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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 18 July 2018

AN EVERYDAY STORY AT COURT

Sometimes events enmeshed within the legal system give rise to thoughts of "How can this happen? Is nobody prepared to tell it how it is?" It is no wonder that Franz Kafka who gave his name to the description of such events {Kafkaesque}  is most well known for his novel "The Trial" published posthumously in 1925. 

Convicted sex offenders must re register with police annually and give notice of address change within three days. This offender failed to do so and was summonsed to appear at Kirklees Magistrates Court. He turned up drunk and was refused admission to the building. As a result he was bailed to appear to appear at a subsequent time. Much valued court time was wasted, the case is still unanswered and the registration etc has still not been completed. Surely it would have been sensible to admit him with security escort, place him in the cells for contempt of court if he had not sobered up for the bench and keep him either in the cells or at a police station for appearance the following day.  Perhaps my cynicism of current practice is showing........it`s only three years since I retired.........but truly there has been something lost in the justice system if a drunk sex offender can be allowed to continue to go on his way in these circumstances? 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

COURT CLOSURES ARE A PRELUDE TO ANARCHY

Within the legal fraternity in its widest definition there used to be a belief in the concept of "local justice".  In the centuries that magistrates` courts have been in existence "local" has been extended from parish, to district, to borough, to county, to region. Now the terms under which magistrates undertake their duties specify that their remit is "national".  When the Ministry of Justice initiated its closure programme for courts in 2010 faint objections were made on the grounds of accessibility. These objections are now at their height when the predictions of "justice denied" owing to travel times and costs made by parliamentarians and court workers have proved accurate. It was widely reported that the MOJ insisted that even for court appearances in rural areas eg Cumbria and Northumbria, Devon and Cornwall, North Wales and East Anglia  no witnesses would be be required to travel on public transport for longer than one hour.  That commitment has always been denied by the MOJ.

On March 3rd 2018 The Times published the following:-

Reforms to the justice system, including court closures and a move to virtual hearings, will have a damaging impact on access to justice, MPs have warned. In a letter to Lucy Frazer, the junior justice minister, they say the elderly, mothers of young children and those without internet access will be disadvantaged by Ministry of Justice plans. The justice select committee says that proposals flout the principle that 90 per cent of people should be able to reach courts by public transport in one hour. The plans have no “convincing policy justification” and “appear to favour value for money over the principle of access to justice”. They also criticise the “increasing reliance on virtual and online justice”, pursued in the absence of evaluation of pilot projects. A ministry spokesman said: “This government is investing over £1 billion to reform and modernise the justice system, making it more convenient and providing better value for the taxpayer.”

In 2015 the House of Common Justice Select Committee published its findings after questioning many witnesses when investigating the magistracy including those which related to travel times to courts   The situation today has worsened.  Even in 2016 the MOJ denied it had set maximum travel times to court on public transport. But the truth will out.  The situation in Cambridge this year has become a topic of further debate about the terminological inexatitude of the weasels in Petty France.  Similar noises of the real state of affairs in rural areas with court closures can be heard in Suffolk

Like so much else emanating from this government there has come about a total non belief in the veracity of senior ministers when describing policy and its ramifications, the statements from the very pinnacle of power re Brexit being just the most obvious but the odious tendency to lie when a cover up is failing will have the most serious consequences for a population beguiled into believing that simplistic populist measures are in its best interests. That way lies anarchy and that is the way we seem to be heading. 

Friday, 13 July 2018

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Recently the big chief of the Magistrates Association was interviewed by The Times for its law pages.  Even a man from Mars would have thought that that would be a perfect opportunity for this representative of 15,000 JPs to have made plain the ramifications for justice of the Ministry of Justice`s cost cutting and incompetence over the last few years especially when the prisons and the courts are still reeling from the policies of a certain Chris Grayling; perhaps the most incompetent cabinet minister of the last decade although there are others vying for that honour. How more wrong could our alien have been. Apart from slight gentlemanly veiled criticism of the effect on travelling times to court for some and innocuous comments on recruitment an opportunity to say it like it is was neglected.  I have no doubt that this was no oversight. The virtual removal of legal aid at magistrates` courts, the never ending problems of interpretation services, the emasculation of probation services not forgetting the financial tie up the M.A. has with some providers, the apparent intention to phase in video courts in a wholesale manner, the risk to justice of the rubber stamping single justice procedure and the apparent acceptance of the normality of two person benches........all these problems emanating from the bowels of Petty France were obvious by their absence in the interview.  So it`s same as usual. A chairman of the Magistrates Association given a public platform considers his future gong more important than risking being honest about the problems facing a society`s courts system. Once again an opportunity to tell the real truth about justice today is missed. 




Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Monday, 9 July 2018

SALAMI SLICING OUR FREEDOM//LIBERTY REDUCTION ORDERS

Changes have been made to our justice system in the last two decades which would have raised cries of horror from parliamentarians of the 19th and 20th centuries who were as concerned with liberties for the populace as they were with party politics. During my time on the bench ASBOs became the easy way to control behaviour which some described as arbitrary; a seemingly innocuous civil order which opened the door to five years custody if broken. This was followed by Drink Banning Orders in 2010. All they do is displace the problem drinker from one area to another. If ever legislation is seen to be like moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic DBOs are a prime example.  CRASBOs, Criminal Anti Social Behaviour Orders followed; another attempt by the Home Office under Teresa May to limit the options of those who might have behaved not in accordance with some unstated standards. Since my retirement Community Protection Notices have been a favoured method of exerting control over those deemed to have caused some sort of offence to others whether or not such behaviour could be proved to be dangerous to society as a whole or to individuals.  The senior legal profession has as usual remained silent on the introduction of these liberty reduction orders.

I don`t often agree with much that is written in the Guardian but this piece from Saturday`s edition is a must for those seeking greater understanding of what is happening to justice and individual liberty under our very noses which seem unable to smell the poison emanating from the MOJ and a supine parliament which is in intellectual decline as never before allowing another slice of our freedom to be taken from us. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

AN IGNORANT BARONESS

House of Lords 3rd July 2018

Read below the enlightening remarks of an unelected law maker. Booted upstairs she spouts this rubbish.  If she believes it she ought to know the Sentencing Guidelines. If she`s looking for publicity by being outspoken she should resign.  One more reason to abolish the House of Lords.

Baroness Corston Labour


My Lords, I, too, welcome the fact that the Government have abandoned their prison building programme in favour of women’s community centres. That is certainly better than anything that happened under the coalition. However, I point out to the Minister that in 2017 one-quarter of the women sentenced to prison were serving sentences of less than one month, and 217 women were sentenced to less than two weeks. What action are the Government going to take to stop magistrates imposing these ludicrous sentences?

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

WHEN LEGAL ADVISERS BARE THEIR TEETH



J.P.s are appointed on the basis of their possessing many of the qualities thought to be necessary to do the job. Whether the job template needs altering is another matter for another time. Although there are lawyers on the bench there are also many other highly qualified people and some not so qualified in academic terms. The legal adviser is there to ensure that decisions made by justices are lawful although that does not preclude a very small minority of decisions going to appeal. I myself have been on a bench whose decision on a property matter some years ago went to appeal at the Queens Bench Division; it failed. Over the fog of time I recollect that our legal adviser when told of our original decision was surprised but when she heard of our structured approach to reach that decision admitted it could not be faulted. And that is as it should be. In my opinion she performed her duty to the letter…..that her conclusion might have differed from ours had she been on the bench instead of in front of it is not relevant. 

These thoughts passed briefly through the space between my ears a couple of months later when we were considering a case of possession of a bladed article. Unless a person has a specific good reason for having the item in his possession he is guilty. In addition that reason must also apply to the moment of possession. So a carpenter eg who uses a particular knife for his job but is found in possession on a Saturday night out is guilty but if he were in possession one morning driving his van between jobs the defence could apply.  Our defendant, an illiterate Kurdish man in his sixties, had been found with a small fruit knife at the bottom of a shopping bag when stopped at a department store on suspicion of committing theft. His defence was that since he had severe untreated dental problems the knife was needed to cut fruit the mainstay of his diet. We were told that he made some money doing odd jobs here and there and he confirmed that he ate a lot of fruit at home and when he was out working because it was relatively cheap and nutritious but that he needed the knife as his teeth were so bad biting was almost impossible. At this point he demonstrated to all that his few remaining canine and incisors were very loose. The prosecutor herself was on shaky ground and this wizened old man held fast to his version of events. The total sum of the CPS evidence was the finding of the knife which was of course admitted. 

