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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Friday, 21 February 2014

LIKE TURKEYS FOR THE SLAUGHTER



“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”  Robbie Burns had the insight of the common man.  The pilots directing the Magistrates` Association are not common men.  They are flying by their instruments and have lost sight of the real horizon.  No better indication is there of this inability to realise they are travelling upside down than their response to a report published a few weeks ago by a right wing pressure group, Policy Exchange. Chairman of Magistrates’ Association Richard Monkhouse said:  ‘This report from Policy Exchange mirrors many of our suggestions and we are pleased to see that there is a wider view that much greater use can and should be made of magistrates.”  And that greater use  is removing much if not all court work from Justices of the Peace who would be replaced by corresponding increases in the numbers of  professional judges sitting alone or perhaps with J.P.s as wingers during trials.  With the financial costs balance of  the latter  cf  voluntary magistrates  in favour of  D.J.s if their legal advisors were  exchanged for low level low paid admin people it`s a no brainer.  British governments are becoming more authoritarian by the decade if legislative changes in all their manifestations challenging individual freedoms  are any guide to the future. Having more (political) control over decisions of the lower courts would be in line with current experience an example of which was when those involved in the 2011 riots were virtually excluded from being tried and sentenced by lay benches and were overwhelmingly presented to courts presided over by District Judges directed to impose exemplorary sentences.  I write from experience having myself presided over such matters after  my colleagues and I expressly ignored our L/A`s advice to refuse jurisdiction and send the case “up”. 

The Policy Exchange paper is available here.  Dealing with some of the points made by its authors my comments are:-

1.10,000 new magistrates placed in out of court situations.
In order to assess the comparative seriousness of  offences presented at police stations considerable experience would be needed.  Considering the current  minimum number of sittings required of a J.P. is 26 half days annually new colleagues take at least two years to get up to speed.  Newly appointed with some training they would be pawns in the hands of police. 

2.Court sittings in the evening and weekends.  
This change would, according to these very clever people at Policy Exchange, encourage younger volunteers to spend evenings and/or weekends away from their families and sit in court.  Of course all the other agencies where people are actually paid money to participate in court proceedings CPS, Police, Victim Support, Admin Staff, Security Personnel,  Defence Advocates etc etc would immediately agree to such innovation and money would be found to allow this.

3. J.P.s retire after 10 years on the job
 It goes almost without saying that those with experience in a highly complex second occupation should be fired at the peak of their powers.

4.”Magistrates’ Association should devise a new training package for 500 or so ‘problem solving’ magistrates and judges, specialising in dealing with people with drug and alcohol addiction”.
 I understand that there are already thousands of such people. They are known as social workers and/or probation officers although this government is rapidly reducing the ranks of the latter profession.

5. The creation of Justice Hubs 
I think “pie in the sky” describes this.

The executive of the M.A. in giving the impression that it has some support for  this nonsense shows that it is not fit for purpose.  Even turkeys don`t applaud the farmer on December 24th. 

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