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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Friday, 31 October 2014

A DRACONIAN OUTCOME



All on the bench cannot fail to occasionally have had deep sympathy for finding a parent or guardian guilty of failing to ensure a child`s school attendance or having to sentence for such an offence.  Recent publicity on a few such cases has brought the problem to a wider audience.  The sentencing decision of colleagues at Plymouth  in just such a matter resulted in a pregnant woman being given 60 days immediate custody.  This outcome is highly unusual and no doubt will be picked up by various lobby groups as an example of our draconian laws leading to unnecessarily high rates of incarceration. 



I doubt my colleagues will face a similar situation for a very long time.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

HOPE AND HOPELESS



 Before being appointed to this job I was convinced in my own mind unfettered  by superior legal knowledge that the scourge of drug addiction could be successfully challenged only if its victims were deviated from the criminal justice system to a branch of the NHS.  Nothing has changed except that now I am not only convinced of the folly of not decriminalising illicit drug use   I await a government which is prepared to face the financial and social realities of not doing so.  This  latest report provides grounds for hope.

Proven reoffending statistics: January 2012 to December 2012” published today by the Ministry of Justice is likely to provide the opponents to the payment by results policy  for the new probation organisations  with considerable ammunition from the pilot schemes at Peterborough and Doncaster.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

JUDGE`S REMARKS SHOULD BE UNSPOKEN



One of the attributes of our court system of which the senior bigwigs are most  jealously protective is its reputation.  Indeed an accusation of bringing the law into disrepute is often a striking off offence and in the past has been  levelled against a certain category of blogger.  It is not unusual of course for a higher court to criticise a lower court for its findings; that is its raison d`etre.  The criticism is almost invariably described in terms when a patient father might temper his feelings when demonstrating his displeasure at  the behaviour of a wayward offspring. 

An assertive bench of magistrates has considerable power.  After all we still term the courts over  which they preside as “magistrates`”  courts although the day might not be all that far off when they are renamed as District Criminal Court or some such term.  Be that as it may a lay bench would fail in its duty if it did not listen carefully to any advice from its legal advisor.  That advice might indicate that a bench`s proposed action would be unlawful in which case such a bench would desist from that proposed action.  But a more likely scenario would be that a L/A would “advise” or suggest that a particular course of action would have certain consequences and perhaps should be re considered.  A bench worth its salt would take everything on board but might persist on its original course.  In such a case the L/A would note  on the court file advice given and subsequently rejected.  It appears from a brief report in the Hull Daily Mail that a crown court judge has, arguably,  spoken rather injudicially.  It is not absolutely clear what the charge was nor what were the agreed facts to which the offender pleaded guilty.  What is fact is that for its own reasons the bench (it was unlikely to have been a District Judge)   thought its maximum  powers of six months custody were insufficient.  What is another fact  is that the Sentencing  Guidelines regarding all drug related offending  are so convoluted that they appear to be  the result of a bureaucratic tick box legislative   exercise gone mad.   I would venture that much advice from legal advisors where there might be some  doubt in sentencing powers being sufficient is conservative to the point of being an arse covering exercise for themselves as much as  any other consideration.  However I am not convinced that HH Judge Jeremy Richardson QC chose his remarks with the precision  that should be expected by a person in his position.  Perhaps to use some current jargon beloved by politicians of late; they should be unspoken. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

LOCAL JUSTICE BELONGS IN THE DUSTBIN





I have often considered that those in Scotland responsible for matters of law `n order in all its manifestations have  a great deal more common sense in their approach than their counterparts in England & Wales with the possible exception of the recent decision to remove the need for corroboration which has been unique to Scots law.  Their decision to reduce the amount of alcohol above which the offence of driving with excess alcohol becomes effective is a case in point especially just before Christmas and Hogmanay. The imposition of a Scottish national police force is a prime example of the national good overriding the petty czars  who resisted the change.  Those in opposition cited the “local policing” for local people argument.  The same argument has been used regarding magistrates` courts insofar as the presiding lay benches should reflect the local population.  This, so the argument goes, allows local knowledge to be applied and for respect given to the benches` ethnic composition.  This is all so much flim flam.  Local justice areas are gradually being enlarged.  It is only a matter of time until  they will be effectively eliminated. National Sentencing Guidelines were inaugurated  above all to eliminate what could be described as post code sentencing or in simple terms to reduce variations in sentencing in different areas of the country for what was considered similar offending.  I am unaware that District Judges are appointed only to courts where they have a local connection.   Perhaps at some not too distant time the Ministry of Justice will recognise that we have had national justice imposed and consign to the dustbin of unwanted political garbage the term “local justice”.