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 ten years whilst I was active I retain it now only as a literary device no longer actually using the term JP for any other purpose whatsoever.





Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

MORE EXCUSES FROM HMCTS


Today I am taking the unusual step in copying below a complete page from today`s Law  Society Gazette detailing changes in magistrates courts.  These changes as indicated in the article, as readers will find, are a direct result of Tory governments cutting and slashing funds to our justice system over the last decade. Of course the official statement is that the Covid 19 epidemic has been the cause but nobody remotely concerned with our courts system will echo that because as insiders we know really what has been happening.  The very essence of our summary justice is a bench of three.  I know only too well that if that number is reduced there is too much scope for one opinion to ride roughshod over another especially with an imbalance of experience between the two and or personality profiles which might appear when there is reduced discussion. It will be very inconvenient for witnesses and/or defendants with family arrangements to be in a courtroom at 8.00pm or longer. And finally there seems to be an assumption that lawyers will be unnecessary. All the above criticism will of course be denied.  EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES.Need I say more?


"HM Courts & Tribunals Service has revealed that it will introduce evening courts to bring down the backlog of cases in the magistrates’ court.

In a webinar discussing HMCTS’s crime recovery plan yesterday, deputy director Jason Latham said HMCTS was in the ‘final stages’ of identifying how to roll out evening sessions, which would run from 5pm-8pm, Monday to Friday.

Latham said the evening sessions would hear cases requiring minimal involvement from a legal representative.

Saturday courts will also be extended. Earlier this week the Ministry of Justice said magistrates’ courts were seeing the number of outstanding cases fall – dealing with around 21,000 cases a week against a pre-Covid baseline of 33,853. Latham said 90 additional sessions were currently running in the magistrates’ court every Saturday.

To bring down the backlog of Crown court cases, Covid-19 operating hours are being tested at Liverpool, Hull, Stafford, Snaresbrook, Portsmouth and Reading crown courts.

Asked about the potential discriminatory impact of Covid-19 operating hours, Latham said: ‘We recognise this could have different types of impact on different types of users, particularly legal professionals. But it has been designed in a way, by the working group, so that provisions are in place for legal professionals in advance of a listed hearing date to request that it be moved, whether it is because of practical issues or issues such as where they have caring responsibilities.’

Latham added that the Covid-19 operating hours had been ‘designed in a way so people do not have to work longer hours. There is a choice of different sitting patterns available to them’.

Around 360 people tuned into HMCTS’s webinar where officials were also asked about empty courtrooms.

Delivery director Gill Hague said courtrooms might look empty but they were empty for a reason. She said they might be required for jury retiring or jury assembly arrangements, or they might not be being used because social distancing requirements cannot be achieved.

On why HMCTS was regularly sitting benches of two magistrates, not the usual three, attendees were told this was due to being able to maintain social distancing requirements not just in court but also ‘everything back of house’, such as the deliberation room and shared facilities."

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

MAGISTRATES NEED SUPPORT


Like many other Justices of the Peace when I began sitting in an actual court as a new appointee I was informed of the advantages of joining the Magistrates Association.  For a fairly small outlay I considered it a no brainer. I had in my professional life reached the rarified heights of being on the national council of the professional organisation which looked after the interests of its members including me.  Only later did I discover that the MA according to its charitable status did and does nothing to protect or support the individual member. The two magisterial colleagues, however,  who were our bench`s representatives on the MA council seemed to enjoy their position and persuaded many to attend the occasional lectures sponsored by the organisation. About seven years into my tenure I attended MA headquarters with a couple of colleagues having accepted an invitation to explore ways in which members could use their expertise in their commercial/academic/professional lives to the MA`s advantage.  I offered some suggestions and never heard a word subsequently. Around this time a colleague on another bench began a forum to which all magistrates were invited to participate.  I was an early joiner. Owing to dogma or personality clashes that independent forum was closed and simultaneously a new forum was opened under the auspices of the MA and regulated by volunteer colleagues. It was a well run platform where colleagues who had to be members of MA could vent their spleens as many were happy to do.  I was an early participant in that area also.  After being the recipient of rather unpleasant posts in 2009 I stopped my commenting and began blogging as an anonymous independent JP.  Some two years or so later the MA withdrew this forum. I tell this story to illustrate the MA`s tendency to choose secrecy over openness when there is that choice to answer or avoid criticism. 


It is well known that the number of magistrates has reduced in the last decade from around 30,000 to less than half that number; 13,000 today. Corresponding to this reduction has of course been a rapid drop in membership of the Magistrates Association. Added to this there has been a drop in the percentage of magistrates joining the MA. Latest figures extrapolated from the membership subscriptions filed in the MA accounts indicate that perhaps about a quarter of sitting magistrates have chosen not to become members of the Association. The accounts suggest that the MA`s income from members` subscriptions has fallen from over £926K in 2014 to £472 in 2018/19.   No exact figure can be given because the number of members does not appear to be published. Of course if I have been careless in my research no doubt a comment will be made by those who hold the secret in their grasp. 


Increasing involvement by HMCTS in training and general control of magistrates` activities might be a reason for the missing quartile. MOJ supervision of appointed and unelected so called leadership magistrates is a further indication of the slowly eroding influence of the MA.  Magistrates are sorely in need of a protective and supportive organisation to represent them against the often soul destroying investigations and/or complaints by colleagues, Justices Clerks and the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office where every year dozens of magistrates are struck off for failing their sittings requirements or worse. The need is there but the will is obviously not. 


