Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Monday, 25 March 2019

THE BENEFITS OF AN ENFORCED SHORT SILENCE BY THE BENCH

In order to allow producers of radio talk shows to have some control over what some malicious phone contributors might say a time delay of eg ten seconds is often incorporated into the system thus enabling any offending or offensive opinions to be deleted before the programme reaches its audience.  Bench chairmen have no such protection.  Personally I tried to allow perhaps three or four seconds before making any statement or responding to a question from officers of the court or witnesses.  Generally that enforced short silence served me well. Last week the chairman of the bench at Haverfordwest magistrates court might have opened himself to unwanted inquiry if his remarks had reached the ear of a pedant intent on causing trouble. He told an Irish burglar, "I just want you to get on the ferry and get out of Wales."  Perhaps on reading the report of the case in the Western Telegraph the unnamed bench chairman will realise that his remarks could have been construed as inappropriate verging on racist by those of a politically correct disposition out to cause trouble. 

Friday, 22 March 2019

ABOLITION OF SHORT CUSTODIAL SENTENCES


If you buy a car and fail to keep up with your payments there won`t be a gentleman from the finance company opening an office in your area to enquire why you`ve missed the payments. You`ve broken the contract and the car will be repossessed. As many have and are discovering the same applies to those who default on their mortgages. Their properties are repossessed. It is obvious of course that generally but not exclusively those defaulters are nearer the middle or lower levels of income distribution than the higher. And it can be said that their loans were based on income and/or credit rating. The loans were freely entered into and both parties to the deal considered, in theory at least, that disposable income was sufficient to service the amount. They might even have been offered various insurances to indemnify themselves against unemployment.

Fines imposed at court are for breaking the law. The law is rarely hidden waiting to jump out and catch innocents going about their daily business. When it did became widely known that the law was behaving in just that fashion the speed cameras were painted yellow to ensure justice was seen to be done. Fines in this country are calculated according to ability to pay. Depending on how the figures are analysed there is general agreement that at least half a billion pounds is owed in unpaid fines. Of course that amount is akin to water flowing into a bath with the plug out. It will never be completely empty of water so long as the taps are open; for taps read fines imposed daily. In some southern states of America if, after all attempts at getting unpaid fines in have failed, imprisonment on the basis eg of $1 unpaid = one day inside is actioned . I have witnessed such sentencing. It is quick and effective. There is none of the shilly shalishing that is the approved procedure here to get in what`s owed. But for a multitude of reasons the American example will never be considered here. It would be considered illiberal for a start and the current thinking within the Justice Ministry would be more likely to lobby to bring back hanging than undertake any new policy likely to increase the jail population. So once again we have the tail wagging the dog until perhaps the “Daily Believe It” publishes the scandal of fines remitted annually owing to offenders being considered unable ever to meet their obligations this side of 3000 A.D.

But all that was supposed to change some eight years ago in Widnes where the local council and Her Majesty`s Court and Tribunal Service  opened a fines surgery for defaulting offenders to be encouraged to come up with at least some of the readies owed for their own law breaking. The tail is not just wagging the dog; the inmates are running the asylum. Ah!..........I overlooked that we don`t have asylums anymore; it`s care in the community.  Anyway the experiment didn`t last long. I suppose the council found better ways to use the facilities. 

And now the talk is of the abolition of custodial sentences under six months. Presumably there will be an increase in those fined.  I suppose for deliberate defaulters in that event  there will be empty cells for them but they won`t be available for sentencers owing to the very rare occasions when that sanction is employed and as rare as hens` teeth for any sentences of more than a couple of weeks. 

The MOJ is pursuing cheap digital justice in the lower court.  Nothing else matters.  What sad times for us all. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