Some legal advisers take a more pro active approach to their role than others. It was my practice to tell the adviser that either we would ring for him/her when required or to allow a certain time before joining our discussions. Certainly, unless the situation was very unusual, I did not invite the adviser to join us at the beginning of our deliberations; any legal advice being given in open court. 

In the above case we decided that there was a valid reason for possession and asked our L/A to join us as we began to write our reasons. He asked us to confirm that we had followed a structured approach to our decision and that we truly were aware of the legal interpretation of possession at that moment. We explained that we considered the “moment” was an ongoing event owing to the defendant`s continuing inability to eat fruit in the normal way and cutting small pieces was reasonable activity with the small kitchen knife. However instead of accepting our decision he continued in an attempt to change our minds. He did not succeed. Our decision making was based on a correct application of the judicial structure in which we all received very high quality training and reviews. 

The L/A referred to above in the property case that went to the Divisional Court accepted our decision when assured it had been correctly derived although she admitted her conclusion might have differed. She became a Crown Court judge. There is a moral there somewhere.


Thursday, 28 June 2018

PUTNEY BRIDGE JOGGER JOGS FREE

We are often told that this country is the most image recorded in the world. There are an estimated 5 million cameras between John O Groats and Lands End and the density of such technology is highest in London and the major cities. In the capital the central boroughs including the Cities of London and Westminster are the most densely packed with such optical technology.  Putney Bridge, a major traffic artery over the River Thames, has cameras yet all this technical innovation, some would say police snooping, was unable to identify a jogger who last August attempted to injure or worse a woman pedestrian on the bridge. When accessing said webcam today it is no surprise; the picture is blank at 11.15am.   Or is a more likely reason that a man attempting murder has got off scot free because the Met Police are so thin on the ground that they can`t devote the resources to catch somebody who didn`t actually succeed in his criminality?

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

FRAUD RUNNER

Sourcing news which might be of interest to magistrates especially when returning to the keyboard after a time away rarely fails to surprise.  But surprise doesn`t do justice IMHO to the man who was jailed for assuming the identity of a registered runner at the London Marathon.  He was convicted of *fraud by false representation; an either way offence. The report is available here.  It would seem that the sentence of four months custody was based on the court`s maximum with one third discount for a guilty plea.  It is not unlikely that sentencing for the other offences was concurrent. My question is just how on earth could a lay bench justify in these times such a heavy sentence. Of course we know nothing about any previous convictions he might have had but considering that only about 4% of those sentenced at the lower court receive a custodial sentence this outcome seems arbitrary.  I would opine that if his representative did not immediately file an appeal against sentence there and then she failed in her professional duty.  About a half of such appeals succeed. 


*Fraud by false representation (Section 2)

The defendant:
  • made a false representation 
  • dishonestly 
  • knowing that the representation was or might be untrue or misleading 
  • with intent to make a gain for himself or another, to cause loss to another or to expose another to risk of loss.
The offence is entirely focused on the conduct of the defendant.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

