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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 22 February 2017

HMCTS PUBLISHES ITS OWN COURT REPORTS

It seems that HMCTS is soon going to roll out its own news service re results from magistrates` courts.  West Sussex Magistrates` Court would appear to be the first area in  unannounced pilot scheme. See previous posts. This is an iniquitous step when local media for one reason or another abrogate the task of local reporting.  HMCTS will in theory  be solely responsible for public news. That in theory and practice is bad for democratic freedom of information. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

HOUSE OF LORDS QUESTION:LAY MAGISTRACY

Yesterday`s question in the House of Lords on the subject of the magistracy provided the usual rehash of the noble lords rehearsed opinions. Read for yourself.........it`ll take only three or four minutes at most.

POLICE CONFERRING IN NOTETAKING

As a newly appointed J.P. it took me a while to absorb the fact that not only was police collaboration in writing up their notebooks of an incident normal; it was enshrined in page upon page of regulation. There is a link on this in the last post I made on this topic a year ago.  My initial thoughts were that within such a system were the foundations of corruption.  Phrases such as "rolling gait", "eyes glazed", and others similar were repeated in police officers` evidence read from their notebooks over and over again. One of the first questions of police witnesses when I first took the middle chair was to ask of them after they were sworn in if and with whom they had collaborated in their note taking.  Some colleagues  found this unusual but appreciated the significance.  It seems that now the Independent Police Complaints Commission has given this situation some thought although by its very mandate serious cases only are under consideration.  Its advice is that conferring should be eliminated.  That it has taken this long to initiate such a common sense procedure should not belittle its significance.  Indeed it should be a stepping stone to similar restrictions in everyday matters where more than a single officer or PCSO is involved.  Public trust in policing cannot be said to be encouraging.  Any factor that improves this without being detrimental to performance is to be welcomed.

Monday, 20 February 2017

ADDICTED OFFENDERS

For longer than I care to remember I have been saddened by the cultural failure to divert addicts from courts to a medical pathway.  All the fiddling by successive Justice Secretaries and their minions from Sentencing Council to lies about the numbers of prison officers and all else in between makes me want to throw up. In today`s and this weekend`s  local newspapers  three cases shine the light on why we require custody for some non violent offenders, opposed by Howard League, and also why we should grasp the nettle to divert addicts committing low level crime from courts to a compulsory  medical pathway to eradicate their addiction. 

Although optimistic by nature I fear that no government with a democratic mandate to rule will ever have the balls to implement such a change in our attitudes to criminality.  We`ll have the same old cycle of events, claims and counter claims and Justice Secretaries who don`t even attempt to bang their heads against the status quo brick wall.

Friday, 17 February 2017

CUSTODY:THE FINAL SANCTION

With a prison population at almost record levels and no prospect of its being reduced without drastic reform of sentencing guidelines shrill voices are frequently proclaiming that incarceration for non violent offenders must no longer be tolerated. They must be dealt with in the community; whatever that actually means.  This offender sentenced earlier this week for driving whilst disqualified owing to a ban imposed for drink driving a month previously has been jailed for twelve weeks and had in addition a suspended sentence for the drink driving offence  activated.  She was not violent. Without the final sanction of custody just what would happen to such offenders?

