrates` courts in actual numbers and as a
     percentage of all custodial orders?
     For the last five years how many of these SSOs as above have been
     breached and resulted in the activation in whole or part of these
     orders in actual numbers and as a percentage of all SSOs 

The answer was as follows:-

Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

I can confirm that the Ministry of Justice holds the information that you have asked for. However, because the cost of complying with your request would exceed the limit set by the Freedom of Information Act, on this occasion I'm afraid I will not be taking your request further. In this letter I explain why that is the case and I also provide you with some advice as to how you could refine your request so that we may be able to answer it.

The law allows us to decline to answer FOI requests when we estimate it would cost us more than £600 (equivalent to 3½ working days’ worth of work, calculated at £25 per hour) to identify, locate, extract, and then provide the information that has been asked for.

It may help if I explain that the Ministry of Justice Court Proceedings Database holds information on defendants proceeded against, found guilty and sentenced for criminal offences in England and Wales. This database holds information on offences provided by the statutes under which proceedings are brought but not all the specific circumstances of each case. This centrally held information does not allow us to separately identify breaches of suspended sentence orders. This detailed information is not reported to Justice Statistics Analytical Services due to its size and complexity.

In this instance, to provide you with the information, we would be required to contact all Magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and ask them to search individual case files where a suspended sentence order was given to ascertain how many orders were breached.  To collect and collate the information you require on the scale you have requested would exceed the ‘appropriate limit’ set out in Section 12(1) of the FOIA.

You can find out more about Section 12(1) by reading the extract from the Act and some guidance points we consider when applying this exemption, attached at the end of this letter.

You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act, available at

Whilst you could narrow the scope of your request in order to try and bring it within the cost limit, for example by requesting information for a particular court, I would like to take this opportunity to advise you that it is very likely that any information that may be held within scope of your request may be exempt from disclosure under the FOIA under the terms of Section 32 (Court Records). Therefore it is likely that any subsequent narrowed request could be refused under Section 32.

However, outside the scope of the Act and on a discretionary basis  I am pleased to inform you that you can view data on suspended sentences given at Magistrates ‘ courts via the following link:

Select and open “Magistrates’ court data tool” folder

You will be able to view the number of suspended sentences given at Magistrates’ court in England and Wales, from 2004 to 2014. The percentage of suspended sentence orders can be calculated by dividing the number of suspended sentence orders by the number of custodial sentences and then multiplying by 100.

To conclude, Martin Graham of the Sentencing Council seems now to accept that public protection is an important factor in the sentencing of those who breach court orders. “Where they breach orders and cause or risk harm or distress to others, they can expect robust penalties to be imposed.” [my underline]

With a labyrinthine maze required for the operation of these latest guidelines perhaps a simple tick box a la Michigan would be preferable on our aforesaid journey from London.

Monday, 24 October 2016


Whilst I was active in my chosen profession more than once I refused to offer my services requested by some individuals because for various reasons I considered that any actions I might have undertaken for or on their behalf were liable to be misconstrued or a basis for spurious complaints based upon their likely malevolence.  I should add that I was a self employed person offering my services under my own name.  I most certainly was not an employee in a public service. In fact my position was similar to the Asher family who own and manage a bakery in Belfast and who, earlier today, faced the disappointment of losing their appeal against their refusal to bake a cake for a same sex couple.  The Appeal Court apparently based its decision against the Asher`s  argument that the bakery would have been endorsing gay marriage equality by baking the cake. 

Apart from that factor to this simple J.P. (retired) that decision seems to find no reason to consider that a self employed business owner can refuse to offer his trade or service at his/her discretion.  So where are we with what I suppose is an equality based fundamental?  If a service or good  is supplied to person "A" and s/he complains with no evidence or argument in support that the service is not to a certain prescribed standard, requests a refund and threatens further action but then requests that a similar service or good be supplied to a relative and this request is refused is there a breach of the law? Indeed is the refusal to supply a service without giving a reason sufficient for legal action to be taken? 

I am not a person of religion but I do have every sympathy for the Ashers. 

Friday, 21 October 2016


On July 22nd after a little research I posted on the numbers and ratios of ranks within the police forces of England and Wales.  It is interesting to note that the Met intends to remove the ranks of Chief Inspector and Commander.  Removal of Assistant Commissioner rank is also possible. It is not unlikely that where the Met leads others will follow.