THE END OF JUSTICES OF THE PEACE IS NIGH

Having enjoyed the fruits and benefits of a Mediterranean lifestyle albeit including the facilities of air conditioning, superb swimming  and poolside overeating and drinking I am surprised that I have found no comment here or elsewhere on the MOJ`s seeking to appoint a "National Leadership Magistrate" the subject of my previous post. With so many local judicial areas advertising for new magistrates and the increasing retirements of those past their sell by date many benches will soon be constituted by those who have little or no knowledge of what once was the independent magistracy.  The Magistrates Association, a voluntary organisation paid for by subscription, at one time did actually appear to represent Justices of the Peace in their collisions with government.  It failed, however, owing to its articles of association in being a truly members` protective body akin to the BMA and individual J.P.s had no backing when faced with problems concerning their behaviour or words which were deemed to be against the ethos of their position as the junior members of the judiciary.  Indeed many would argue that they were held to higher standards than their seniors. Over my tenure Justices Clerks, their Deputies and legal advisors seemed to exert ever more influence on individuals in their judicial functions; functions which were and should still be for individual magistrates and benches collectively to exercise according to the law and their consciences. A classic case occurred at my court after the riots of August 2011. Pre sitting "advice" from the DJC was that eligible [either way] cases were to be sent to the crown court. My bench disagreed on a particular matter and retained the case. After the legal advisor had made that advice explicit in open court I told a packed courtroom that we were acting against her advice and that she had done her job as she understood it.  There were no repercussions although I`m unsure what the situation would be if a similar situation occurred today. It was the custom at my former court to hold three bench meetings annually where any relevant matters could be discussed informally. The DJC would normally be present. About ten years into my appointment at one such meeting we were "honoured" by the presence of the Justices Clerk; a man ruling over twelve courts. I recollect asking a question or making a point which brought said gentleman to his feet demanding discussion of that particular topic was not to be continued. Naturally I objected to his interference and persuaded the meeting that we should not be told by him when we can or cannot discuss an item on our agenda. Shortly afterwards became the establishment of the National Bench Chairmens` Forum. With the drastic decline in the numbers of magistrates beginning to be felt corresponding to a similar lack of influence by the M.A. and courts closing right left and centre Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service became increasingly active in the life of the average J.P. who was being treated as an unpaid employee as previously individual courts` control of their affairs was taken over, eg rota functions.  

The appointment of a National Leadership Magistrate is nothing short of appointing a government stooge to validate the extinction of J.P.s function in our courts.  An extract from my post on the topic of June 14th is copied below.  `Nuff said!

 Role Description

The National Leadership Magistrate (NLM) will be the leadership magistrate for England and Wales and is responsible for leading the development and execution of the judiciary’s long-term strategy for magistrates.  The National Leadership Magistrate will serve a three-year term.
The NLM will liaise directly with the Senior Judiciary, HMCTS and external stakeholders.  The NLM will provide a voice for the magistracy at national level and communicate with bench chairs, magistrates and other stakeholders.

Duties and Responsibilities

  1. To lead the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive (MLE).
  2. To promote the efficient and effective operation of magistrates’ courts. Sharing best practice and assisting in the development and implementation of national and regional strategies.
  3. To communicate effectively with the judiciary, HMCTS and other key stakeholders, whilst recognising the need to respect confidentiality, as appropriate.
  4. In conjunction with the Regional Leadership Magistrates, to develop national and regional agendas.
  5. To represent the views of the magistracy at national level.
  6. To provide a positive role model for the magistracy.
  7. Provide effective leadership in a rapidly changing environment;


Thursday, 14 June 2018

THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE IS SEEKING A TOAD


I consider the following announcement earlier today of considerable significance so I`ve stopped packing the sun cream for a minute or two to copy it below. The toady who is appointed will no more be representative of JPs than a pig is representative of farmers.  The person selected will be an arrogant bore seeking another post to justify his/her future CBE. This is just another milestone in the road to the total elimination of JPs from our court system



Expression of Interest: National Leadership Magistrate

|News|Magistrates
We are now inviting expressions of interest for the role of National Leadership Magistrate (NLM).   This is a judicial process being administered by HMCTS.
There is one vacancy, with the successful candidate taking up their position on 1 October 2018.
The closing date for expressions of interest is 6 July 2018
Term length: The NLM will serve a three-year term.
Eligibility: Eligibility criteria and requirements for the role is set out in the attached role description.
Appointments Process
Applicants who would like to express an interest in this role should complete the expressions of interest form and return it to the email address at the top of the application. Forms received after the closing date will not be considered.
Interviews dates are subject to panel members’ availability and will be confirmed with applicants as soon as possible. It is likely however, that they will take place late July/early August.

