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.





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Thursday, 15 August 2013

MR MAGOO AND THE MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION




On July 30th I posted that Justice Minister Damian Green was to address a meeting the subject of which would be “Reforming the Role of Magistrates”.  Amongst my observations I wrote, “Of one thing we can be sure: this so called “event” will be for his purpose; not for ours”I won`t blow my trumpet at more than a whisper because anybody with half a deaf ear towards politicians in August would have come to a similar conclusion.



A couple of days ago he made that speech.  Amongst his comments were, “However, four out of ten defendants sent to the crown court for sentencing received custodial sentences that could have been handed in the magistrates’ court - we need to look at why this is happening and if we need to do more to make the best use of magistrates. We need to keep the right cases in the right court if we are to have a modern justice system in a fair society.” On 7th December 2010 I posted on former Justice Secretary Jack Straw`s  speech on exactly this subject.  It doesn`t require intervention from Damian Green or any other politician for this change to take place.  It merely requires advice from legal advisors who are sometimes afraid to deviate from the safe road of conservatism in not upsetting a preset apple cart.  My colleagues (especially those with some years service) could also be a little more assertive and not be reticent in using our existing powers to the maximum.  Of course the obvious change to make; a change which has been avoided for decades, is to remove a defendant`s right to choose mode of trial in either way cases.  Some effort has been made in this direction with the recent new guidelines on “allocation”  but the bull must eventually be grabbed by the horns in the face of inevitable and illogical objections by lawyers.



With his remarks on single magistrates overseeing low level traffic offences and “low level” shoplifting  it is plain to see that the minister is less concerned with justice than he is with his preferred expedient solutions attempting to save  money offered to him by the same Whitehall advisors who gave us Capita plc to provide court interpreters amongst other wonderful innovations in court eg restricting the availability of court ushers so that legal advisors are up and down like jacks-in-the-box chasing all over the building for offenders, lawyers, witnesses and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.  


It is quite clear that underlying this speech is the government`s desire to remove Justices of the Peace from the courtroom and put a rump magistracy out to graze in the fields rubber-stamping traffic offenders, overseeing out of court disposals by police and taking part in local schemes of rehabilitation and/or arbitration between victim and offender.



If those in the Magistrates Association charged with the interests of their members cannot see the writing on the wall now  they should join Mr Magoo  at the optician`s  and have their rose coloured spectacles surgically removed.

3 comments:

  1. "With his remarks on single magistrates overseeing low level traffic offences and “low level” shoplifting it is plain to see that the minister is less concerned with justice than he is with his preferred expedient solutions"

    JP's regularly sit alone in many parts of Scotland, dealing with such offences. There is no evidence from the appeal court stats that they are any more likely to make errors of judgement. And that is without the 'benefit' of sentencing guidelines.

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    1. My point is in no way referring to competence of J.P.s. The essence of my post is that there is almost certainly a long term desire to remove many of us from the court environment and for increased numbers of D.J.s and Deputies to take up the slack.

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    2. Is that cost saving? I don't see how, DJ's are expensive.

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