Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.
Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.
Tuesday, 11 June 2019
The number of sessions sat in magistrates’ courts in England in the calendar year 2018 was 208,711. We don’t count days sat in the magistrates’ court and instead count sessions. A session is usually half a day in length.
A Freedom of Information request as to how these sessions were allocated to magistrates or District Judges(MC) was unable to be answered. " I can confirm that MOJ holds some of the information you have requested. However, to provide as the request currently stands would exceed the cost limit set out in the FOIA. Section 12(2) of the FOIA means public authorities are not obliged to comply with a request for information if it estimates the cost of complying would exceed the appropriate limit. The appropriate limit for central government it is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days determining whether the department holds the information."
Perhaps a number crunching reader can offer some insight into the significance or other wise of these figures bearing in mind my post of April 24th.
Monday, 10 June 2019
Tuesday, 4 June 2019
Friday, 31 May 2019
Tuesday, 28 May 2019
Thursday, 23 May 2019
Every day thousands of demands are made of those in the probation services the efficiency of which as readers will know was decimated by Grayling`s disastrous incompetence at the MOJ. One such demand is when an offender is being considered for unpaid work as part of a community sentence. Whether or not s/he is represented the bench should make detailed inquiries as to that person`s availability for such work; eg whether a disability could be a problem, childcare duties, employment obligations etc etc. Since every court appearance by every offender costs the state money it is in everyone`s interest that when sentencing all possible questions are raised as to any unforeseen problems that might arise. In the case reported here unless one was in court the quality of such pre sentence investigation is unknown but we do have reported the result. Perhaps with the culling of senior JPs by retirements inexperienced magistrates are being let down by their legal advisors or perhaps pressures of time through overlisting are having not unexpected consequences.
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
It is unquestionable that there is a great temptation for unrepresented defendants in magistrates courts to plead guilty to "get the matter over with at the lowest possible cost". Even before the introduction of Grayling`s iniquitous Criminal Courts Charge I as well as many colleagues had the personal experience of explaining to such defendants the downside of such hasty ill considered decisions often to little avail. For many years and with varying frequencies depending on the MOJ press office priorities and the loudmouth of the newest Minister to sit in Petty France, there have been hints that short custodial sentences ie those handed down by magistrates courts should be abolished. The last few months have seen a resurgence of such "hints" on social media. Then a few weeks later we are told that the probation service grievously wounded by Grayling amongst his other failings is to be given a new lease of life as a quasi nationalised service in 2021. Every month prison numbers are published. Most recent figures below:-
All manor of the MOJ`s arts and crafts are employed to reduce these numbers including the automatic release after half a sentence has been served. But the current judicial system just like the current political system is not fit for purpose. Every day in every magistrates court in England and Wales benches (and District Judges MC) are making decisions which fly in the face of common sense and purpose. This is but a single example.
The very basis of the pillar of justice can no longer be relied upon whether "justice" is used in its simple legal definition or its application to the trials through which many of the public are put when dealing with government departments. The NHS eg is considered by many to be a totem; to be sacrosanct in its current form when such a system is demonstrably failing those who bet their lives on it. But any who dare utter any criticism are regarded as pariahs. There is so much gone awry in our politics in its widest form that in historical terms indicates a populist uprising of "us" against "them" is but a matter of "when" and not "if".
Thursday, 16 May 2019
The lamentable history above is but a microcosm of what has befallen this nation as a result of the Referendum; a device hastily thrown together to serve the interests only of the Conservative Party. Grayling`s failings were all and I repeat all approved in cabinet. That miserable collection of incompetents for their own selfish reasons and laterally serving under the most incompetent personally unsuitable holder of the title of prime minister allowed the country to drift politically adrift from all reality. Grayling as a hard Brexiteer was kept in Cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport where currently he is continuing to demonstrate his complete and utter unsuitability for office. Paradoxically his being there is final proof that the government has not only failed the country and its people; he has reduced confidence in the democratic norms we have taken for granted since 1945. If this country tends to populism and subsequent authoritarianism a route from Grayling in 2012 until today can be directly traced as having nurtured the unthinkable.
Monday, 13 May 2019
To return to real life as it is lived in court this offender has been correctly treated as the law allows. To all those in the aforesaid moaners and groaners camp please indicate how they would prefer such a miscreant be treated were custodial sentences to be prohibited in the lower court.