A relevant post from June 2015 on MA attempts to increase its income is  available here. To provide the MA`s raison d`etre  further information from the horse`s mouth of the MA  can be accessed here


Friday, 18 September 2020

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES


Many interested parties have wondered what has become of so called "leadership magistrates" appointed as the toads of the Ministry of Justice three years ago the T word being used of course in its pejorative form although whether the current incumbents have thick or poisonous skins is beyond my ken. All that is known publicly are their names and regions although that information had to be dragged out of Petty France.  Further details will be found on this site by typing "leadership magistrates" in the search box.  These folk are not representative of magistrates. The only representative JPs are those elected to be chairman of their bench or representatives to the Magistrates Association the latter body annually appearing to lose its credibility to influence the MOJ.  The latest example is that it did not know exactly how many magistrates were currently on the MOJ list.  To be fair the MOJ until very recently did not know either.  It so happens the number was 1,000 less than previously accounted for. It seems that now those MOJ lackeys representative of nobody but themselves and obviously expected to initiate or support MOJ policies has finally been exposed to the public in today`s report in the Law Society Gazette from where I have taken the extract below.

 "A  three-year Strategy for the Magistracy drawn up by the Magistrates Leadership Executive lists six objectives to create a ‘comprehensive and sustainable’ recruitment plan. These include exit interviews for colleagues leaving the magistracy and getting agreement from the ministry to set up a national steering group to raise the national profile of magistrates." [My bold]

Thus a further decline in the once was independent magistracy is taking place, as the war time comedian Arthur Askey used as his catchphrase, before your very eyes. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

POLITICAL TRUST! UNKNOWN BUT NOT UNKNOWABLE PROBLEMS AHEAD

 


A cohesive society exists on trust. Individuals who travel from strangers to friendship or closer can only experience worthwhile relationships when there is mutual trust.  Although there are millions of pages of company and commercial law many, especially small businesses, base their relationships and often their commercial success on trust. It might have been the case that in politics also trust was a given particularly at the higher levels of party politics. We are seeing every day on our television screens and in various media that now trust has completely broken down with the lies of Donald Trump being listed almost daily by fact checkers on CNN. Sad to tell that innocuous virus which doesn`t originate in China but whose origin derives from the hearts of men (men includes women in this analogy) is increasing its infiltration into our daily lives. In this country it has been constrained by ancient rules, procedures and attitudes which I fear are no longer strong enough to withhold the pressures being exerted upon them.  The Ministry of Justice has long been at the forefront of presenting its 😁 smiley face by the hundreds of people employed in a press and PR capacity. Typing "MOJ press office" in the search box on the right hand side of the narrative will reveal a few previous ventures into this topic. However one fact I cannot present is the number actually employed to bring that smiley face to the great British public even when the information barely concealed is dire. Knife crime and so called deterrent sentencing are two of the most high profile subjects of which Justice Secretaries like to take possession, i.e.headlines. Cases outstanding at magistrates courts owing to Convid-19 are estimated at 450K-500K.  Under the horizon this dreadful backlog caused in great part by a decade of mismanagement is being reduced at record speeds by using the single justice procedure where so mush goes through on the nod and totally unreported. Similar circumstances at crown courts are less in quantity but a magnitude greater in quality with life changing events for many if not most participants who are not officers of the court. Knife crime is so much part of daily life for many that I have posted on it many times. As previously by placing those terms in the search box a potted history will become available for those who are interested. Justice secretaries per se do not come out of this well irrespective of the weasel words of cracking down or ramping up which seem to be in vogue.   Today MOJ announces that custodial sentences for emergency workers will be increased to two years custody. In 2018 such sentences were doubled from six months to 12 months at the magistrates court. Like a gambler doubling his bet in attempting to win back his losses the maximum is again doubled. These cases will be heard at crown court. But they will not reduce the crime to which they are attached. There are and were conditions to increase sentences already available to CPS and judges. They were not often applied. At this level of criminality it is the fear of being caught and charged which prevails upon those inclined to take their violent path. That fear has simply dissipated owing to the emasculation of police and policing. The use of so called Nightingale Courts so loudly trumpeted just a few months ago has now been called into question with the impending closure of one such that was opened only a month ago.  Other government departments are open to similar criticism by those who know, over their own loose tongues and press releases where once again every little lie is eroding the trust upon which we allow ourselves to be governed.  Yesterday the current holder of that ancient title Lord Chancellor stated re the controversy over the Agreement reached which enabled Boris Johnson to have number 10 as his home, " Buckland: I'll quit if rule of law broken in 'unacceptable way'. With a Home Secretary in denial but five former prime ministers expressing a restrained sense of incredulity that their successor might be the author of the problem we can finally say that political trust between people and ruler has been eroded beyond a point of redemption and that spells unknown but not unknowable problems ahead for all of us. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

A COURT REPORT IN COVENTRY LIVE BETTER NOT PUBLISHED

Reporting from magistrates courts is by necessity often sparse.  Indeed the public is fortunate that court reporting is still undertaken at all by local print media. The cost for publishers is often an expense ill afforded.  My last court activity was over five years ago but after seventeen years on the bench it takes sometimes only a moment or two for old memories to be revived.  And that is what happened when I read this short report.  Now admittedly there is no detail on the offender`s circumstances, his previous offending (if any) or any other material that might have been offered to the bench in mitigation.  There is no information whether as is usually the case a probation pre sentence report was presented to the bench. We do not even know if he were represented although a duty solicitor must be engaged for an offender at first appearance if there is the possibility of custody. Whether or not this was the case we just don`t know. All in all this was court reporting at the lowest level worthy of the description. What we do know is that he pleaded guilty which allows 10% to 33% discount in the sentence. We know that notwithstanding all the above he received the maximum sentence possible under the circumstance according to law. Therefore we can assume that there was considered by the bench maximum culpability although no harm was apparently caused to anyone leaving aside any fears if his actions were visible to the public.  I fail to see how all the above being considered why his sentence was suspended. This really is an example where the reporter should have stayed in bed.

