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, 27 November 2013
A CAT LOOKS AT A KING
Should a government lead or should it follow? I suppose that or a similar question was common in ancient Athens. On a very basic level governments don`t get elected unless there is the support of a majority. But after that it seems increasingly that to be a follower is the mantra of the government of the day; excepting perhaps within the law when individual whims are aired to test public opinion. The Lord Chief Justice is a perfect example of putting a wet finger in the air to test the wind`s direction. A witness or defendant wearing or not wearing the niqab in court is surely a matter which should be decided at the highest level and the directive applied at courts from the lowest to the similarly highest level. From J.P. to supreme court judge all would know where the line had been drawn. Those who chose to defy the ruling whether by refusing to discard such garb in court or by allowing such to be worn in court would know precisely where they stood. And so it should be. The LCJ however has put the matter out to “consultation”. I call that a cop out.
At perhaps another end of the philosophical spectrum Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has his own ideas of being able to put his so called personal opinion in the public domain whilst disclaiming official responsibility. He questions the value of short term custodialsentences; the very sentences which my colleagues and I pronounced almost 69,000 times in the year ending March 2013. His spokesman is quoted as saying, “His reflections of their views on short term sentences are in no way intended as official statements of sentencing policy, which are matters for the Sentencing Council and Parliament”. Well; a J.P. cat can look at a Supreme Court king. Of the aforementioned 69,000 individuals sentenced to custody 23,331 such sentences were suspended. Ten years ago the same analysis showed 63,657 sentences of immediate custody plus 1,030 suspended sentence orders. Various academics have been critical of SSOs. From time to time big wigs have been critical of over long sentences resulting from high profile trials and events.
The good lord is way out of his comfort zone. One does not have to have the personality profile of Attila the Hun to know that the very essence of short jail sentences is to indicate that a threshold has been crossed; that magistrates` courts and the J.P.s and D.J.s presiding on behalf of their fellow citizens have reached a structured decision that enough is enough (when it comes to propensity of offending even of a relatively minor degree eg shoplifting) or that people must be protected from those whose behaviour is beyond what a civilised society will tolerate. That a prison cell does not offer home comforts is mere common sense. That an offender`s life and/or lifestyle is affected is a primary purpose of this punishment. And punishment is what sometimes seems lacking in this and other aspects of our advanced western humane civilisation.
On one hand we have a government whose concept of legal services in the widest interpretation of that phrase means cutting to the bone the essence of civil society and fearful of or disregarding consultation when it suits their prejudices (removal of legal aid, court closures, increasing numbers of D.J.s etc.) and on the other judges who pronounce on matters they should leave well alone and that includes Senior Presiding Judges telling magistrates they must stop blogging.