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 March 2014
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
As in many institutions the so called air conditioning in our major court building is as efficient as a chocolate kettle so the recent slightly milder weather has played havoc with our comfort zones. Most of our ladies are still complaining it`s too cold but at least no longer insist on supplementary heaters being switched on in court. My male colleagues and I open a window in the retiring room despite mutterings of, “You know we`re not supposed to do that; it upsets the air conditioning.” That`s a bit like saying one shouldn`t shout at a rabid dog; it will make it bark louder.
But to the point: earlier this week the sun was streaming through the windows of said retiring room and when 2.00p.m. arrived the windowless courtroom was stuffy to say the least. Our motoring court began on time with three “no insurance” put over from the uber busy morning. Each of the defendants after having been apologized to for their wasted morning had been warned that their case would be called ASAP in the afternoon and were left in no doubt that if they failed to show their case would be prosecuted in their absence. And so it was that Mr V did not appear. All morning he had been sitting in the public gallery apparently intrigued by the histories presented of those like himself who had been facing similar motoring charges. His case was proved in absence as the other two defendants who had decided to attend looked on from the gallery. Without any information as to his means he would have learned soon enough via Royal Mail that he was £800+ in debt to the court. When the pronouncement was made I could swear the faces of the other two visibly dropped and turned a brighter shade of pale. Both being on benefits they seemed to realise that “each according to his means” still has some relevance in our legal system.
Geoff was a well spoken man of 23 and was before us on a very minor motoring offence; indeed so minor it carried no penalty points. As he was quick to tell us it was his first time in a courtroom and that he had a clean license. From the evidence of the police officer witness we were disturbed that it was so very minor an offence and the circumstances were so legally precarious that we wondered why a friendly warning had not been given. His refusal to accept an offered penalty notice was apparently a matter of principle. After hearing his defence we decided that a sure way to settle the matter was to inspect his vehicle which he had parked in an adjoining car park. So off we trooped….. a legal advisor, a CPS prosecutor, the defendant and a bench of three. We all hovered around the vehicle. If it looks like a duck, paddles like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck. A brief examination of his car showed immediately that the prosecution should never have been brought. We dismissed the case and Geoff left the courtroom with a rather deserved smug look on his face. The witness had long since gone back to his duties. The officiousness he had demonstrated might have satisfied his inspector but especially in the current climate was not a credit to the force.
After more years than I care to remember that was the first time I had sought evidence from outside the courtroom but it was indeed a satisfactory breath of fresh air legally and bronchially.