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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Thursday, 6 February 2014

AT A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT// A TALE OF AN UNEXPECTED MORNING



Since January 1st 2012 our work has been divided between two buildings; the larger for trials and video remands and the other with only three courtrooms for remand, sentencing and breach courts.  We also have two full time DJs so much to the disquiet of the whole bench only about 25% of our sittings are located in the rat tat tat bustle of the latter.  As I understand the situation this uneven division of our activities is widespread.  So at a recent sitting when 10.00am arrived and my colleagues and I entered courtroom #5 we expected the usual excuses to explain why this or that trial would  not proceed as expected.  However after some minutes receiving updates on the three trials listed we were asked to retire on the basis that some discussion might expedite matters…….court jargon for expected change of plea.  Accordingly we enjoyed our first coffee of the morning.

Kieran had decided that the last minute view of the film taken by a nearby CCTV system when he had spat in her face made it unlikely that he would survive a trial with his denial intact.  His lengthy list of previous low level criminality was a clear indication that although he was only in his mid twenties he had an alcohol problem out of control…..surprise, surprise…..along with 70% of offenders addiction was the root cause of his anti social behaviour. As the sentencing pronouncement was completed, including the bench`s disgust at his actions which showed his contempt for the officer and her uniform,  he spontaneously requested the opportunity to apologise to her as he recognised her sitting at the back of the court.   This was granted with additional advice for him to take advantage of the alcohol treatment requirement ordered as part of his sentence. 

Without further ado Jamil was summoned from the cells and pleaded guilty to assaulting his father and mother both of whom were over 70 years of age.  The facts were recorded as his having been arrested initially for  assault causing actual bodily harm.  This had been reduced to assault by beating.  After hearing the facts our expressions must have revealed our disquiet at this decision by CPS.  Undercharging on such matters is commonplace.  We then discovered that there was disagreement on the factual basis for this change of plea. Another cup of coffee and we returned to be told of the newly agreed facts on which a guilty plea would be accepted.   He had been on remand so long that his 23 week sentence meant that he would be released after about 10 days inside.   He looked impassive, his lawyer satisfied and his parents resigned as the jailers led him away. 

It seemed only a moment after Jamil exited that Mandy was standing in his place.  She too, on legal advice, had changed her plea on criminal damage and a harassment charge to guilty.  Her history of offending was horrendous.  At 36 years of age she had three pages of previous on the PNC.  About two thirds of her convictions consisted of offences   not dissimilar to those that she had now admitted.  We listened to mitigation and noticed that three offences previously, in August last year,  she had been sentenced at crown court to twenty two  months custody suspended for two years.  Neither the CPS agent nor the defence advocate had referred to this.  We could only assume that everyone, including two previous benches, had ignored or overlooked this “minor” detail.  After some discussion we decided to send her back to crown court for sentencing on all matters including activation of all or part of the suspended sentence.   

So at a metaphorical one  minute to  midnight a morning lacking in all expectation turned out to be one where we were able to put to good use our training in structured sentencing.

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