Thursday, 16 February 2017

COURT ESCAPE; A FACSIMILE FOR REALITY

The Ministry of Justice cannot be faulted for failing to publish statistics from every possible source for which it has responsibility; related to prisons, courts, offenders, convictions etc. etc. etc. For many journalists and lobbyists it makes for an easy life; comment on some aspect of these millions of numbers and use them as a peg for a story, a blog post, a tweet or for further ammunition in some cause or other. But to many people outside the professions involved the numbers behave somewhat like a balancing arm where their preformed opinions can be reinforced.  Take, however, a real live incident and its harmful or harmless significance can become a facsimile  of the reality within.  Such an incident happened earlier this week at Teesside Magistrates` Court where a District Judge was presiding. A known offender with 46 previous simply walked out of the courtroom whilst said DJ was in the middle of his summing up.  The mere fact that this happened does not reflect well on the performance of the DJ  who seems likely to have been looking elsewhere rather than at the offender in front of him. There are those who question the use of a secure dock at magistrates` courts.  It is a fair point on the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. There is therefore a cogent argument but the flip side is the lack of security when an open dock is being used and doubly so when the defendant has a prolific record. In plain English security in these courts is virtually non existent in practice.  Where operatives from one of the outsourcing companies Group4, Serco, Capita or whoever honour the court with their attendance they are just a decoration satisfying the political correctness overwhelming public governance.  Perhaps this social decay has reached its peak in the "safe spaces" and refusal to allow reasoned debate on contentious matters  demanded by many at university.  When I was appointed so long ago there usually would be a police officer floating about somewhere in the building. Latterly even that modicum of security was not guaranteed.  American police cause and receive much criticism but on my few visits to arraignment (remand) American courts there has always been at least one (armed of course) police officer in the courtroom.   

Politicians in this country since 2008 have sacrificed our security and freedoms by emasculating almost everything connected to what is termed law `n order; from policing to deter crime to hounding low income defendants deprived of legal assistance to throwing out of employment thousands of prison officers who were just about keeping a lid on the febrile atmosphere brewing in  prisons.

It is becoming clearer each week that passes that contrary to metropolitan opinion many in this country are looking across the pond with a certain degree of envy.   They see a non politician acting decisively if inexpertly at perceived problems.  If UKIP win either or both of the forthcoming bye elections it will be a warning to any concerned with democratic processes that change is coming. The form of that change will be a challenge to all who purport to be politicians.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

LEGAL DECISIONS FROM ON HIGH

This blog in its seven plus years of existence has attempted to bring to those interested in the goings on in a magistrates` court, matters directly related and sometimes offering a wider viewpoint including political and police involvement.   Since my retirement my comments obviously have relied upon items generally available in the public media with occasional tit bits from former colleagues and my own recollections of interesting cases. Observations on cases from the Appeal or Supreme  Court have generally been of little connection to my original motivation for inclusion here and consequently there have been few such related posts.  Today is an exception.

Many thousands of us, myself included, have appealed against a parking fine of one sort or another.  Fortunately I had the wherewithal and time a couple of years ago to make a successful appeal but the enforced procedures employed by the council might have forced many to abandon the fight.  It was therefore gratifying to read of a motor cyclist whose appeal reached the Court of Appeal and culminated in his winning his case against Camden Council which governs an area with a similar population to Reading.  Whilst this inner London borough with others has a major traffic and parking control responsibility  it does seem that some brake on its typical requirement to obliterate all opposition to its authority.........a feature common to many such organisations not necessarily governmental.........might have saved its tax payers many thousands of pounds in legal costs.  

Internal inquiries into police misconduct often find officers guilty of misconduct but not gross misconduct and since it is a finding of the latter which probably justifies dismissal the offender lives to offend another day. The recent "bare breast" case of Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable  is one to savour on this point. Of course the moot point is when does misconduct become gross. Now to some degree there is an answer from the Court of Appeal

And finally............from a Supreme Court judgement of  the need to protect the individual from arbitrary detention.  In 2015 peaceful  demonstrators against the state visit of the Chinese President were arrested for waving flags. Today it has been announced from Downing Street that President Trump will indeed be granted a state visit to this country later this year.  One doesn`t need to be a Nostradamus to predict that there will be widespread demonstrations against him not excluding during his drive down The Mall.  We should all be concerned by the judgement from the Supreme Court published today.