THE IDES OF MARCH WAS MY RETIREMENT

It`s the ides of March and the day four years ago on which I last sat in court.  I look back with mixed feelings on those days as an active Justice of the Peace  especially when I was considered competent enough to chair a court.  Looking back through my files I note that it was almost a year from my application being posted to my receipt of the letter informing me of my appointment to the bench. As I understand the process of appointment is equally tardy as it was over two decades ago.  That in itself is enough evidence to indicate at the very least that times they are not a changin` for  those in the MOJ who control it all.  At that time my bench consisted of 265 mostly agreeable individuals of strong opinions. Bench meetings were held three times a year allowing a newbie to meet those colleagues whose rotas were such that they were strangers to many. Localised rota planning by the committee of which I was later to become secretary enabled last minute vacancies to be filled.  Indeed I remember a summer morning when I was out jogging being called to inquire if I was available ASAP to fill in for a sick colleague. There was a fairly even balance of the sexes with many of both being of south Asian origin. There were certainly few black people, perhaps fewer than a dozen in all. Being middle aged I found myself in a very large majority age wise.  Our local courts` committee controlled much of the bench`s business and of course the rota was controlled by another committee voted in at an AGM.  There were regular meetings organised by the probation liaison committee where forthright opinions were exchanged with local probation officials to the better understanding by all. We were fortunate indeed to have for most of my tenure single District Judges who went out of their way to assist the bench and individuals in so many matters that were not covered by training.  They were happy to offer opinions from the general to the precise without of course prejudicing any actions a bench might take.  But all that changed. My bench amalgamated in 2012 with two others and it became a bench of 300. More black faces appeared in the directory and certainly a noticeable increase in colleagues under forty.  Sentencing Guidelines were supposed to avoid post code sentencing but many of us found that they were restrictive. Our bench had very effective training on sentencing structures from the very early days of appointment right through to the publication of the Guidelines. Chairmen whom I had admired as a winger always seemed to be of strong minds. They were thorough in their reasoning in the retiring room always allowing more junior colleagues to express themselves freely with advice if it were required delivered in friendly logical sequence. They were confident in their pronouncements and authority but helpful to those defendants with no representation and/or with difficulty in expressing themselves. Equally they had no hesitation in visiting the court`s annoyance if officers of the court overreached themselves.  It was obvious to me that those chairmen had the respect of the legal advisors both in the courtroom and in the retiring room.  In due course I did my best to emulate them. 

I retired a short time before Chris (failing) Grayling`s  Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015  became operational.  I just could not bear the thought of having to make the required pronouncement when sentencing. I understand that bench meetings are now history, rotas are centralised digitally and that magistrates are working in what could be described as a HMCTS  straitjacket where they are treated as unpaid employees rather than junior members of the judiciary.  I fear that the Magistrates Association is partly to blame for this.  It is apparent that those at the top of its tree are looking forward to their gongs on retirement as much as a letter of thanks from the Lord Chancellor.  Magistrates are now appointed to positions of influence by the MOJ.  True representation for magistrates by magistrates  is but a memory for those nearing retirement and an alien concept for newcomers. I had almost two decades on the bench.  I doubt these newbies will have similar longevity. Increasing numbers of DJs and Deputies are destined IMHO to take over our courts.  At the very minimum magistrates will be fortunate to still be sitting as wingers by 2030. 

I enjoyed my period on the bench and hope that some of the initiatives I undertook on a local level have not been swamped by central control. My feelings are as  mixed as a gin and tonic.  The whole tastes better than the sum of the parts. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

THE NOT VERY CANNY FOLK AT THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

The financial acumen of the people who service the Ministry of Justice has never been a pre - requisite for employment.  Indeed government in general of whatever department has been infamous for selling off assets at giveaway prices the most scandalous of all being Gordon Brown`s selling our gold at a time when the market was at its lowest for years. In 2010 the MOJ began the great court sell off.  Buildings deemed superfluous to need were closed and most but not all were sold to a first come first served bidder. Wantage magistrates court was one of the first closures. It shut its doors in 2010 under the orders of that great EU fanatic and so called man of the people with his crumpled suits and hush puppies; Kenneth Clarke. It took six more years for a buyer to come forward and by then the MOJ were glad to get rid of it and get rid of it they did for  £657,000. I am not a chartered surveyor or property expert but it seems to me that the buyer was a very shrewd cookie indeed. Including the adjoining police property the flattened plot has become a site of flats for retired folk. Thirty two one and two bedroom flats have been built along with parking facilities with a minimum price of £280,000.  Allowing for demolition and building costs it seems to me that when the final flat is sold there will be £millions for the developer. As a capitalist I salute their receiving reward for risk taken but as a taxpayer I am appalled that unless there is a denial from MOJ there is no provision for a profit share for the seller.  In football sell on profit share is common.  Club A sells a player to club B for £x and has a contract that if (when) club B sells on player to club C for £x+y club A receives z% of £y.  But then football financiers are canny folk and who in his right mind could apply that description to Ministry of Justice.    