References

A reference is required before the sift takes place and will be used to inform decisions throughout the selection process.
Your referee should be someone who is well placed to comment on how you meet the requirements set out in the job description.  They should be able to provide specific examples that demonstrate how your skills match the qualities and abilities for this role.
Your referee will be contacted very soon after receipt of applications so please provide an accurate email address.  The deadline for return of all completed reference forms is noon on 20 July.
Please ensure you provide the name, email address and contact telephone number of your referee.
Please advise your referee that the preferred method of return is via email – hard copy returns will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances.
Please check with your referee that they do not have a conflict of interest in this exercise and that they are able and content to support you within the required timescale.  You should not nominate an individual who you know to be a candidate within the exercise as a referee.

Sifting

All applications will be sifted by a judicial panel, who will consider the information provided in your application form and in the reference.  A decision will be taken on whether your application should progress to interview stage.  You will receive a letter advising you on the outcome of the sift.
No feedback will be available for this stage.

Interview

If you are shortlisted, you will be invited to an interview with a judicial panel.  Details of dates and location will be sent with any invitation to attend.
The interview will consist of the panel seeking evidence from you against the qualities and abilities for the post.
You will receive a letter (via email) advising you of the outcome of your interview, should you be invited to attend. It is anticipated that you will be informed of the outcome of your interview early/mid August.
If you are unsuccessful at interview, you can request written feedback.  You should make this request to Kelly.dyke@judiciary.uk within four weeks of the date of the letter informing you that you have not been successful.  We will aim to respond to your request within 20 working days.
If you have any queries in relation to the administration of this process, please contact legal.operations@justice.gov.uk.

Role Description

The National Leadership Magistrate (NLM) will be the leadership magistrate for England and Wales and is responsible for leading the development and execution of the judiciary’s long-term strategy for magistrates.  The National Leadership Magistrate will serve a three-year term.
The NLM will liaise directly with the Senior Judiciary, HMCTS and external stakeholders.  The NLM will provide a voice for the magistracy at national level and communicate with bench chairs, magistrates and other stakeholders.

Duties and Responsibilities

  1. To lead the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive (MLE).
  2. To promote the efficient and effective operation of magistrates’ courts. Sharing best practice and assisting in the development and implementation of national and regional strategies.
  3. To communicate effectively with the judiciary, HMCTS and other key stakeholders, whilst recognising the need to respect confidentiality, as appropriate.
  4. In conjunction with the Regional Leadership Magistrates, to develop national and regional agendas.
  5. To represent the views of the magistracy at national level.
  6. To provide a positive role model for the magistracy.
  7. Provide effective leadership in a rapidly changing environment;

Person Specification

Essential

  1. Be a bench chair or have been a bench chair in the three years preceding the recruitment campaign.
  2. Be eligible to remain a serving magistrate during the full term of office.
  3. Be able to put aside necessary time for the role.
  4. Have an ability to build effective relationships with bench Chairs, other judiciary and agencies, such as HMCTS, Probation, CPS and Advisory Committees.
  5. Be a team player.
  6. Have excellent communication skills.
  7. Understand current issues affecting bench management
  8. Be comfortable with basic aspects of IT (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, eJudiciary) and interpreting magistrates’ court performance data and similar reports.
  9. Have an ability to perform under pressure and support others under pressure.

Desirable

  1. Experience of other leadership roles within the magistracy or externally.
 This role will require a very significant investment of your time and frequent travel will be necessary.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

THIS J.P.`s OUT OF THE OFFICE

Unless there is momentous news concerning magistrates and their courts this blogger will be on holiday for a couple of weeks exchanging the keyboard for the finest humous and kleftiko that Crete can provide. And no doubt a shot or three of Ouzo might come his way.