Monday, 13 February 2017

JURY VETTING IS UNFIT FOR PURPOSE

I suppose commenting on the general topic of juries and the internet is the sort of activity that fills lawyers and judges with trepidation. The mere mention of jury competence in some circles invites the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition.  Two of my posts in 2015 more or less sum up the situation. It seems now that the current watchword by virtue of Il Duce Trump is fake news.  HH Judge Graham Robinson at Grimsby Crown Court warned whoever was listening that they must be aware of fake news and to that end avoid using the internet in jury deliberations.  All this leads back to the situation where owing to the outmoded concept of "peers" every person of age  excluding a few who are insane or members of parliament or both, must serve.  Even some of those  who have had a criminal conviction must serve if ordered.  However periods of imprisonment, a suspended sentence of imprisonment or probation can warrant exclusion. I have never been called to jury service under the current regulations and excluded myself when rules were more elastic decades ago. The fact remains that some jurors with specialist knowledge or higher intellect on the one hand and those with extreme prejudices of one sort or another, low intelligence or poor command of English language on the other are sitting in judgement in life changing situations for many defendants. Their contrary abilities do not in the current jargon offer a zero sum of decision making. The time must surely be coming  when the vetting of jurors is brought up to date to cope with the modern day demands of adjudicating at the very least on the most serious indictable offences.  Currently such vetting as it is, is unfit for purpose. What was suitable in the past is no longer acceptable.


Friday, 10 February 2017

HOGAN-HOWE TRUMPS TRUMP FOR INDISCRETION

I doubt there will be many tears at the forthcoming exit from Scotland Yard of its Commissioner Hogan-Howe.  His  revelation accidental or calculated of a proposed date for the visit of  President Trump will have angered both the Prime Minister and her successor at the Home Office no end. His presence will not be missed. There was scandal at the Met before Hogan-Howe, during his tenure and at his leaving. Its whole structure needs investigation.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

PUBLIC PROTECTION AND PUBLIC PERCEPTION

During my time on the bench I lost count of the number of occasions on which I had to remind colleagues, especially those recently appointed, that in addition to the tick box sentencing process and listening to mitigation of offenders we also had a duty of public protection.  Many of these newer colleagues expressed surprise as this aspect of sentencing had never been mentioned during their training sessions. Important as it was and is,  it is not to be confused with public perception.  A bench in  Llandudno has been castigated owing to public perception in its failing to consider public protection.  In this case I fear the perception truly illustrates the bench`s misconceived attitude to punishment for punishment is exactly what a curfew is; a deprivation of liberty albeit without being held within the confines of an institution built for that purpose. 

As the clamour increases for rehabilitation to take precedence over punishment for lower level criminality I fear that J.P.s might be enveloped within that  approaching cloud of optimistic benevolent wet eyed mistiness which looks for the good and overlooks the evil.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

DID MY BENCH STEP TOO FAR?



For many reasons as varied as increased numbers of immigrants and determination of public bodies to prosecute, magistrates` courts are often the scene where somebody with English very much a second or even third language comes into contact with legal officialdom. Those defendants facing charges eg of freeloading on buses or trains, having no TV license, being drunk & disorderly or driving without a valid license often have difficulty real or for effect in telling the court what it needs to know and answering even simplified questions. All courts must provide an interpreter to ensure there is a "level playing field" so that poor or no English does not prejudice the defendant. That process takes time and requires the case being adjourned. It also costs a lot of money. From time to time the problems with failures in the courts` interpreters` contract make the news.  The possible scandals in the awarding of the initial national contract to Applied Language Solutions which very quickly sold out to Capita plc preceded a catastrophic breakdown in efficiency. An article in the Guardian last year was and is one of many highlighting this seemingly intractable problem. Obviously I have no current experience with the state of interpreters within magistrates` courts but I do remember an experience chairing a bench which has not lost its relevance today.