I have long championed the idea of local magistrates courts being televised live by perhaps local media entrepreneurs.  At least we, the great British public, would be able to see the legal process in action as it actual happens; not a severely truncated version of events which might be considered worse than no printed report at all. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

TELEVISION LICENSE EVASION TO BE DE CRIMINALISED AT LAST

This morning I have felt as if I have visited an aged relative`s house where my memories are of long ago and don`t seem linked to the occasion yet they are because otherwise these memories would not exist; the house and its contents would be viewed as a completely new experience. Today HMCTS has listed tomorrow`s court lists on line and publicly available for all magistrates courts in England and Wales. This is undoubtedly a "shout about it from the rooftops" occasion from an organisation which has trumpeted the benefits of hundreds of millions pounds invested in new technology. It has been a long time coming. A decade ago Camberwell Green court in South London was to be the showpiece of the latest technical advances then available.  It failed miserably.  There is no doubt that Convid-19 has accelerated these latest innovations in a courts system which has systematically been deprived of capital funding these last ten years. Naturally enough I have viewed the listings at my old court.  Having previously as a sitting magistrate had sight only of the lists as having been presented before 10.00am or 2.00pm where full details were listed of offence and defendant these public lists had little meaning save for names, list number and allocated rooms.  It was apparent however that many would be expected to go through with minimum time allocated. As usual with very few exceptions all were listed for 10.00am or 2.00pm. Without an inspection of the public waiting area and I presume its safe social distancing layout most cases are likely to be plea by post or no plea at all. 

There was one aspect of this new listing arrangement which definitely caught my attention. Long before I migrated this blog from its now defunct German owned host to its current host site Blogspot in 2013 I had been an advocate of the decriminalisation of failure to possess a TV license. The earliest that opinion was offered to the ether here was 9th March 2014. In retrospect I was a little optimistic that the soundings from government spokesmen were to have substance.  However there is no doubt now that the whispers then are very soon to be activated loud and clear and the BBC is trembling at its corporate knees at the prospect which, combined with the requirement to take non payers to the county court and for most viewers over 75 to pay full price for their viewing privilege, will leave it financially in very serious trouble. Currently those hauled before the magistrates court for non payment are facing the single justice procedure. I have from afar had principled objections to that procedure since its inception. For further posts on this topic just type the three appropriate words in the search box. Be that as it may that is the system in current use for license evasion. In its new openness HMCTS has published tomorrow`s SJP list for my former court (amongst others). There are listed  nearly 1900 cases of which I estimate over 90% are indeed for the criminal offence of TV license evasion. If my previous experiences are a guide it is unlikely that more than a handful of defendants will attend in person. Almost 130,000 offenders were convicted in England in 2018  the majority of the few jailed being women who make up almost 70 per cent of those prosecuted.  Indeed 30% of all criminal prosecutions against women in 2017 were for evasion of the TV licence. It is not a moment too soon for the government`s decision to be made public and to be implemented ASAP.  

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE IN ITS BUBBLE JUST KEEPS ON WOBBLING ALONG

On 22nd June I mused on judge only trials at crown court. This possibility in my opinion was based on the chaos in scheduling trials in crown courts owing to the close down caused by Convid 19. It would appear that there are about 30,000 trials awaiting a court date. Since crown courts re-opened about ten weeks ago only 250 trials have been heard in England and Wales.The delays are such that already a suspected drug dealer was ordered by HH Judge Keith Raynor to be released from prison where he had been on remand because next year was the soonest a court date could be found. The demands on space in the courts which are functioning are causing some anxiety as to possible communication and consequent jury tampering owing to the proximity of jurors to the defendants in the dock.  Indeed recently at one of the most high profile trials in recent years; that of those accused of killing PC Andrew Harper, a juror was dismissed after she was heard discussing matters with the defendants. The country`s most prominent retired judge, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, a former lord chief justice and first president of the Supreme Court, said that judge only trials should be employed with a defendant`s agreement to avoid waiting possibly years for a jury trial. I won`t repeat here my arguments as per the post of 22nd June as above except to emphasise if the need arises  with the addition of two qualified magistrates on the bench justice would not only be done it would be seen to be done and isn`t that argument often put forward by those screaming DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY AND MORE DIVERSITY; an argument that usually brooks no opposition.

Yesterday the Ministry of Justice announced that vulnerable victims (I note that the press release fails to use the correct expression for such a witness during trial which is (complainant) would be able to avoid giving their evidence in an actual courtroom by having it pre recorded. Nowhere is it mentioned that defence lawyer would be able to undertake similarly a cross examination.  Perhaps a reader will advise if this was a deliberate omission. 

