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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Monday, 14 April 2014

POUNDS, PENCE, BLACK BALLS AND FAIRNESS ON FARE DODGERS



It has been an interesting few days for observers of legal news as it impinges albeit indirectly on the daily activities of magistrates. Nigel Evens, a high ranking Tory politician who has admitted to behaviour which should shame anyone  who has a seat in the elected legislature of this country but who has been cleared of activities for which he was sent to trial, has railed against the imposition of legal costs of his defence which, he claims, will empty his piggy bank of his life savings.  There have been arguments in the media that the CPS was acting unfairly in hiring a top class Q.C. to argue its case.  This is untenable.  If  CPS had lost the case and it had been led by a less experienced barrister the cry might have been that inexperience had allowed a guilty man to go free.  The CPS must stand by its own decision making process including the decision whether or not to charge on the evidence at hand and the prosecution code of conduct. But, and it`s a big but, the other two ramifications of this trial and verdict are more open to reasoned debate.  There has been a suggestion often repeated  subsequent to such acquittals that there should be anonymity for those accused of sex crimes as there often is for the complainants in such cases.  When open justice in this country is subject to ever increasing salami slicing by the twin bacon cutting  blades of  sacrifices to “victim centred justice”  and anti terrorist orientated secrecy another avenue to apply somewhat oppressive witness protection measures for an accused would be a step too far.  Indeed I would posit that anonymity for an accuser has already been taken beyond what is reasonable.   On the subject of the costs to be borne by an acquitted defendant there is IMHO a strong case for  reimbursement of legal expenses incurred in that acquittal.  If CPS employ a silk the diminishing principle of the level playfield should apply and if a fellow silk secures a not guilty for his/her client tax payers` funds should be available in recompense for the defendant. 

Fare dodgers are commonplace in the docks of magistrates` courts the length and breadth of the country.  Depending on the actual charge they are usually  punished by a maximum fine of £500.  The case of the City financier who agreed to an out of court  repayment of  £42,550 plus costs instead of a prosecution in court  has raised eyebrows.  It could be argued that his wealth (he paid the total sum within a few days) allowed him preferential treatment and the avoidance of a criminal record.  On the other hand his payment into public coffers was of direct benefit to tax payers.  After all the hundreds of thousands of fines handed out to those on welfare benefits are calculated according to their means even allowing for their being convicted which this chap has evaded and sometimes are out of kilter with the offence  eg a fine of £110 for having no vehicle insurance when the costs of insurance can be three or more times more expensive.  It seems odd that the case was not pursued to its logical conclusion.  Assuming the evidence was overwhelming a guilty outcome would have allowed the railway company to ask a court for compensation for lost revenue.  Perhaps that not being the case the prosecution considered settlement was the best outcome in the circumstances.  We`ll probably never know.    


And finally a bit closer to home and the following  of political correctness by the Magistrates` Association takes it a further step along the yellow brick road.  The Association has long had a policy of offering honorary membership for senior judges.  There are self contained arguments against this policy on grounds that are pertinent to the realities of the situation. At the last AGM in October six senior members of the judiciary were co-opted as honorary  members:- the Rt Hon The Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT FRSE, The Rt Hon The Lord Irvine of Lairg, The Rt Hon The Lord Woolf, The Rt Hon The Lord Falconer of Thoroton, The Rt Hon The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and The Rt Hon The Lord Judge of Draycote.  It has now been decided  that honorary membership should be abolished.  That decision has come about because Lords Irvine, Phillips and Woolf are members of the men only Garrick`s Club and rather than blackball those three for their  apparent  misogynistic tendencies in daring to belong to a gentleman`s club  the rules are being changed.  Strange or not so strange to report there is no mention of this decision on the Association`s members` section of its website or else I`ve missed it within its nebulous labyrinthine structure.

3 comments:

  1. Not relevant but great news of future plans in mags' courts. (!!!)
    Police officers to be equipped with the tools they need to be able to start capturing evidence digitally at the scene of a crime.
    * Police to be able to capture witness and victims statements electronically on their mobile device or body-worn video at the scene of the crime.
    * A digital system which will mean the police contact the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) directly for a charging decision.
    * Defendants in custody to appear in court via prison to court video links for pre-trial hearings.
    * Criminal prosecutors and defence lawyers in magistrates' courts to work digitally.
    * Case information to be viewed digitally by magistrates on digital devices.
    * Wi-Fi connections to be used to allow professional court users to access their own systems and the internet.
    * Digital in-court presentation equipment to display evidence like CCTV, photos or 999 calls.


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  2. The commuter case is interesting. In my next of the woods, the train companies (outside of court , never my favourite so no bias) will do as much as they can to avoid the matter coming to court, even if you turn up in the morning and agree a settlement, they will take it off the list. So if that's what happened here, then fair enough - the train company gets its money (and at single ticket rates not season ticket rates) so they must be happy. But you could argue that the length of the individuals actions constitutes something more serious. Perhaps you would argue that there is a need to prove intent and that the train co would instead prefer to get their money and the publicity from the settlement. Either way, it shows that in financial services, there continue to be many clever people but few wise ones....

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  3. and the government IT dept will successfully implement this? is it April 1st?

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