Thursday, 7 March 2019

18 IS TOO YOUNG TO BE A MAGISTRATE

In 2012 the minimum age for magistrates was reduced from 27 to 18. I considered that a gross error at the time and still do.  The current minimum age for voting is also 18. The Representation of the People Act 1969 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, with effect from 1970 and remained in force until the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which allowed 16 year olds to vote for the first time but only in Scotland and only in that particular referendum. Soldiers cannot be sent into combat until 18. Jurors cannot sit until 18. In contrast however.  Felons under 21 may not be sentenced to a whole life order and so must become eligible for parole. Many (most?) car rental companies stipulate a minimum age of 21 although some allow 18 year olds to rent very small cars. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in England and Wales is 16 although this requires consent of parents and guardians if a participant is under eighteen. 

From the sample above it is obvious that age restriction rules are arbitrary. Physiologists and psychologists agree that the human brain does not attain complete adult functioning processes until the early twenties. Age and gender related politics have been a cultural phenomenon for twenty years in the West. The latest addition to this mindset is the furore we hear almost every day in one form or another over "trans" people and their so called rights. Even this morning on R4 "Today" there was a proponent on eligibility for such indeterminate people in female Olympic events.  I would posit that the virtually universal acclaim for 18 year old magistrates is as much a politically directed socially accepted position as the wish to reinstate the death penalty for treason and the murder of police officers is the direct opposite.  Similar arguments, I believe, had much to do with the Brexit argument being lost by those who did most to promote it. "Go with the flow", "be on the right side" and similar tendencies for many people not to disagree with a supposed "mainstream" have put us in this position.  

A 22 year old magistrate who has barely finished his induction training gave an interview last week to BBC. I have no idea at all with whom or with what agencies he made contact prior to the event if at all. I have no idea whether he instigated such proceedings or what was sought out by the BBC or any agencies as mentioned above. All I do know that unsurprisingly he messed up.  He was quoted quite correctly as saying inter alia, "  'Being a magistrate is challenging, it does test you and your morals. It is just about following your gut instinct,'  As soon as critical comments emerged on social media the helping hands of apologists swiftly enveloped him. At the risk of making comments with virtually no detailed knowledge of this man except what has been published I`m surprised that if somebody is accepted by an Appointments Committee his aspirations in life at his age have not led him to a more inspiring place that being a Tesco till operator. I write as one whose father left school at 14 to train as a barber before becoming a British Junior Chess Champion in his late teens and who achieved many social and political positions as befitted his sky high IQ. 

My opinion of a necessary requirement for magistrates amongst  many others can be summed up in two words, "life experience". I rest my case and hope he and others similar have learned from his error.  

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

THE COST OF PUBLIC RELATIONS AT M.O.J.

From time to time I have commented, often disparagingly, on the press/public relations department of the Ministry of Justice.  Latest figures on that department are that currently there are 31 employees at a cost of..........comprising employee salary along with employer pension and National Insurance contributions........£2,354,000. This represents 0.03% of the MOJ budget.

I don`t know how this compares with other central government departments but on the surface this F.O.I. answer appears to be less than I would have thought although with Failing Grayling doing his stuff at Transport MOJ staff have less hard work to do.  They only have to justify excessive closures of magistrates courts, fewer than needed magistrates and judges, elimination of legal aid, excessive trial delays and much else. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

FAILING GRAYLING IS POLITICS TODAY

Over the last five years I have not been alone in castigating the "improvements" brought about by the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Indeed quick use of the search box will indicate just what a catastrophe this incompetent man has been.  Reinforcing the fact that it was not a departmental failing of one sort or another today brings news of his ramshackle approach in his current job as Transport Secretary which has once more cost the taxpayers of the UK £millions.  The fact that Maymustgo (to employ a well used Twitter handle)  has kept this arrogant stupid man in position is yet just another facet of what the Brexit farce has brought us. He is an arch Brexiteer she dare not sack. This is politics today.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

MUSINGS ON WEDNESDAY 2

I offer just a few points of reference for today.

Prosecutions for road traffic offences have fallen by two thirds since 2010.  I doubt that driving standards have improved so much in that time.  The only possible explanation is that with fewer police on patrol fewer miscreants have been apprehended. The numbers are here

The government is totally to blame for the current shortage of magistrates. The number of two person benches is on the rise precisely because of the shortage. But in the true tradition of government obfuscation we are told no statistics are kept on these events.  This is ridiculous. It would take but an instant to note these numbers given that every case is associated with the names of those JPs who sat on the occasion(s) in question. 