Some Commons questions to Justice ministers are so off the page that it seems to me that they are asked  simply for the M.P. involved to be able to add to his list of "see what I do for you, my important and clever I am."  But the question and answer available here concerning assaults on police officers is actually quite useful; in my humble opinion of course.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


I have seen the future of the magistracy and it is uncertain.  That, in a nutrshell, is what I get from reading the report published yesterday. Some points unsurprisingly seem more significant than others.  There was a conclusion that magistrates indeed suffer from low morale or perhaps the report could have been more honest and should have read that they have had low morale thrust upon them.  There was endorsement of changes to allow J.P.s to sit singly on simple summary non imprisonable cases eg TV licensing but also including driving without insurance; an offence which could involve a driving disqualification.  That seems incongruous cf eg to no TV license. There was also equivocation that a single J.P. sitting in an office dispensing justice on papers submitted would not be presiding over justice being seen to be done in a public forum.  There was general satisfaction that a lay bench could be entrusted to preside when its maximum tariff was doubled to twelve months custody although there was the usual objection from the usual suspects namely The Prison Reform Trust and  the Howard League for Penal Reform.  Proposals for perhaps increased out of court activities were welcomed as were so called  problem solving courts.    That there was support from any quarter including J.P.s for fixed term appointment is astonishing.  For those interested refer to section 3. In what profession is it considered that after ten years training and experience your time is up?  The reasons put forward were spurious to say the least. There was a great deal devoted to training: the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour. I sense that much of what was written on that subject would have been more accurately written under a heading of indoctrination: to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., especially to imbue with a specific partisan or biased belief or point of view.  There was a sense throughout that a core system had to be followed beyond IMHO that required by a J.P.`s oath of office.  Unsurprisingly the system or non system of appraisal and CPD were  interrogated.  Having myself undergone appraisal by a member of another LJA I was surprised that according to the report all appraisals are carried out within home court by home court appraisor colleagues.  There certainly is room for improvement but the current fad for CPD seems to be a step too far. It`s a bit like expecting auxilliary firefighters to  call out to an explosion in a tube station; it is beyond their call of duty.  If HMCTS as I believe would prefer only full time professional judiciary  to sit in the lower court it should be open about it. 

As it is with the conclusions that the lower court should have a twelve month sentencing power, that problem solving courts should be presided over by J.P.s, that J.P.s should sit as wingers with DJs presiding  and support for other out of court activities my take from the very lengthy document and notes is that all these factors with nefarious reasoning behind them lead to the result that my opinion of some years that the magistracy in 2025 will be demoted to only out of court functions has not been altered.   In its current form its days are numbered.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Statistics statistics and ever more statistics are the curate`s egg of modern civilisation; good in parts if we only knew which parts.  Many media today are commenting on an independent analysis of the government`s Troubled Families programme which is excoriating in its analysis of the outcomes in contrast to government claims of 98.9% per cent of families being helped.  The NHS and the police are probably the most high profile quangos which also attempt to bewitch bother and bewilder us with numbers.  

Leicester Constabulary is no shirker in this regard.  Leave a window open or be careless in closing your back door securely and you can forget about any investigation if you`re unlucky enough to be burgled. "But" says a Leicester police chief, we didn`t mean that.  As the 60`s Newcastle R&B group put it so memorably for those of a certain vintage, " But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." 

I say to Leicester doesn`t wash.  You`ve got history in trying to evade your responsibilities or as you might put it......attempting to manage these responsibilities with ever reducing budgets. Last year if one were a citizen of this ancient city and were unfortunate to live in a street with odd number in the address and  had reason to believe somebody had tried to break in there would have been no member of that force breaking the speed limit in their grossly overdecorated BMW rushing to your aid.  No trainee detective would have been eagerly taking notes and summoning scene of crime officers to search for clues.  

Other forces are also misleading us with numbers unrelated to actions. Defiance of rules is almost endemic. The Met is literally a law unto itself. Its actions in relation to misconduct hearings of senior officers is to make them go away. Other forces including North Yorkshire have tried to bar reporters from misconduct hearings.   Of course numbers of officers being investigated owing to complaints from the public are published by the IPCC but so much of the whole procedure is controlled by individual police forces that one must have serious doubts as to the overall process and the accuracy of the findings.  It is therefore hardly surprising that the IPCC will be undergoing major change during this parliament. For public confidence in our police it`s not before time.

When a newspaper reporter attempted to attend the first day of the hearing earlier this week, they were turned away on the grounds that they had not given the required two days notice.

Read more at:

When a newspaper reporter attempted to attend the first day of the hearing earlier this week, they were turned away on the grounds that they had not given the required two days notice.

Read more at:

Monday, 17 October 2016


The  Metropolitan Police today announced all officers are to wear body-worn cameras.  Personally I am not persuaded against this initiative.  However in an article copied below first published in the web journal Policing Insight already the arguments against this initiative are being made. Make up your mind time has arrived.


"Body-worn cameras for police officers are being rolled out globally, but until recently, limited evidence was available as to their effects. In one of the largest randomised-controlled trials in criminal justice history, the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe have recently published several papers looking at the new technology - with some surprising results. Alex Sutherland of RAND Europe outlines the findings and their implications.

