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, 17 December 2013

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IS PRICELESS



The Labour governments of 1997-2010 can be held responsible for much of the malaise we are currently experiencing but if there were one single piece of legislation for which we should be truly grateful it is the Freedom of Informarion Act 2000.  Tony Blair famously has made public his regrets at the passing of this act.  His regrets are proof if we ever needed it that it has been of huge benefit for those concerned at the increasing control  and secrecy being exercised by government and countless devolved organisations.  From international relations to a council`s snooping F.O.I. opens up government as never before.  Its success makes it a certainty that any similar legislation will never again be contemplated.



As colleagues who sit on appeals at crown court will be well aware one of the most common categories  of offenders who appear is those who are appealing against findings of guilt or level of sentence for motoring offences. F.O.I. figures show that in 2012 there were 81,674 convictions of having no vehicle third party risk insurance where this was the primary offence.  Also resulting from F.O.I. disclosures the offence for which most appeals against verdict was made at crown court in 2012 was also having no third party insurance……694 from a grand total of 3,975 the next highest being failing to give driver`s identity; 624.  In the former category 289 were allowed (41.6%)  Appeals against sentence for no third party insurance numbered 537. Of these 169 (31.5%) were allowed.  For the latter offence 251 (40.2%) were allowed thus overturning the original guilty verdicts.  On sentence 62 were allowed out of 152 (41.3%).  Considering the almost formulaic basis on which drink driving is prosecuted the figures are somewhat surprising at least to this blogger. 34 from196 (17.3%)  appeals against verdict were allowed and 94 from 229 (41%)  sentences were successfully appealed.  At the other end of seriousness the person who appealed against a finding of having faulty steering gear lost his/her appeal as did the person found guilty of tampering with a motor vehicle.



What these figures indicate about the efficiency of the magistrates` courts and their appeals system I cannot now comment upon.  What they say about the Freedom of Information Act is that it is beyond price. 

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