For examples of how the nasally inclined public school accented women in charge of the magistracy are allowed to rant and divert attention from actual problems readers could do worse than spending an hour or so watching the recent meeting of the House of Commons Justice Committee where those three ladies did their best to waffle with members of the committee generally not prepared to push hard. 

And finally as someone who was born just a few weeks before the end of World War 2 and whose close family members were active in the fight against the nazis, to discover that the  Judicial College has had to prepare and distribute for the judiciary advice on the disturbing rise in antisemitism is of great concern. Comment can be found here.  That this virus seems to becoming commonplace amongst the far left in particular is a direct result of the leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition giving tacit support by his silence to those concerned in addition to lying about his own support for those who would welcome and assist in the destruction of Israel and by implication the Jewish population.   

ADDENDUM

A  House of Lords answer published five minutes ago is illuminating as being another example of government not collecting simple statistics in case the numbers are detrimental to its probity.   

Monday, 25 February 2019

TV IN OUR COURTS IS INEVITABLE

Last week the Guardian published a lengthy article on the demise of court reporting.  It is a fact based information piece that offers no solutions to the perceived deficit. However these facts do not tell the whole story.  As I have posted here from time to time there are regular all day as it happens magistrates courts reports countrywide.  Insert court reporting in the search box. 

There is no doubt in my mind that it is a matter of "when" and not "if" live TV webcasts of all our courts  are common place.  These of course would have to be funded by commercial means.  The argument most often promulgated against such broadcasting is that the medium would become more significant that the legal process.  We are told that witnesses and more importantly barristers would perform for the cameras. Similar arguments were made by opponents to the televising of the House of Commons. With the Supreme Court`s proceedings a regular legal fixture I look forward to the day when I can choose to view the daily happenings at my local courts or indeed any court in England and Wales.  The Scots are already part way there. I wouldn`t bet against their more pragmatic legal attitudes leading to trials north of the border to be regularly on our screens within a decade. 

Monday, 18 February 2019

THE SUN SETS ON LAY MAGISTRATES

The government departments which have the greatest influence over the manner of the work that Justices of the Peace undertake are, surprise surprise, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. In May 2006 a previous Home Secretary John Reid admitted that when he was the incumbent the department was "not fit for purpose".  His honesty then has been borne out many times since.  The current prime minister oversaw so many failings when she was Reid`s successor it should have been a red light to her colleagues when she was placed in Downing Street purely as the least objectionable of a rum lot. But the lemmings in the Tory Party allowed themselves to be led towards the inevitable cliff where her and their incompetence are likely to bring at the best,  years of political and economic problems and street violence and a Marxist government at worst. 

Faced with the problem of the Isis teenager from East London telling the media she has no regrets over her actions and expecting public sympathy the current Home Secretary touted by some as a future prime  minister with all the resources of his department behind him made public his opinion that he would seek to prevent her from returning to these shores.  Presumably he was basing that statement having consulted his permanent secretary and read his own rules as below.
The essence of his opinion did not take into account that a British citizen cannot be made stateless.  There is no ambiguity in that fact. And the fact that the teenager in question did not have duel citizenship with rights of another country`s passport should have been apparent to him and his advisors. He now has had to backtrack and accept that if she reaches the UK border she cannot be excluded.


The list above of the Secretaries of State for Justice makes for sorry reading for any sense of continuity or joined up thinking in the department which runs the lives of magistrates. One hour ago the current Secretary issued a statement included in which was a very strong hint that the days of magistrates courts having the power to impose immediate custodial sentences are numbered. This is not surprising to those of us who follow such events. The dumbing down of magistrates themselves will surely follow. If they are allowed to remain on the bench it will be mainly as wingers to District Judges who will be the presiding officials. To those who will say that no government will countenance the costs involved it has been shown that if DJs sit without a qualified legal clerk or with merely a low level clerk such costs will be approximately similar to the sums paid to Justices of the Peace as expenses. 

So all those inspired by the advertisements appearing countrywide encouraging applications for the lay bench enjoy the sun whilst it`s shining.  It will be dimming before long.  