A Sudanese man appeared who was charged with having no ticket on a train journey. Despite being questioned in very simple English by the legal adviser and the bench chairman it was difficult to conclude whether he was pleading guilty but trying to offer mitigation........a common occurrence........or was pleading not guilty the latter plea necessitating an adjournment for trial and the appointment of an interpreter. A member of the bench had Arabic as a fairly fluent second language and I authorised him to inquire of the Hausa speaking defendant if he was comfortable in the second tongue of many Sudanese....Arabic although of a different dialect. He nodded and a simple exchange began whereupon our legal adviser advised..... because that`s what she`s there for......that our impartiality as a bench might be in question if we continued. Accordingly and somewhat reluctantly we ceased and the trial arrangements were made.


Subsequent discussion with colleagues indicated that they considered we were walking a very slippery slope and they themselves in a similar situation would not have ventured as we had done. Perhaps we did indeed go a step too far; perhaps not but I am far from sure I wouldn`t have done the same again. We were a multi ethnic multi language bench of around three hundred JPs each of whom had sworn an oath to do right by all men. So a little bit of unofficial interpreting was just a use of skills. In addition it would probably have avoided continual stress for the defendant and loadsamoney in a courts system where there was no certainty that a trial court on any day would even have had the services of an usher to call witnesses. We were, and J.P.s still are,  appointed to bring, inter alia, their skills to the Bench.  Indeed on occasion I used my own professional knowledge questioning witnesses for clarification who have offered statements or answers that I knew were impossible and untrue.  

But that particular day`s tale as per the account above was of just another day on the bench.

Monday, 6 February 2017

THE HUMOUR IN JUSTICE TODAY

Over the last few years increasing restrictions have been placed upon magistrates` courts concerning remands in custody.  The natural corollary to that position is the imagination of District Judges and Justices of the Peace in the imposition of conditions by which bail is granted.  However those imposed by ex colleagues at Walsall Magistrates` Court last week on a tattoo artist must be the most esoteric for quite some time. He was ordered to comply as follows by the bench chairman, "You must not carry out the removal of body parts...........”  Burke and Hare weren`t let off that easily in Edinburgh in 1828 but then of course they had more sinster and evil intent.

Friday, 3 February 2017

HONOURABLE J.P. TRASHED BY POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

"Mrs Susan Preston JP, a magistrate assigned to the South Derbyshire Bench, has been issued with a formal warning following an investigation into her conduct. Mrs Preston had declined to adjudicate on a case in the Family Court because of her personal views about same sex couple parenting. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice considered that this amounted to misconduct and have issued Mrs Preston with a formal warning. Mrs Preston has also been asked to stand down from the Family Panel with immediate effect.”

The above notice was published by the Judicial Investigations Office on January 26th. On first reading one might conclude that this lady ought to have known better than express her presumably long held opinion on same sex parenting. It is apparent that the J.I.O. took her presumed admission of her strong opinion as a violation of her *judicial oath or that she fell foul of the rules of judicial conduct and/or within the The Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations.

I would put another point of view.  Let me begin by stating the obvious: we all have prejudices.  We are required, not just in the magistracy but in many other occupations, to recognise them and to put aside these prejudices in the course of our duties. There have been well publicised occasions where such such prejudice has been recognised but instead of being put aside has been admitted as reason for the pursuit or non pursuit of an action, legal or professional. The Belfast birthday cake case comes to mind. 

The thinking behind the decision on Mrs Preston is flawed.  In a world where honesty and personal integrity are valued over political correctness this woman would not have had her reputation besmirched. Shame on all those who brought  about this situation.

*
“I, _________ , do swear by Almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second in the office of ________ , and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

COSTLY PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION UNNECESSARY

It is so obvious that many M.P.s who will in all probability rarely achieve any recognition within the public seek to enhance their profile by asking totally unnecessary parliamentary questions the answers to which are in the public domain and simply accessed in a couple of key inputs.  Such is the case with Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.  He asked the Secretary of State for Justice, what plans her Department had to increase social diversity among magistrates.  Anyone remotely interested in the topic would have been aware that the magistracy is the most ethnically diverse part of the judiciary.  Indeed the organisation can hold its head up high in that regard in comparison to any other publicly funded and/or voluntary organisation.  The reply from a Justice Minister was as simple as it was predictable. 