Billions of dollars are being spent worldwide on the roll-out of body-worn cameras for police officers. With so much at stake, there is an urgent need to understand whether body-cameras are helping police officers and members of the public, and under what conditions they work best.
We are only just beginning to understand the full ramifications of applying this technology on the frontline of policing.
Body-worn cameras should, in theory, help both police officers and the public they serve.
The basic notion is that awareness of being filmed should help to curb inappropriate behaviour by police and/or suspects, keeping situations calmer. Evidence from a range of sources shows both humans and animals alter their behaviour if they know they are being watched.
The camera’s effects are not limited to the street. Footage from body cameras should aid prosecutions and help improve police accountability.
However, the idea that body-worn cameras are inherently ‘good for policing’, or can do all that is claimed of them is more complicated in reality.
Our research finds plenty of areas around their use that need to be considered. It concludes that we are only just beginning to understand the full ramifications of applying this technology on the frontline of policing.
One of the largest trials in history
In one of the largest randomised-controlled trials in criminal justice history, the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe have published several studies looking at body-worn cameras’ use in law enforcement.
This research, led by Dr. Barak Ariel at the University of Cambridge, included eight UK and U.S. police forces, 2,122 participating officers, a total population of two million citizens, and encompassed two million hours across 4,264 shifts.
The studies focused on assaults against officers, use-of-force by officers and complaints against police by the public.
Surprising results
The findings from the first study are perhaps surprising. Rates of assault against officers during arrest were 15 per cent higher when body-worn cameras were in use, compared to shifts where cameras were not present.
On the other hand, if cameras genuinely increase the risk of assaults then we need to understand why this is happening.
We think there are two plausible explanations for this finding.
First, police officers might feel more able and equipped to report assaults against them once they are captured on camera, even if the officer does not sustain visible injuries. This footage can provide officers with the confidence and impetus to report assaults.
Secondly, there is an argument that the video monitoring might make police officers less assertive and more vulnerable to assault, meaning that the actual rate of assaults increases.
Whatever explanation is correct, it is important to understand this in more detail. On the one hand, improved reporting of assaults means officers could receive more support and recognition. On the other hand, if cameras genuinely increase the risk of assaults then we need to understand why this is happening.
Use of force 
The findings from the second study on the rate of use-of-force by police on suspects during arrest were also contrary to our expectations.
The rate remained unchanged by the presence of body-worn cameras on average, but further analysis showed that this result depended on whether or not officers used their discretion about when to turn cameras on.
During the research, officers were instructed to record all stages of police-public interactions and issue a verbal warning of filming at the outset.
However, many officers preferred to use their discretion, activating cameras depending on the situation. This is important, as police officers sticking closer to the protocol led to use-of-force falling by 37 per cent, whereas use-of-force increased when officers used their discretion.
Drop in complaints
More recently, the third study found a 93 per cent drop in complaints made against police forces following the introduction of cameras.
We called this ‘contagious accountability’, as we think the ‘civilising effect’ of wearing cameras on some shifts ‘spilt over’ to when officers were not wearing cameras.
There are two possible reasons for this steep fall. The presence of the cameras could mean that police officers are behaving more appropriately in encounters with suspects and, as a result, fewer complaints are made against them.
On the other hand, it could be that the footage from the body cameras provides evidence of encounters between police officers and members of the public, so inaccurate complaints are less likely to be made.
What was interesting is that we saw an across-the-board decrease in complaints, both in situations where officers were wearing cameras and where they were not.
We called this ‘contagious accountability’, as we think the ‘civilising effect’ of wearing cameras on some shifts ‘spilt over’ to when officers were not wearing cameras.
Further research
Complaints against police are costly, both financially and in terms of public trust. In the US, complaints can be hugely expensive, with some resulting in multimillion-dollar lawsuits (just one of these can wipe out the budget for a small to medium sized police force). Meanwhile, in the UK last year, data from the UK Independent Police Complaints Commission showed a continuous rise in complaints across the majority of forces, with each requiring investigation (and thus cost).
Further research continues to be carried out that looks at the use of body-worn cameras within police forces. This is important in explaining the reasons behind these findings and gathering further evidence for what works in policing regarding the use of body-cameras. In the meantime, more training and engagement with police officers could help to ensure they are confident in the decisions they make while wearing cameras, and are safe in their job.
Alex Sutherland is a research leader at RAND Europe. He will be chairing the opening session of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas on Monday 17th October called ‘Body cameras: safety or threat?’"

Friday, 14 October 2016


Sometimes one is faced with a situation so obvious to the observer but apparently to nobody else that there is hesitation in even mentioning it.  Such was my reaction today on reading of a trial by jury for a supermarket theft of goods to the value of £20.79.  Although new guidelines came into operation since my retirement from the bench it was my opinion that in such a situation this offence should be  treated as a summary only offence in accordance with section 22A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 where the maximum is 6 months’ custody.  However this is subject to one exemption; an adult defendant is to be given the opportunity to elect Crown Court trial; and if the defendant so elects; the offence is no longer summary and will be sent to the Crown Court (new section 22A(2))

With many offenders thinking in error [or persuaded so to do by their lawyer] that juries are less likely to convict than magistrates is this exemption not a waste of time?  Low value theft should not allow for election by a defendant. It should be summary only.....end of story.