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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Wednesday, 16 October 2013
JUSTICE BABY AND JUSTICE BATHWATER
Everyone involved in the administration of our magistrates` courts cannot but be unaware of the gross inefficiency in their performance. Of course trial and sentencing statistics are manipulated to undermine criticism and so enlarge the fiefdoms of those in Whitehall continually considering new forms of “consolidation” or “rationalisation” of HMCTS. Justices of the Peace and their hundreds of thousands of annually wasted man hours are nothing more than the collateral damage resulting.
I was recently informed by the highest authority that every time a magistrate cancels a sitting this information is recorded and passed on to HMCTS. One could remark that such an action is not unreasonable and it would be churlish to disagree. But…..and it`s a big But……when we J.P.s are cancelled that statistic goes unrecorded however short the notice of cancellation might be. Which leads me to relate a simple oft repeated experience.
Shortly after I transferred this blog to its current site here, I had scheduled a rare afternoon sitting; rare (for me) because I offer myself for whole days. However I duly appeared in the retiring room at 1.45p.m. to meet my colleagues who had arrived shortly before me. At 1.55p.m. the L/A arrived to tell us that the single pending matter was a trial, a civil case brought by an individual against the borough. The problem was that the applicant had not appeared nor had his representative. She left to make more inquiries after looking through her court file and telling us that the appropriate paperwork for the current listing had not been sent to said applicant nor his solicitor. Half an hour later she returned to tell us that the missing lawyer could not remember whether or not he had been in court on the previous listing when the adjourned date had been announced. Thus we had another ineffective trial owing 100% to the non functioning of our court`s administrators. But more to the point if the papers had been read the day previously in preparation (as they should have been) the omission would or should have been noticed and the unnecessary attendance of the three of us could have been prevented. Even if administrative delay had meant that the preparation had been the same morning our appearances could have been cancelled by three phone calls.
That is the reality of the manner in which HMCTS treats the backbone of a unique part of the justice system; the part which wraps up from first appearance to conclusion about 95% of all criminal activity brought to book in England & Wales. That is the justice baby which is being flushed down the justice drain along with the bathwater.