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, 5 September 2014

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE



One of the most testing times  for a chairman of a bench of magistrates IMHO is in the control of the court during a personal appearance  of an angry citizen during a “Council Tax” court.  Recent changes brought about by Ian Duncan Smith and his cohorts have led to tens of thousands of low income individuals having to pay a proportion of Council Tax for the very first time.  Although the amounts might appear to be small in the grand scheme of things their very imposition for some is a bitter blow to their already fragile financial existence.  Readers here will be well aware that our powers are severely limited when dealing with the granting of liability orders where there  is little or no payment in prospect from householders.  Locally I find that the borough prosecutors make every effort to resolve matters even outside the courtroom where a handful of aggrieved people present at every hearing to put their case.  Only in very few cases have I found any reason to justify the rejection of an application but there have been a few over the years.  The problem for the chairman is being able to reason with people struggling to get by on a pittance when they are sometimes unable or unwilling to understand that as a bench our powers are severely circumscribed in these matters.  Some are extremely articulate and bring with them masses of paperwork in a vain attempt to halt the  council`s bureaucratic   tsunami  onslaught.  On occasion it can take a mixture of understanding, tact, confidence and resolution   from the bench to prevent matters deteriorating to a shouting match where the defendant is going to be the loser.  Currently whether winger or chairman, old hand or relative newbie a half day sitting every fortnight is the minimum sitting requirement to fulfil the MOJ guidelines.  However competent a J.P. might be I would opine that in specialised courts where sittings are more irregular these minimum guidelines are inadequate.  Whether  pilot, joiner, plumber, lawyer, surgeon I would not like to knowingly fly with a pilot whose flying hours were   minimal; I would employ a joiner only after being sure his previous work was of a high standard, a lawyer who had to look up the books at every opportunity would not get my business, any plumbing problems I`ve had were solved by someone with experience and when in the past I have required surgery I have questioned  the surgeon`s  previous expertise.  Perhaps I write from a position of privilege but that does not invalidate my opinion that there is no substitute for experience.

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