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

DECRIMINALISE DRUG USE

I have long been in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs which are currently prohibited; heroin, cocaine and marijuana and the derivatives manufactured to get round current regulations which are sometimes more lethal than the originals on which they are based.  In the case of marijuana many jurisdictions have already legalised the drug in particular form.  The swinging sixties so called was an era of "weed" or "joint" or "squiff" the active ingredient of which is  tetrahydrocannabinol. However, already more than 70 different cannabinoids have been identified so far. These compounds have a chemical structure that is much related to THC, but their biological effects are quite different.  The current popular derivative among users is commonly called "skunk" which is a vastly different product and has more serious side effects than its ancestor of half a century ago.  Users of this and other prohibited substances have no knowledge of what they are taking and almost every day news media contain tragic stories of the effects of these products. Drug trafficking to the UK costs an estimated £10.7 billion per year and The Home Office has estimated the illegal drugs market to be worth £5.3 billion. Recent figures show that there were approaching 3000 deaths from misuse of prohibited drugs. Surely taxing such products and selling them at licensed premises with regulated content would be more sensible than the present situation. Dealing would be more heavily punished.  There is a downside insofar as some people might be tempted to try out these drugs especially marijuana who otherwise would not have done so. However I believe that it is a matter of when and not if for the time to come for change. Neither society nor individuals such as this  are helped by using the court process. 

Friday, 8 February 2019

ASLEEP ON THE BENCH

It seems a judge, not just a HH but a High Court judge  has been caught sleeping on the job. Unlike JPs who fail similarly she was allowed to remain in post. For an entertaining recent history of such failings read my post of 14th August 2015.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

SOMETIMES DETERRENCE REALLY DOES WORK


It is perhaps not widely known that when a defendant is fined at court after conviction the fine is payable immediately and sometimes, just sometimes, it is paid immediately. There are those, however, who appear to treat the whole court and legal process as an interruption to their feckless relentless life of contempt for any kind of authority. Reading regularly in various publications of the amount of unpaid fines, £500 million, a £billion or even more........who knows the exact figure at any time.........reminded me of an experience shortly before my retirement. 

Joe faced fine and various court costs of £190.00 and when told the sum was due on the spot protested he had no money. When he was asked that knowing he was coming to court to plead guilty had he not realised he would be fined he moved his head inconsequentially. After another ineffectual exchange he was told to turn his pockets out. He refused. The jailers were told to take him to the cells and have his pockets emptied. Shouting obscenities he was led away. The next defendant who was sitting at the back awaiting his being called eventually had a similar question put to him about paying immediately. He told the court with alarming frankness, "I was going to tell you I had nothing but I don`t want to go to the cells like that bloke." He took £10 in £ coins and small change from his pocket as a down payment and was directed to the fines office. We later took £25.00 from Joe!

So the motto of this little tale is occasionally the principle of deterrence really does work.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

KNIFE PREVENTION ORDERS; PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS

I have posted more than a few times on ASBOs and the like. Use the search box for posts.  Essentially they are civil orders breaching of which is a criminal offence.  I would term them displacement orders insofar as eg Drink Banning Orders can order the miscreant to do his/her boozing in another county or another town.  There have even been cases where the order has been nationwide.  They are IMHO a complete waste of time and an abrogation of our society to deter and if necessary punish people for their criminality.  But and it`s a big "but" they are simple and cheap to operate. And for the last nine years it appears that our criminal justice system is like the original motto of Tesco; pile it high and pile it cheap. The ASBO, CRASBO and DBO`s latest incarnation is the Knife Crime Prevention Order.  For actual details access this link. Stop and search operations were drastically curtailed by Theresa May as Home Secretary because it was asserted that they unfairly targeted young black men notwithstanding the fact that in many areas especially London it was young black men who were most likely to be victims of knife attacks. The spate of such attacks in London appears not to be met by police in sufficient numbers to show that the situation is under control. Thus this latest innovation.  I will not repeat the caveats expressed in the link above but it is my strong belief that this so called initiative will fail in its intention and will truly further alienate young black men.  This time there will be good cause for the resentment that will surely follow and that will make the relationship between them and police even more fractious. It is another example of increasing the powers of police to control our society by suspicion rather than by evidence; a catch all associated more often with jurisdictions where acting according to law is an afterthought rather than a priority.  These orders are just another example of papering over the cracks caused by the slashing of resources since 2010.