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, 20 November 2013

GUILTY?



Having an enforced two hour lunch break is not usually welcomed by me or most of my colleagues.  As once weekly volunteers we are not in the business of working fewer hours for more pay.  The morning sitting over listed as is the norm with three trials ended for various reasons beyond our control about noon and there being no remand courts at that building since the great amalgamation we had no bail, breach or sentencing crumbs to feed on.  Some colleagues in such situations manage to make an unscheduled visit home, others have been boy scouts and have prepared for such situations by bringing in all the necessaries to do some of their day job.  The rest of us have an early lunch whether pre prepared or taken at a local cafĂ© and wonder just to what depths the efficiency of our court system can reach. 

And so at 2.00p.m. we entered courtroom 2 with just limited expectations that we  would be able to actually achieve something.  Domestic violence cases are for this J.P. at least somewhat dispiriting.  Having been born into and having a stable family life an insight into some dysfunctional relationships is a required but bleak  experience.  Owing to a variety of seemingly  untenable reasons we were told that there would be a late special measures application for screens. This dilatory attitude of CPS to basic functions has become more frequent.   After a brief huddle we decided to allow the application and subsequently in the interests of justice sanctioned screens to prevent eye contact between alleged victim and her alleged assailant. As is the norm in such matters it was her word against his except we did not hear his.  Although, as we were shown, her statement clearly indicated that she was not going to give evidence against her partner she was called into court being ushered by a woman from witness support her reluctance being quite apparent. She barely managed to repeat the oath and from then her answer to every question from the prosecutor was that she was too drunk to have any memory of the evening in question when the assault was alleged to have taken place.  That included her questioning by the officer who took her statement.  That officer was not listed as a witness but a statement by him was put in evidence but nowhere within it was there mention of the sobriety or otherwise of the complainant.  An application was made that the officer be called.  Unsurprisingly defence objected; this was the fifth listing and at no previous nor on the case management form was any request for the officer`s  presence indicated.  We decided, however,  to allow CPS five minutes  to inquire of his whereabouts.  He was away on holiday.  The predicted application to adjourn and go part heard was received and to which we sustained the inevitable objection.  It took us less than five minutes to decide there was  no case to answer.  The complainant who had placed herself in the public gallery after leaving the witness box  whooped with joy. The defendant smiled broadly.  Considering he had been remanded in custody for the previous seven weeks that expression of relief was probably the most truthful statement we had seen or heard.

Understandably the Crown Prosecution Service`s  legal procedural considerations in DV differ from those where victim and defendant involved are strangers to each other.  There is no doubt in my mind that legal advisors and the prosecution system do not sit as impartially on such cases cf others.  The evidential burden has been reduced as a matter of political purpose perhaps to compensate for the years when such assaults were regularly dismissed by police as merely “domestics”.  My training as a J.P included much supposed statistical analyses from here and abroad  on how DV can and does often escalate from the almost benign to the deadly.  Whilst there might be some substance to all that information in the courtroom we must consider only the evidence presented.  I sometimes have the impression that the CPS is  bringing such cases to court based on there being more than a 50% chance of conviction  except subconsciously they are using the civil standard of probability and not that guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

2 comments:

  1. DV cases are indeed some of the most difficult to deal with. I'd like to see some stats on how many sucessful prosecutions there actually are...not because I doubt the seriousness of them, but simply because often the evidence consists merely of 'he said, she said' with no other relevant independent evidence. It all takes place behind closed doors by its very nature.

    Usually the defence is one of self defence or even that the incident alledged didn't take place at all. Drink is often involved and while we all know the psychological triggers and stats from our training, I do wonder about the waste of bringing a clearly reluctant witness to court.

    When I used to prosecute such cases, and before the CPS directions on pursuing them no matter what, I used to be fairly brutal with reluctant 'victims' telling them that fine, I would drop the case, but don't expect any response from the police if it happened again...and it would. I admit, I wouldn't take that approach now, but sadly I was often proved right in as much as it usually did indeed happen again.

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  2. Can anyone say with confidence that the new (relatively) DV courts have made any difference to conviction rates? I was very unenthusiastic about the idea when canvassed several years ago as I felt that the research into the effectiveness of these specialist courts was highly suspect and the results biased. I would be interested to know if I was right!

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