Some time after my leaving the bench directions were issued by HMCTS that defendants must be required to state their nationality by way of the activation of section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017. I did not and do not consider this requirement an infringement of rights or in any way unfair practice to defendants. A full post on the topic from 16th November 2017 is available here.   Earlier this month that requirement was ended. I quote from the Law Gazette of 4th August:-

"Senior judges and lawyers told ministers that collecting nationality information at the start of criminal cases breached privacy laws. Only defendants who are convicted and given a prison sentence will now be asked to give their nationality, for the purpose of possible deportation.

Theresa May’s government introduced the controversial policy, in section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, as part of its ’hostile environment’ regime, with the aim of speeding up the removal of foreign criminals. It came into force only a few months after a report by David Lammy, now shadow justice secretary, highlighted racial bias in the criminal justice system.


Civil liberties campaigners had condemned the move for ’bringing border controls into our courtrooms’. In May, a report from the non-profit criminal law firm Commons said the policy ’racialised’ the courts and undermined the impartiality of the criminal justice system.


The report revealed that 96% of legal practitioners surveyed did not support the policy, while 90% felt it had a negative impact on perceptions of fairness.


It also found that district judges, magistrates and legal advisers were often embarrassed to ask the question, which many defendants did not understand, and conflated nationality with race or ethnicity. The policy was not implemented consistently, with white defendants less likely to be asked for their nationality.


HM Courts & Tribunals Service emailed magistrates telling them to stop their legal advisers asking defendants their nationality ’with immediate effect’. This followed a decision by the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, which is chaired by lord chief justice Lord Burnett of Maldon, that the collection of nationality information by the courts at the beginning of a case did not comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, as the detail was not necessary at that stage."


I remain of the opinion that this further example of  the letter of the law vanquishing its spirit will ruin us all. 


Another U Turn from this government in its sub division aka Ministry of Justice is the need or not to wear masks in court. It was reported on 14th July that masks were not necessary in the confines of the courtroom. However just ten days later on 24th July our wise and erudite at the time, mistress of HMCTS, had a change of mind:masks were to be compulsory.  The continuing evidence that this government just has no idea how to react to all the vagaries associated with Convid 19  is becoming a joke if it were not for the loss of life and hundreds of billions of pounds being thrown its way. How can any right thinking person have confidence in these people? 

Only a few days ago it was quietly announced that the CEO of HMCTS had left her post to be replaced by her deputy. She has been seconded to the Department of Education. Changing horses in mid stream of this crisis seems a misplaced response but currently hardly a day goes by without such folly. Perhaps that`s why the Education Secretary is still in office and Susan Acland-Hood is being prepared to take over as his permanent secretary: I can`t think of any other reason for her mishaps at MOJ to be transferred.  Keep it in the family. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

PROBLEM WITH COMMENTS

I have just become aware that e mail notification from Google to me that a comment has been posted for moderation is not functioning.  Would be commenters, I would request, complain to Google or try another browser if their legitimate comment does not appear within 24 hours.

ADDENDUM 20/8/20

I believe this problem has now been solved. 

JUSTICE SYSTEM ON ITS ROAD TO HELL

There is no doubt that Convid 19 has demonstrated so very clearly that much of the British infrastructure from the prime minister`s office downwards and in all directions sidewards is unfit for purpose.  And surprise surprise The Ministry of Justice is up there among those at the top of the pyramid of incompetence.  On April 24th the  MOJ announced new regulations to enable risk-assessed prisoners who were within two months of their release date to be temporarily released from custody as part of the national approach to managing public services. At June 1st just 79 prisoners had benefited from this early release provision.  At June 29th A total of 505 prisoners in England and Wales had tested positive for the virus and 24 prisoners  had died having tested positive for the virus from the start of the outbreak up until June 19th. Of these 21 were elderly or had underlying health conditions. Today the MOJ announced that the early release scheme would be "paused" on August 27th. Considering the many tens of thousands of prisoners probably eligible for the Convid 19 inspired generosity I wonder if those who gather in Petty France consider that the effort has been worth it. We will never discover the total cost to the tax payer of this operation but I doubt it would pass a cost benefits assessment but then the MOJ with its vast numbers of weasels in its press office doesn`t care about such trifles. Selling court buildings, impoverishing young legal aid lawyers, underfunding the judiciary; now these are matters of concern because the cash is coming in from such activities. Our justice system is well on its road to hell without any good intentions. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

THERE`S A GOOD FELLOW

Yesterday I posted the latest available report from the organisation which is responsible for collating reports of police misconduct.  Of course all the leg work is carried out by disciplinary boards of the country`s constabularies.  Somebody with the energy and statistical interest and/or knowledge might comment that what is in the report is far less intriguing than what is omitted. The decisions made at lower levels seem in some cases to be suitable for an old boys club.

Commander Julian Bennett was and still might be the Met`s officer responsible for drug strategy except that he was suspended last month over alleged drug misuse. Apparently he refused to take a drug test after a tip off. He himself has chaired hundreds of of disciplinary hearings . The IOPC has referred the case back to Scotland Yard to investigate. 

Another senior officer at Scotland Yard; Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin, has been "reprimanded" for keeping quiet about a close personal relationship with a junior female officer he was mentoring. Not only was he mentoring her; he promoted her. A panel led by an independent chairman found that the main allegation; breaching standards of professional behaviour for authority, respect, courtesy, honesty, confidentiality and integrity had been proved and he was found guilty of misconduct. Now most reasonable folk especially those who work for large organisations would have thought that that would be enough for the offender to be demoted or even given his marching orders but dear reader we are dealing with the Metropolitan Police Service which is almost a law unto itself. His punishment?  He has been reprimanded. The Met said that he had "showed poor judgement rather than displaying deliberate wrongdoing".  If they had patted him on the back and said "There`s a good fellow. Don`t do that again" at least that would have been more honest.