Thursday, 9 May 2019
The inflation rate in the £ over those ten years was 31.89%. The average fine (top of table left) in 2007 was £172 and ten years later (top right of table) was £256; a rise of 49%. At the other end of the scale for fines over £10,000 there were 276 offenders in 2007 and in 2017 such offenders receiving over £10,000 fines numbered 2695. That major increase seems to be a direct policy result of using fines as punishments in place of other outcomes. There is much to decipher in this table. Readers more acquainted with statistics might have their own knowledge and opinions.
Tuesday, 30 April 2019
Wednesday, 24 April 2019
These numbers, however, have a hidden story. Taking the 2017-18 figure for DJs alone £22,012,824 simple arithmetic results in a cost per DJ of £194,803. Now consider that the current salary of a DJ is £110,335 with an additional payment of £8,000 p/a for London appointments and that the MOJ contributes around £8,000 towards the DJ`s pension. DJs must devote a minimum of 215 days each year to judicial business. It is reasonable to assume that about seven weeks holiday is paid for. So in reality the individual costs about £120,000+ per annum in addition to the cost of holiday cover of the lost seven weeks by a DDJ of at least £500 per day which works out at about £17,500. The costs imposed to reach the figure of £194,803 amount to £57,500. These admittedly crude calculations lead me to believe that this last figure is the cost of a qualified legal advisor sitting with the District Judge. Without knowing exactly how many sittings are performed by DJs, DDJs and lay magistrates it is impossible to calculate the actual cost of a DJ + L/A to compare with the expenses incurred by magistrates` costs of £9,143,381. What can be implied is that if the qualified L/A attending with a DJ were removed from the calculation or replaced with a low level unqualified clerk the cost advantage currently favouring using magistrates would be considerably reduced perhaps to the level where my previously stated opinion would be likely to be implemented.
Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Freedom of expression is perhaps the most basic of all our "freedoms". And most importantly freedom to express that which others might find objectionable is arguably one of the most difficult areas in law as to where the line of freedom is drawn that one person`s freedom is another`s hurt feelings or worse. The laws of slander and libel have developed over the decades to cope with social media but many cases are much less clear cut than those which involve wealthy corporations and whistle blowers.
Type in the search box exceptional hardship and my reader will read many of my examples where IMHO those on the bench applying the non guidance on this matter to the advantage of the offender are just plain soft and afraid to use the law as it is meant to be applied. They might be impressed by a junior counsel`s heartfelt apologetic words or the seniority of the accused. They might feel that they themselves if in that position would beg steal or borrow to avoid the mandatory disqualification on reaching 12 penalty points. One reason I had offered by colleagues more than any other to accept the hardship argument is the old story; leave the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head until the next time. What a fatuous argument in a matter where the current offence is at the very least the second in the three year period. Indeed in most cases the disqualifying offence is the third or fourth example of the law being broken. Where is that useless sword to be sheathed?
Here is another example where a bench, at least according to the report, did not have the cajones to do its job to punish habitual law breakers on our roads.
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Wednesday, 10 April 2019
It seems that the Sentencing Council in its wisdom has made wide sweeping changes in its Guidelines for sentencers of addicts (and others). This is a promising start for such cases. Around 70% of violent and/or acquisitive crime is committed by addicts. Police have more or less washed their hands in pursuing cannabis possession for own use. It is only a matter of time until contrary to the opinions of some outspoken right wing so called thinkers a format will be achieved to remove cannabis possession from the criminal law. Until such time those responsible for our judicial system like its political counterpart will have to undertake radical revision of processes which are so obviously not fit for purpose. The country is in a mood for change. It is a dangerous time. My fear is that if clear thinking people in positions of power and influence do not appreciate the problems only a short time ahead of us decisions will be taken out of their hands. The complete and utter incompetence of Theresa May and her Cabinet have changed our political landscape for ever. There is a high risk that dark forces will prevail to fill the vacuum of the current lot of MPs who have lost the confidence of those they should be representing.
I have not been a supporter of much of what the Sentencing Council has produced in the decade or so of its existence. But this much is clear; the public will not for much longer tolerate sentencing which allows so many custodial outcomes to be suspended nor automatic release from custody when only half or less of a sentence has been served. The Ministry of Justice since 2010 under that arch EU appeaser Kenneth Clarke has been deprived of such amounts of capital that it is a miracle that it still functions. It cannot continue. The chickens at the Home Office have come to roost. The door is open at the coop at Petty France.