It would have cost nothing for him to have spent two minutes to seek the current information himself and saved the public purse  the average  costs of £164 for such a task. 

The latest statistics are copied below with the unfortunate cutting off of the lowest cells beyond my control. 











Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE GREAT(ER) MANCHESTER POLICE BREAST SCANDAL

A public organisation by its very title requires the confidence of that public which it is empowered to serve.  Without such confidence whether or not actual or perceived the organisation will exist within a self imposed cloak of self preservation.  Arse covering by its top officials and secrecy in its deliberations, decisions and methodologies will form into a vicious circle of wagons under attack. Such is the handling of the misconduct case involving Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable  Rebekah Sutcliffe.  Comments on her behaviour which led to a misconduct hearing were posted here last November.  This officer was, not for the first time, facing  serious allegations of dubious behaviour.

A disciplinary panel found  that her conduct "had taken her to "the very precipice of dismissal", but accepted it was out of character and recommended a final written warning would suffice". GMP Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling was quoted as saying he was , "all too aware of the damage to public confidence".  Yet despite his own opinion it seems that in contradiction of my opening comments above he was not prepared to dismiss her from the force.  Scandals have rocked this organisation for years.  This is a blog; not an investigation.  Whether or not GMP is any more or any less inhabited by officers unfit for the job or liable to be protected when behaviour is found lacking compared to other police forces is a moot point.  What cannot be disregarded are the effects in this particular case of allowing so senior an officer to get away with such disreputable actions which would be just cause for instant dismissal in almost any other profession.  Admitting his decision will damage public confidence GMP Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling is himself guilty of deriliction of duty insofar as he has deliberately chosen to protect his deputy rather than fulfil that duty.  As for the other party in this sordid tale, Superintendent Sarah Jackson; she has moved sideways to a similar post at Cumbria Constabulary. If people move jobs without promotion it usually has its own story.

The Telegraph report is available here.

Monday, 30 January 2017

HMCTS DOES ITS OWN COURT REPORTS

I have previously more than once commented upon the dearth of local reports of the day to day happenings at Magistrates` Courts.  These posts have not been of universal condemnation and indeed almost a year ago it was a pleasure to praise one local newspaper for its court reports.  The important fact was that it was unbiased reporting by an independent newspaper.  Earlier this month on January 4th I commented that court reports of the events within West Susses local justice area, namely  for cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from December 19 to 23, 2016 were direct press releases from HMCTS. I also made comments re the newly appointed CEO of that organisation on Twitter.  Despite a Tweet from that new broom at HMCTS that I would be given an explanation for this subtle change in supposed news reports nothing was heard.  Recently the Worthing Herald published another press release as news, of cases sentenced also at West Sussex Magistrates` Court this time sitting at  Worthing in addition to cases from S.E. Hampshire Magistrates` Court sitting at Portsmouth. 

There is no doubt in my mind that in sending out press releases to anyone who subscribes for them the Ministry of Justice or Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service are offering information which can be used or discarded as appropriate for the subscriber.  However when such information is published in a newspaper the ramifications are quite different.  The information is not colated by a third party publisher.  Complaints or otherwise would rightly be directed at the editor/publisher.  It is the thin edge of a long thick wedge for HMCTS to take advantage of local news medias` shortage of staff and revenue to offer this page filling content. Reports could conceivably be less than strictly accurate or tailored to be approved by some government authority for for any nefarious purpose.  Such interference with "news" in this fashion must be opposed.
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793
cases sentenced by West Sussex Magistrates’ Court sitting at Worthing and South East Hampshire Magistrates’ Court sitting at Portsmouth from January 16 to 20, 2017.

Read more at: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/crime/hm-courts-service-results-list-for-january-16-to-20-2017-1-7794793