In 2007 when Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was sitting in a tube train and shot  seven times the incident commander was Cressida Dick who was absolved by a jury of any personal culpability. Ms Dick of course is now the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Monday, 10 August 2020

3RD NAME IN A DECADE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT POLICE

This is a link to the latest annual report of the Independent Office of Police Conduct.  It is a very wordy document on which I make no comment except that as far as I know an organisation to monitor police behaviour has been renamed twice in the last decade i.e. this is its 3rd title, a sign like other such organisations concerning border authority or those investigating criminal records that government considers renaming rather like Catholics consider the confession; gives the participant a clean slate to continue as before.  

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

CALLING A SPADE A SPADE: EVEN AN ISLAMIST


The term political correctness is now immediately recognisable. It wasn`t always so. It is a term used to describe language, policies or measures that are intended to avoid offence or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. In public discourse and the media the term is generally used as a pejorative with an implication that these policies are excessive or unwarranted. Since the late 1980s, the term has been used to describe a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behaviour that can be seen as excluding, marginalising or insulting groups of people disadvantaged or discriminated against such as groups defined by ethnicity, sex and gender.  But it is more than that. By the turn of the century it had become codified by those on the political Right to signify the Left`s concealment of reality in matters often but not exclusively  in regard to ethnic minorities  and their problems. It has become a totem of political philosophy. An example of such thinking surrounds the NHS especially in the light of the crisis with Convid 19. For it to be suggested that private enterprise might be necessary within its structure is anathema to those on the Left and almost an invitation to others to self destruct depending on their positions in society.  The fact that without private investment within its whole grand structure the NHS could not function is a fact kept at distance by all with their own axes to grind. 

It is still possible to use the phrase to call a spade a spade except perhaps amongst  those on the revolutionary Left who seize upon any possibility however remote to demonstrate their own so called awareness of their opponents so called political correctness.  That phrase has a very long history. It`s meaning is very simple:- to address or describe the true nature of someone or something even if it is unpleasant. The term originated from a translation of an ancient Greek phrase but is considered offensive by some due to the later use of the word "spade" as a racial slur for a black person. Indeed to use the word spade in reference to a black person now is equivalent to using the N word and is rightly excoriated. But the phrase`s  colloquial use I would suggest conveys a meaning that now can be disassociated from its later use by out and out racists.  Perhaps there is no term in current use, to call a spade a spade, that symbolises more the simplification of language to further a cause than Islamist or Islamism.  The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles i.e. sharia. In Western mass media it tends to refer to groups whose aim is to establish a sharia-based Islamic state often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations and has acquired connotations of political and violent extremism. History has shown us that religious intolerance has wrought havoc and bloodshed to man through the ages. The history of central and western Europe in the last 600 years has been shaped by wars where all sides expounded their own derivatives of Christianity. The expansion of the Muslim invasion of Europe often of academic and intellectual benefit to the conquered was not halted until the early 16th century in Spain and 1683 in Vienna. Indeed all the wondrous intellectual flowering of Muslim thought from the first millenium which formed the basis of the Renaissance seems to have become frozen in time since the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. The term Islamism which originally denoted the religion of Islam first appeared in the English language as Islamismus in 1696 and as Islamism in 1712.  Contemporary Islamism as a movement and as an organisation is a phenomenon of the twentieth century. It emerged with the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hasan al Banna in Egypt in 1928. To many, Islamism and its proponents Islamists mean those who would seek to impose their beliefs and way of life i.e. to impose sharia, by force. There are those, scholars and others not excluding bloggers, who would consider this a necessarily simplified definition even if it were disputed to some degree by historical and/or religious authorities.  

It seems that a form of political correctness in deciding that it might not continue calling a spade a spade has reached the top echelons of the Metropolitan Police.  Considerations are underway to drop the terms "Islamist terrorism" and "jihadis" as descriptions for those criminals who claim Islam as their motive. Phrases that might be used instead are "faith claimed terrorism", "terrorists abusing religious motivations" and " adherents of of Osama Bin Laden`s ideology". The description that comes to my mind is that of a camel which is a horse designed by a committee. The National Association of Muslim Police not unexpectedly has a different take on these initial ideas.  Its delegate at a recent meeting has proposed, "a change in culture by moving away from using terms which have a direct link to Islam and jihad."  asserting that they do not assist community relations and public confidence.   I could not disagree more vehemently. The proponents of sharia who have killed thousands of innocent people world wide in the name of Allah are very well understood by the public most of whom are well aware that they constitute only a relatively small percentage of British Muslims although within the "community", (if a 3 million population is still a community which is a description itself of the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality), there is an unhealthy attitude to liberal values. This is the sort of information which for one reason or another is rarely available for public perusal. It is available here.  Of course we have been along this road before.  The abusing of young girls in northern towns was, for decades, deliberately overlooked, ignored or lied about by those in authority because the offenders were Pakistani or of that descent and it was feared that widespread investigation and resulting prosecutions would be racially inflammatory and perhaps politically unhelpful to the many Labour Party members in powerful positions and particularly those of similar heritage.  And here again  within Scotland Yard a similar attitude is seeking to prevail. Fear of supposedly alienating Muslims seems to be at the forefront of police thinking.   Whilst there is no doubt that  there are still racists within police at all levels that is no reason not to call a spade a spade which in this case means calling a Muslim fanatic who conspires to, assists in, endorses and kills to further sharia by terror an Islamist.  

