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.




Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

LOW SITTERS GETTING AWAY WITH IT

One of the fundamental arguments in favour of Justices of the Peace presiding over magistrates` courts` trials as opposed to a single professional District Judge is that the former construction could be described not unfairly as trial of the people, by the people, for the people. However something is seriously amiss with our requirement to have three people on a bench with, if possible, diversity considered be it ethnic or sex. A recent day last month at my own court had seven courts in operation with nine sittings throughout the day. Of these, seven sittings consisted of a two person bench. This is plainly unacceptable. We have around 360 members. It seems to me that with my previous experience of some of the back room comings and goings that there are probably far too many colleagues who are sitting for the minimum number of sittings required. Which obviously leads to the next question as to whether or not they were fully appraised of the time requirements of a Justice of the Peace when before the Appointments Committee. I would suggest that prospective appointees were unlikely to admit time restraints at that stage in the process.

However there is a disturbing set of statistics hidden within the website of the  Judicial Conduct Investigations Office more familiarly known until recently by its former title; The Office for Judicial Complaints. One tends to be suspicious of organisational name changes for name changes sake; think Border Agency, Criminal Records Bureau etc etc. Anyway getting back to the topic; in 2012 in the period January 1st to July 16th 14 magistrates were subject to disciplinary procedures of whom five were removed from the magistracy owing to their failure to complete the minimum number of sittings required. In the similar period for 2013 the figures were action against 12 magistrates of whom five low sitters were removed from the magistracy. This year up to today`s date the disciplinary process has been applied to 18 colleagues of whom one only was removed from the judiciary for being a low sitter. To a non statistician like myself it would appear that there is a prima facia case of there having been instructions to those powers that be to go easy on magistrates who have been unable to give the minimum time required to do this job. If that suspicion of smoke has arisen without fire somewhere in the Ministry of Justice I would be most surprised. The scandals of trying to have justice on the cheap which are routine knowledge to those of us in the system are just beginning to reach the general media. So next time any colleagues are sitting on a two person bench as I will doing at my next sitting ask your Bench Chairman what your bench statistics are on low sitters.

3 comments:

  1. My bench has a very proactive stance with regards to low sitters, indeed it also acts pro actively for those who may be in danger of 'over-sitting'.

    I cannot agree with your view that there is a prima facie case for some jiggery pokey with the figures. What prima facie evidence do you deduce exactly? I see none at all. It seems your comment is based around an inconvenient statistic which does not support a preconceived opinion on the subject of low sitting and the powers that be. We still have 5 months of 2014 to run so it remains to be seen what the final figure will be and even when the final figure is known we will still lack evidence as to there being any skulduggery or manipulation. In short there is no case, prima facie or otherwise, to support the opinion expressed.

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    1. Thank you anonymous for your opinion. FYI the figures for the period January 1st 2011 to July 16th 2011 show that of eight magistrates considered by the JCIO three were sacked for not meeting minimum sitting requirements. There appears to be currently a blip in the trend. You might refuse to accept that. IMHO such a blip is unlikely to be occurring unless sanctioned from somewhere. Check the numbers next July.

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  2. When I first started, the rota allowed me to sit on the same half day each week so enabling the required sittings to be achieved comfortably (allowing for inevitable cancellations and holidays), and more easily integrated into time away from work.
    In recent years, the sittings have been reduced to 2-3 per month on irregular weeks which, while in theory gives the required sittings, in practice is far more difficult to achieve for those in work. Sadly it is also I suspect far more difficult for employees to get the time off from unsympathetic employers.

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