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, 28 March 2014

MUSINGS ON FRIDAY (2)



As another week draws to an end one can always find snippets of interest that demonstrate in simple terms the confusion that reigns throughout our justice system.  An embattled Justice Secretary is continually reliant upon his press office for the regular publication of information which he hopes will allow him to escape the shallow political grave which he appears to be digging for himself with his cabinet colleagues` silence for accompaniment.  Earlier this month the MOJ published   Updated analysis of the impact of the Intensive Alternatives to Custody pilots on re-offendingrates.  This document is, I suppose, an effort to counter the ramshackle road to ruin that was intended to transform the probation service into an efficient PBR  (payment by results) scheme to reduce recidivism.  For those so minded it is not recommended bedtime reading.  As so often happens coincidence is beyond control.    Members of the National Association of Probation Officers  will be taking strike action from 12 noon on Monday 31 March to 11.59pm on Tuesday 1 April and colleagues in London have just been informed that the 31st March is also the start date of a pilot scheme scheduled to run for two months in preparation for the Big Bang probation changeover conjured up by Chris Grayling.  Apparently the effect of this scheme on London courts will be that the authors of Pre Sentence Reports will need extra time to complete the paperwork. There will be two lengthy extra forms to complete for each defendant. The purpose of these forms will be  to assess which provider the defendant will be under during their supervision i.e. either the National Probation Service or Community and Rehabilitation Company.  As a direct result  Oral Reports will take longer to do as both  the same forms have to be completed. Happy days indeed!

Like all bullies whether in school, on the street or in the workplace; when they are confronted by resolute opposition they are shown up as the weak specimens they actually are and government ministers are no exception.  The striking members of the Criminal Bar have shown just what results even white collar professionals can achieve from a system beholden to them for its effective functioning.  The aforementioned Secretary of State has postponed the planned 6% cut to fees paid to advocates in Crown court cases under the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme, which was due to be implemented this year.  A full report in the Law Society Gazette is available here.

A couple of weeks ago an example of sentencing situations which magistrates face daily took place before a court presided over by  South Tyneside Magistrates and not by a professional government employed District Judge(MC).  The prolific offender was not given immediate custody as perhaps might have been the decision of another bench but  he was sentenced by three of his peers.  I doubt that a decade from now such an occasion will arise.  As far as I know no poll has ever been commissioned on whether the English and Welsh people would prefer to retain the current system of summary justice or would rather be tried and sentenced by that single professional judge.  This complete disinterest by everyone concerned;  the senior judiciary,  the Magistrates` Association, the Law Society, the Bar Council and the general public is the reason that on both sides of the House the salami slicing of our summary justice system will lead to its eventual direct control by government. 

The offence under section 20 of    Offences against the Person Act 1861 is variously referred to as "unlawful wounding", "malicious wounding" or "inflicting grievous bodily harm" and is punishable by up to five years custody.  At Gloucester Crown Court HH Judge William Hart was earlier this week  quoted as taking into account  a defendant`s means allowing him to pay £4,000 compensation  in deciding not to imprison him for biting off an innocent bystander’s  ear; a good Samaritan who had come to the aid of a woman apparently  being assaulted by the defendant who was her boyfriend.  A report is available here.  On a first reading I was amazed that HH should have taken such a line but he admitted at a previous case in 2012 to having made literally an error of judgement which resulted in further grief to an innocent member of the public.  It is to be hoped that the concept of “public protection “ might figure more highly in future sentencing exercises by the judge.  But on a second reading of these reports I recollected a case before me last year  of drink driving for a second occasion within three years.  Clearly the offender`s sentence fell into the range of a medium to high community sentence but after some discussion we decided to impose a Band E fine (five times weekly income) in the particular circumstances.   So perhaps I should not be over critical of Judge Hart.

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