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

WILL MAGISTRATES WANT TO SIT UNTIL AGE 75?


Perhaps next year magistrates will actually have the opportunity if they so wish to sit until the age of 75.  How many would wish to do so is a moot point.  The parliamentary process that initiated this long considered process is copied below.

 Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.52 pm
Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 13 of the Courts Act 2003 to change the retirement age for magistrates from 70 to 75; and for connected purposes.

Magistrates, or justices of the peace, are ordinary people hearing cases in court in their community, and have been a fundamental feature of our judicial system since 1361. They continue to be chosen from people of good character, commitment, social awareness and reliability—those who can communicate effectively and are capable of making sound choices when sitting in judgment on their peers.

I had the pleasure of appearing in front of many magistrates while practising on the then Chester and north Wales circuit as a criminal and family barrister in the late ’90s and the noughties. My rose-tinted spectacles remind me that, more often than not, my clients got the rub of the legal green, but I also had to accept that I and the bench did not always have a meeting of minds—in other words, I lost.

The one constant, however, was the selfless and enduring dedication on display by so many of our fellow citizens to the fair and equitable dispensing of justice. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of them, particularly those who have contacted me about this Bill and shared with me their experiences, for their public service. I should add that their overall number includes at least 10 fellow current Members of Parliament.

However, the constant reliable recruitment and retention of our magistracy across England and Wales is under serious strain. The number of magistrates has decreased dramatically over the last decade or so, from about 30,000 to less than 13,000, with the number actually sitting thought to be substantially lower. That has had a profound impact on the case backlog, which is now up to nearly half a million in the magistrates courts; on delays, and even on the way justice is delivered. For example, during 2017-18 there were benches of just two magistrates, including for some trials, in nearly 40,000 court sessions—15% of the total. Inevitably, the covid-19 pandemic has both exacerbated the problem and catalysed the urgency of action, with recruitment and training on hold.

To illustrate this at a more local level, Paul Brearley JP, chairman of the Greater Manchester branch of the Magistrates Association, provided me with details of how the current chronic shortage of magistrates is affecting what is the largest single bench in England and Wales. At its creation in 2014, the bench size was approximately 1,100. As of 24 June this year, the number stood at 792.

From this figure should be deducted 188 justices who are currently on covid-19-related leave of absence and 47 justices appointed but not yet sworn in, leaving just over 550, or about half of the original number, in active service. During the pandemic, no more justices have been appointed, despite the fact that the retirements have continued—15 since lockdown.​

Sadly, it is the same story across the country, as other examples I have received from the chairs of the West Yorkshire, north-west Wales and Herefordshire benches bear testament, with the latter seeing a fall from 127 magistrates in 2008 to only 47 in 2020, nine of whom are due to retire in the next 18 months. As we emerge from lockdown, the pressure on our court system has never been greater, and with more police officers on our streets and additional resources for the Crown Prosecution Service, we can expect even more cases, requiring even more capacity.

The measures introduced by the Ministry of Justice to tackle the considerable and escalating delays are welcome, including extending court hours and widening the use of technology where appropriate. Yet much of this will still rely on the human resources— otherwise known as people—working in our courts to meet ever-growing demand. That is irrefutable proof that we desperately need more magistrates as quickly as possible. Any judicial restoration also needs to ensure that it delivers as great a diversity as possible, especially regarding age, ethnicity and social status. As the former chair of the Magistrates Association, Malcolm Richardson, has said:

“The magistracy must reflect the community it serves if courts are to be perceived to be procedurally fair, command public confidence and help civic engagement.”

To that end, I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is sitting on the Front Bench, tell the House only last week that the magistrates recruitment and attraction steering group held its first meeting in February, with a particular focus on increasing diversity, regardless of age.

Despite such laudable and important efforts, recruitment will not, of itself, fix the problem, because the fact remains that nearly 7,500 magistrates—more than half of all current magistrates—will reach the age of 70 in the next decade, and, under current legislation, will be forced to retire. Losing these magistrates at 70 is a triple whammy. First, they are often the most experienced. Secondly, they represent a high proportion of presiding justices—those in the court chairs—in this group. Thirdly, they are likely to be retired from work and so more able to accept extra sittings, including at short notice. Paulette Huntington JP, chair of the West Yorkshire branch, tells me that her magistrates who have retired at age 70 generally tend to be high sitters as they have more time to give, with many clocking up between 50 and 100 sittings per year, and some even more than that due to the volume of work—well over the minimum 26 required. In contrast, it is proving difficult to entice those with work and family commitments to the bench, with fewer employers seemingly content or in a position to sanction regular absences.​

While every effort should continue to be made to boost recruitment, simply replacing retiring magistrates would be a significant challenge, and given current shortages would not, in itself, be sufficient. Indeed, this year the number of magistrates recruited is expected to be less than the number who retire, partly due to the need for rigorous selection, mentoring and support of newly appointed magistrates. It is worth noting, too, that these difficulties apply to all jurisdictions—adult, youth, and family. The senior judiciary, including the Lord Chief Justice, the senior presiding judge and the president of the family division, are all aware of the seriousness of the situation, as are, I know, the Minister and the Lord Chancellor.

