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, 12 September 2014


Trials involving motoring offences often follow a pattern where the defendant especially if unrepresented is blind to the folly of his/her errors which have necessitated legal intervention.  There is no doubt in my mind that if many such defendants were interrogated more efficiently by the court on their first appearance many such trials would and should be avoidable such is the confusion in the layman`s mind between innocence and  mitigation.  However such is the variety of human behaviour that from time to time a matter will come to court which will be head and shoulders more interesting than the rest. 

Sean was Irish in his mid thirties whose hair was not exactly ginger but could not quite be described as brown.  Nevertheless although it was thinning it was an obvious feature.  He faced two motoring charges allegedly committed on separate  occasions  the later one being more serious.  When his case was called on we were told  that in both matters identity was the issue and that for reasons that would later become obvious  they would be tried separately.

The prosecution case consisted of the evidence of  the police officer who had conducted the stop in the first matter.  She duly gave her evidence whereupon defence counsel showed her  a picture of an individual and asked her  if the man in the dock or the face in the picture was the person stopped.  Without hesitation she said that the image in the picture had more resemblance to the stopped driver than the defendant.  Sean was acquitted.  There was then some discussion in the absence of the defendant.  Identity was also to be the defence in the second matter.  We were told that the image was of a known offender who was also known to the defendant.  A month or two previously Sean had been charged with a matter involving the same vehicle in another motoring case at another court but it was withdrawn  when it had been shown that his alibi was watertight and that the known offender whose image had been taken at the time of that stop was the likely culprit.  CPS was granted a short adjournment to call a reviewing lawyer.  Five minutes later we were told that they would proceed with the case.  The defence was essentially the same.  The single prosecution witness, the PC who had made the stop almost a year previously and interviewed the driver at the scene, was adamant that the defendant and the driver were as one although only a very vague description had been recorded in her notebook.  That description made no mention of Sean`s hair colour.  She seemed to recollect the unusual car involved more than anything else.  (It was not the vehicle involved in the other cases).  There is much written on the issues involved in a dock I.D. For his part Sean was not quite as credible  a witness as one would have  expected  an innocent party to be.  He was sometimes hesitant and some of his actions were not as consistent as they might have been.  However the evidence presented; prosecution and defence,  and taking into account the earlier acquittal described above and the matter  previously withdrawn  as our L/A advised was within our remit, was such that we could not be sure he had committed the offence .

No doubt if he had committed the offence in Scotland referendum or no referendum he would perhaps have been acquitted on a verdict of not proven.  I understand of course the wider implications of the third verdict which has no place in any other jurisdiction.  Are we better off with simple guilty or not guilty?  Sometimes  I hae ma doots. 

1 comment:

  1. With a single prosecution witness the case would, in Scotland, likely have been no case to answer - at least whilst they still require corroboration.