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, 19 February 2014
NO RESPECT FROM HMCTS
From time to time my reader might have got the impression that my enthusiasm for this job is on the wane. Being an astute individual he would be correct. One of my moans has been the attitude of HMCTS towards us. This badly managed organisation considers us as unpaid employees rather than appointees who are often out of pocket in offering ourselves to what used to be a very worthwhile voluntary position. An example of this attitude is demonstrated by the fact that if we cancel a sitting it is logged into the system of statistics employed by HMCTS and presumably collated with other information held on us as individuals. But if said organisation cancels one (or more) of our sittings that incident is not logged. That information came to me directly from those responsible i.e. the bench support team. At a recent sitting a relatively new colleague, quite absorbed by a trial on which she had recently sat, told me that when she asked the self same personnel at the bench support office to be rota`d to sit on the sentencing bench for that offender’s next appearance she was told quite bluntly that it would be that team which would decide whether or not she could sit and not the J.P. This decision is extremely disturbing. In fact it is a bloody disgrace. I told my colleague that J.P.s have the same authority and powers as a District Judge and at least two of them in the past and our current bench chairman have confirmed to me that within normal parameters of bench composition every effort should be made by a bench support team to accommodate such a request and that the response of the individual concerned was quite inappropriate. Another example of the instructions which apparently have infected the manner in which admin staff have been told to regard us happened about three months ago.
As a chairman, like all my colleagues, I expect about 25%-30% of my rota`d sittings to be as a winger but when I offer “extras” I offer to sit only as a chairman. One day, however, having noted in my diary an extra sitting, I received an e mail the day prior informing me that that particular extra sitting would be as a winger. I told the bench support team person that in that case I declined to sit whereupon she said to me, “I must remind of the rule that you cannot choose not to sit as a winger if that`s where you are allocated.” I told her I didn`t need reminding of any rule and that if I offer an extra sitting as a chairman only and that allocation is changed by her team then I am under no obligation to fulfill that sitting; it was a voluntarily offered additional sitting to assist the court. That was the end of the matter but it seems that conversations like those could only have happened because instructions have been sent by HMCTS on how relationships with J.P.s must be handled.
Legal advisors are already in acceptance of an employer which treats them as numbers to be deployed at the whim of that employer and whose status as lawyers has now no significance whatsoever. They are a workforce whose moral has shrunk to zero. Increasingly my colleagues are coming to the realisation that they too are held in similar disrespect by HMCTS.