It need not be this way. Jurors are now selected up to the age of 75, doubtless to enable justice to be delivered by people with wide experience of life. You may also have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the head of the Supreme Court is aged 75 and the almost 73-year-old Roy Hodgson seems to be doing a reasonable job at Crystal Palace. So why should magistrates be deemed incompetent simply because they have hit an arbitrary age?

There are other sound, compelling reasons to apply such logic. First, people live longer. The current retirement age of 70 was set in 1968, when life expectancy was just 72, and it is now nearly 81. Secondly, people work longer. Thirdly, people retire later. As they say, 70 is the new 50. To ensure ongoing competency beyond 70, the recognised and recently updated system for appraisal of all magistrates and retained magistrates would need to be extended, but this should not be a block to progress. As John Bache JP, chairman of the Magistrates Association, told me:

“We are rapidly heading for the perfect storm in the magistrates court. The backlog is increasing while the number of magistrates continues to fall, yet we are discarding those magistrates most able and willing to address this crisis”.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, on behalf of the Government, is very sympathetic to these arguments and is keen to make progress sooner rather than later, so I urge the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, for whom I have the utmost respect, to grasp this nettle now and give the magistracy the opportunity through this Bill, especially at this vital time of greatest need, to do what it has done for over 650 years, and deliver timely, fair justice for the communities it serves.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Edward Timpson, Tracey Crouch, Jeremy Wright, Greg Clarke, Graham Stringer, Andy Carter, David Simmonds, Richard Graham, Karen Bradley, Andrew Jones, Mr Shailesh Vara and Ben Everitt present the Bill.

Edward Timpson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September and to be printed (Bill 156).
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Tuesday, 28 July 2020

LATEST SENTENCING GUIDELINE OFF ITS TRACKS

The vast majority of the population is not in any way connected with the justice process from the police officer who used to be on the streets  to the judges of the supreme court and all functionaries in between. That is why successive Tory governments over the last decade have allowed our so called justice system to, using a vintners` term now in common usage, wither on the vine. That phrase defined as; "something being destroyed very gradually, usually because no one does anything to help or support it" perhaps describes our justice system more accurately than in its original meaning. Add to it a systemic reduction in resources available and the culpability of government becomes increasingly apparent. The last decade has also seen our sentencing system codified to such an extent it would have made Napoleon proud.  Having been retired from the bench for over five years my own opinions on the above have almost imperceptibly morphed from a sentencer within the legal orbit to a knowledgeable asteroidal outsider on a possible collision course.  Rightly or wrongly I have always been slightly apprehensive about putting the victim at the centre of the process as has increasingly been happening. It personalises everything when my inner core believes that the singling out of individuals leads to possible inconsistency. But that perception of inconsistency led the Ministry of Justice and senior judiciary to impose upon all sentencers Sentencing Guidelines which paradoxically is having the opposite effect. The situation is like two heavy lorries facing opposite directions and connected by a chain trying to drive away despite the equal and opposite resistance from each other. The Sentencing Guidelines try to eliminate individual perceived prejudices and are becoming more akin to algorithms used by computer programmers and software developers. Indeed I can foresee a time when the human input is removed totally but that is for the future and Hollywood. 

But what has prompted this rant is the latest Guideline  - Effective from 1 October 2020 Sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders, or neurological impairments - Effective from 1 October 2020. It can be accessed in full by following the link in the summary  It is a very long document at over 10K words and presumably will be on the desk and on line for courts.  I am in general disturbed by the content. First of all at the length: there is absolutely no way that during discussions on sentencing that the full content will be in the minds of those involved.  I would assume that all would have read it through a number of times before 1st October but its application will be more hit and miss. It makes many generalisations based on "diversity" meaning effects on the mental competences of black and south Asian people. This is a dangerous precedent.  Certainly there is scientific basis for knowing that certain groups are eg susceptible to becoming diabetic.  The current Convid 19 epidemic has demonstrated that some ethnic groups have died in relatively high numbers which are statistically significant but there are also many unanswered questions revolving around predisposition. What will actually happen in a magistrates  court bedevilled by over long adjournments will be that some minorities will in effect be given literally a get out of jail free card and the refusal of such court for that to be accessible will be grounds for an appeal at crown court. Considering the logistics of both Probation and court inspired general medical services, pre sentence reports will be few and far between.  

Why as a society have we come to this situation?  The pre occupation with all that is separate, different or seeking such diversity is the driving force. The homogenous nature of our population culturally and educationally is being stretched to its limit.  This is not a statement to encourage the racists in our midst whose increasing noise has arisen with the failed and miserable existence of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. This self proclaimed so called anti racist initiated the worst excesses of anti Jewish racism seen in this country since pre 1939.  

To achieve a non racist society one does not encourage separation; one encourages unification.  This latest guideline fails on that account as it fails on understanding the practicalities of its proposals on mental health.  

