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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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

AND FOR 2014?

Year end time for many including this blogger is a time of reflection and that reflection can often be self serving. Fortunately or otherwise I have looked back at posts {at my previous site} I wrote exactly one year and two years  ago and reproduce them below.  I am  no fortune teller and I certainly do not have crystal balls but it does seem that I was not too far out in my simple predictions.  I have absolutely no enthusiasm for the magisterial year ahead of us.  Of all my sittings for next year fewer than 15% will be as a chairman in our remand, sentencing or breach courts arguably the very courts where our skills are most tested.  I am of course not alone with a year of reduced sittings ahead.  They are an indirect or perhaps even a direct  result of government policy  to reduce “unviable” courts and buildings.  The manipulation of crime statistics and the 200,000 cautions (excluding motoring offences) handed out in the year to March 2013  are a contribution to our reducing workload.  Having flagged up (for the last time) once again the possibility of increasing our sentencing powers to 12 months custody the government duly laid that possibility to rest.  Defendants` right to choose mode of trial has not been removed.  District Judges(M.C.) [149]  and Deputy D.J.s do not grow on trees; they are appointed and number 310 in total i.e. more than one per magistrates` court and they undertake an increasing majority of the courts previously presided over by Justices of the Peace.  Such is government determination to ensure that in the lower courts a professional judiciary will be beholden to its directive as it was after the riots of August 2011 when the vast majority of cases was allocated to District Judges.

On the basis that half a glass is better than no glass at all and enthusiastic or not I wish readers a Happy New Year.

DECEMBER 31st 2012
“At the end of another year and the beginning of a new one thank you to all who give some of their leisure minutes to read and/or comment on my criticisms, observations and occasional praise of the goings on within our system of justice. 2013 is unlikely to differ greatly from its predecessor except that there is a very small chance that magistrates` sentencing powers will be extended to twelve months custody. Aside from that there will be publication of yet more dubious statistics on everything associated with criminal activities and their remedies attempting to justify whatever policy the author is driving forward; scandals involving one or more of the newly elected police commissioners and the enforced resignation of yet another chief constable. Unrepresented defendants and in particular those requiring the services of an interpreter will continue to cause holdups in court lists. Either way offences will continue unchanged and yet more District Judges(M.C.) will be appointed. The Magistrates` Association will become increasingly irrelevant to the activities of the ordinary J.P.s who will still be lauded by the Justice Secretary whilst others behind him plot their eventual demotion to involvement in “neighbourhood justice”.

So it`s good news from him and good news from me.”

DECEMBER 31st 2011
"Exactly 365 days ago I wrote, “This coming decade heralds the greatest changes in the magistracy in a century. We are at a crossroads. Either our powers will be enhanced by increased sentencing powers and the abolition of a defendant’s right to choose mode of trial or we will be reduced to winging courts of presiding District Judges thus reducing our numbers at a stroke and sitting on minor motoring matters. This government and probably any other does not see us in terms of local justice any more than a hospital is local. A hospital or a court is part of a network of such institutions and its purpose is to provide a designated service of the highest quality at the lowest cost. If magistrates and their representatives have not realised this by now they should wake up before the tsunami washes them away. In 366 days my bench will absorb two nearby benches. Those who don`t want or cannot adapt to the changes have only one future and that is as ex magistrates.”

There was indeed in the last year passing mention of our powers being increased but that will not happen. A government which is so obviously increasing its reliance on paid District Judges to do what had previously been our job is not going to enhance our sentencing powers. The scandal of DJs sitting in judgement alone on trials is one that the legal profession generally ignores. It is a silence that should shame the Bar Council and Law Society every time one of their n umber talks about trial by jury and its inalienable part of English justice. The Magistrates` Association is still plugging away at the concept of “local justice”. Nobody in Whitehall gives a fig about local justice. They might use the words as a chess master uses pawns to be sacrificed for the greater good. My bench like many others from tomorrow will consist of almost 400 members. In practical terms we will be sitting with strangers at least half the time. With sittings reduced for many of us by 20% or more I have yet to decide whether the new arrangements will be a plus or minus for our function of doing justice and being seen to do so. At least one colleague I know of from my original bench has retired years ahead of time citing the impending changes as a contributory factor. Apparently the Ministry of Justice has factored in a 10% premature retirement rate of J.P.s for this year solely due to the changes. Judging by the tone of letters from our new Bench Chairman I wonder whether HMCTS is leaning heavily on us. My impression is that with an apparently weak willed bench leadership we will be considered ever increasingly as “employees”. My impression is that recent J.P. appointees generally have little of the spirit of independence that is so obvious in more long toothed colleagues. The more`s the pity. I`ve been told that in many respects including magisterial opinions I am a dinosaur. Those species survived 200 million years and would by now have been the dominant species but for a wayward asteroid.

So thank you for giving this dinosaur a few minutes of your valuable homo sapiens sapiens time. Enjoy the amber liquid and try to keep the flag of magisterial independence flying high".

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