Τα λέμε σύντομα

Monday, 11 June 2018

CANADA AND DRUG USE

The decriminalisation of hard drugs has been debated here and elsewhere for decades.  My personal view is that the current so called "war on drugs" has failed and that the current legal situation has no long term future.  Various small countries and US states have legalised the use of marijuana.  It is likely that the first G7 nation, Canada, will follow suit.  An interesting article was published last week in the Guardian a newspaper whose "liberal progressive" opinions are well known.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

COURT CLOSURES 2010- 2017 & MY 1000TH POST


Short and simple but NOT very sweet: court closures listed today which shame the MOJ

This my 1000th post on this site since I moved here in 2013.  The previous four years on a now defunct site when I was active contained 2000+ posts.  I  have my doubts as to whether I`ll be writing here in four years never mind producing posts at a similar rate. Anyway thanks to all who occasionally give a few minutes of their time perusing my offerings.

THE WHOLE SORRY TALE OF MOJ CUTS

From time to time there are, in every walk of life, unheralded events which often are a more accurate indicator of the underlying situations behind those events  than any number of statistical analyses or television interviews by those in authority.  The closure of a third of magistrates courts in the last decade was justified by the Ministry of Justice on cost saving.  But that`s not the message that the dozens of weasels in the MOJ press and PR department  distributed.  Efficiency was going to be improved without any significant downside.  Travelling times for participants to, from and between the reducing available courts were manipulated, predictable detrimental effects of video court "justice" were ignored, communication problems were similarly held to be simply overcome. Add to the mix the limited possibility of legal aid for many? most? defendants and a system that once was held in high regard was seen from outside Petty France as crumbling before our very eyes.  In Shropshire an example of a relatively minor unheralded event (for non participants) being symptomatic of the underlying malaise more or less tells the whole sorry tale.    

Repetition can sometimes, I confess, be a little boring but that does not necessarily reduce the underlying truth.  As a society we are failing the lowest drug addled,addicted and often  mentally impaired  members of society.  Sometimes we lock them up and sometimes we are so much in despair that we don`t.  Pressures are increasing to abandon completely custodial sentences currently available to magistrates.  We are told that rehabilitation will reduce offending for those currently being sent to custody within current magistrates` sentencing guidelines.  It is, however, because that cabinet member of supreme failure Chris Grayling emasculated the probation service on the basis of political ideology that it will be years before there will be confidence in truly being able to undertake such changes.  But we have been here before. His successor three times removed as justice secretary, David Gauke, has said that 3,111 prison officers were recruited between October 2016 and March 2018, surpassing a government pledge to recruit 2,500 prison officers by the end of this year.  What he doesn`t say is that approximately 5,000 prison officers lost their jobs between 2010 and 2016.  The MOJ instigated enormous cuts in those years ignoring the outcries from those who were in a perfect position to predict the outcome. 

Just two of thousands of cases of recidivism which our current sentencing guidelines cannot cope with are available here and here.  Similar offenders  are being sentenced in every courtroom every day all over the country. It is a national disgrace. It must not continue.

There must be out of the box thinking on what can be done for those tens of thousands locked up by my former colleagues annually.  Although forming only about 4% of all those sentenced the costs to society are enormous.  My out of the brain box remedy is a workhouse designed and staffed for the 21st century.  For those interested just type "workhouse" in the search box for my more detailed previous posts on the topic.  

Thursday, 31 May 2018

MAGISTRATES RETIRING AGE

For as long as I can remember since joining the bench there have been two underlying causes on their wish list from magistrates individually and as a collective; to increase sentencing powers and to increase retirement age.  As far as the former is concerned there is absolutely no chance of that being granted unless the legal climate experiences a  catastrophic warming.  The question of compulsory retirement at age 70 is more contentious. Firstly the trend for some time as the baby boomers retire is to under resource replacements owing to the gradual but steady increase in District Judges who by their very positioning have been ready, willing and able to forfeit the dubious advantages of steady employment or self employment  in the private sector for a pensioned position in the civil service where they are unlikely, in line with their senior colleagues, to question the actions or directions of the executive paying their wages until they are in a receipt of a juicy pension. There is of course the equality [no discrimination] argument where age related compulsory retirement is illegal in the private sector. Add to that the very reasonable argument that oldies are holding up the progression of younger magistrates and the arguments for and against are likely to continue.  The government certainly is not offering any clues to its thinking judging by the answer below to a recent parliamentary question. So don`t hold your breath.  You`re liable to suffocate before there is a change of policy at the MOJ.