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE SPEECHWRITERS ARE PROTECTING EMERGENCY WORKERS


When I retired over five years ago those found guilty of common assault in theory  faced a maximum sentence of six months.  Most such offenders were sentenced to less than that and served only half the given sentence in prison being released on license  having done half their time.  Those who indeed were the subject of that six month maximum were usually found to be in the highest category of harm and culpability according to the Sentencing Guidelines. Often it was considered that if the victim were a public servant simply doing his/her job whilst being subjected to the assault that aggravating feature fed into the sentencing mix. However a year or so ago I learnt from a former colleague that public servants becoming assault victims in the course of their duties would, according to the government, be given the gratification of knowing that their assailant would be subject to a maximum incarceration of twelve months with the usual caveats of early guilty plea and early release. That of course was dependant of the miscreant being detained in the first place and progressing through the justice system. The thinking of those who have increased the available sentence in the circumstances outlined had to have been that the threat would serve to deter the incipient offender but of course that person would first of all have to be arrested, charged, brought to court and convicted with no certainty that the new maximum sentence was lawful and appropriate and last but not least overturned by appeal. There is of course a consideration that just perhaps the increase was a sop to the weasels in the press department of the Ministry of Justice so that the minister could address parliament and the public that measures were in hand to protect that very same public, notwithstanding the considerable reductions  over the last decade in police on duty, and to begin the first stage i.e.to arrest the offender. It is unlikely that the statisticians will be able to inform us or their masters of any public protection benefit for the increased sentencing powers of the courts. But much of that so called initiative has now been superseded by the announcement earlier this month that those who attack police or other emergency workers will be liable to two years maximum custody; double the existing sentence as above. The Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland said, 

"We will continue to do everything in our power to protect police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics and ensure those who seek to harm them feel the force of the law". 

Since last November about 9,300 offenders have been convicted of assault and 17% were subject to immediate custodial sentences of which only 6% received more than six months.  10% of those convicted received suspended sentences while 69% were subjected to a community punishment, fine or discharge. 

It is becoming ever more apparent to those outside the courts and legal fraternity that it is a political driver rather than an informed, apolitical, supra departmental, multi dimensional  umbrella of knowledge and statistics which is in control of what has been imposed on the Sentencing Council and which in turn determines the outcomes for offences and offenders. In a world where common sense ruled, attention and finance would be thrown at offences committed by those addicted to alcohol and/or drugs who are responsible it is estimated for 70% of violent or acquisitive crime including assaults on emergency workers.  According to a Home Office report in 2017 each year in the UK drugs cost society £10.7 billion in policing, healthcare and crime with drug-fuelled theft alone costing £6 billion a year. Research shows that for every £1 spent on treatment an estimated £2.50 is saved. But it is obvious that the only weapon that this government feels able to weald is deterrence.  Whilst it, for myriad reasons not least of which is the fear of bad publicity, resolutely sets its sights against even the consideration to decriminalise illicit drug use the dealers will continue to prosper and the users will continue to suffer on their downward slope to social, financial and in many cases human oblivion.  Meanwhile emergency workers and the rest of us will be happy in the knowledge that MOJ speechwriters are doing all they can to protect us. 



Tuesday, 14 July 2020

BLM/ANTISEMITISM AND STOP & SEARCH


The following post comprises government and parliamentary information, public information from the Metropolitan Police and reporting in the Manchester Evening news. 

The last census informed us that in England and Wales 86% were White, 8% were Asian/Asian British and 3% were Black/African/Caribbean/Black British. In London that figure for White falls to 69.7%.  Since 2009, the conviction ratio (the percentage of defendants convicted out of all those prosecuted) for indictable-only or 'either way' offences has increased for all ethnic groups. In 2017, the conviction ratios for Black and Mixed ethnic groups were lowest at 78.7% and 79%. In 2017, the conviction ratio was highest for defendants in the White ethnic group at 85.3%. In 2017 93% of White defendants prosecuted for drug offences were convicted compared with 86.6% of defendants from the Mixed ethnic group. In 2016/17 compared with the White ethnic group stops and searches proportionate to population size were more likely to be carried out on the Black (eight times as likely), Mixed (between two and three times as likely), Asian (just over two times as likely) and Chinese or Other (one and a half as likely) ethnic groups.  Relative to the population, the rates of prosecution for indictable offences for Black and Mixed ethnic groups were four and two times higher than for the White ethnic group. For every 1,000 population members 16 Black and 9 Mixed defendants were prosecuted compared to 4 White defendants. The Relative Rate Index indicates there is a statistically significant disparity in the rates at which defendants from non-White ethnic groups are convicted when compared to White defendants.

According to the Manchester Evening News:- "Figures on the ethnicity of the suspect are not given on a local level, but national figures show that of the white people killed between 2009/10 and 2017/18, 92 percent were thought to have been killed by another white person and just 2 percent by a black person.In comparison, of the black people killed during that time, just over half - at 55 per cent - were killed by another black person, and 33 percent by a white person.This reveals that white-on-white violent crime is much more prevalent than black-on-black violent crime, despite rarely being talked about in the same way. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, an estimated 373 homicides, including both murder and manslaughter, were committed in Greater Manchester. Of these, 288 victims were white, and 30 were black. When these figures are compared to the population, it means black people were nearly three times as likely as white people to be the victim of homicide.The number of deaths works out as a rate of 35 homicides for every 100,000 black people in Greater Manchester, and 13 for every 100,000 white people."

In May there were 43K instances of stop and search in London. In 2017 that number was about 12K monthly. Between December last year and June the arrest rate was 11% but the Met`s target was 20%.  In May 80% of young black males stopped and searched did not require further action. 

There is no doubt that the unhappy events in America have triggered public anxiety throughout the population but it has also released widespread condemnation of Black Lives Matter UK which recently announced " As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand behind our Palestinian comrades. FREE PALESTINE’.

The submerging of woke marxist antisemitic views within what is supposedly a representative organ to overcome what is described by its supporters as black oppression in the nation which was the first to outlaw the slave trade in 1807 devalues its ethos in the eyes of many who would wish to be supportive. This is a problem which shows no end time.