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, 28 November 2014

SCOTLAND THE BRAVE



I have blogged from time to time on illegal alcohol sales to children and the dearth of convictions under s.146.  I have also commented from time to time that in many respects the legal system in Scotland is more responsive and more equitable in its application of existing or new legislation to meet changing circumstances.  Recent experiences have reinforced that conviction.

I recently spent some time north of the border and not unnaturally spent a few moments or two having a bevy in a local hostelry accompanied by my niece who is a graceful 22 year old with the beauty and innocent charm of a cherub obviously inherited from her mother who is not my blood relative. Having ordered my large Highland Park my niece requested a single of the same bottle.  The very pleasant landlord asked her for I.D. even although she was accompanied by her wizened grey haired uncle who vouched for her mature years at least as far as the purchase of alcohol was concerned.  All this was to no avail as she did not have her driving license or any other age identifier on her person.  On serving her a diet coke the landlord explained that it was not worth risking his license in such a circumstance.  In 2012, as he explained, supermarket giant Asda had its alcohol licence suspended for 24 hours following a test purchase sting in 2012 and as a consequence he followed the rules explicitly; no I.D.: no alcohol served.

This time next week Scotland`s new limits on drink driving become law. Permitted alcohol level is being cut from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood.  Personally I would argue for a zero limit but Scotland`s brave example shows what a justice ministry can do when it is not rampaging down a headlong course to impose its occupant`s desire to destroy all that the word justice means.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

J.P.s SHOULD BE CIRCUMSPECT IN THEIR PUBLIC COMMENTS



The Ministry of Justice and its various mouthpieces are never slow in letting it be known from all available rooftops that this or that initiative will provide more efficient whatever at reduced cost thus benefitting all of us taxpayers.......Lo! and the water was turned into wine thus reducing the catering bill at Petty France.

Civil servants will say whatever their masters instruct but Justices of the Peace are above politics in their primary function as judicial office holders.  For a Bench Chairman to comment in the press on the advantages of  the amalgamation of two benches, insofar as most colleagues whilst appreciating the financial requirements imposed by “austerity” would argue that these supposed benefits are unlikely to cover court users of all shades,  is IMHO a step too far in playing favours to government.  To quote a section of comment by the newly elected Bench Chairman of South Cumbria area; Ms Farmer said: "Our aim will be to combine the benches in a way that users of the courts in Kendal and Barrow see no change in the service we provide whilst improving the co-ordination and efficiency of the arrangements across the south of the county”.  

 I would argue that such comments are the prerogative of the HMCTS mouthpiece in the area and whether or not her colleagues agree or were consulted prior to her interview she would have been wiser to have held  her tongue.

Friday, 21 November 2014

SHOULD “NOT PROVEN” BE A CONSIDERATION IN ENGLISH LAW?



Earlier this week head teacher James Bird was cleared of a historic allegation of sexual abuse.  The jury took all of  15 minutes to clear him.  There are obvious questions to be asked and the ramifications that will follow will be a matter for legal debate at the highest level no doubt. What I find particularly interesting is the comment from CPS quoted in the Times when a spokesman said it was important to distinguish between evidence a person had lied about allegations and a jury deciding evidence was not strong enough for a conviction.  Surely with remarks of that nature this is an argument for considering the Scottish verdict; not proven?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

NUMBERS ARE PLAYFUL ITEMS



Absolute discharge - no further action is taken, since either the offence was very minor or the court considers that the experience has been enough of a deterrent. The offender will receive a criminal record.   

The last decade can arguably be described as one in which the law has become increasingly prescriptive at the summary level.  In 2004 there were 530,847 offenders sentenced at magistrates` courts on non motoring offences of whom 4,507 received an absolute discharge; 0.85%.   Similar figures for the year ending June 2014 are 416,198 and 2,079 or 0.5%.  For motoring offences alone in 2004 of 704,836 sentenced 9,086 received an absolute discharge i.e. 1.3%.  Now ten years later the figures are that of 447,566 sentenced only 2,732 were given an absolute discharge; 0.6%.  I am no statistician but an absolute discharge rate for motoring offences which has decreased by a little over 50% seems significant.  Perhaps the interpretation of strict liability has tightened;  perhaps courts are less inclined to be benevolent.  Looking at the numbers above on non motoring sentencing it could possibly be construed that the CPS is more refined in its prosecuting policy and those cases which just reach its prosecution threshold are not now being pursued.

Numbers are playful items.  No wonder those involved in all aspects of the criminal justice system go to such lengths to find numbers which suit their political purposes.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

GRAYLING TAKES JUSTICE INTO THE ABYSS



If the prize for the most efficient propaganda machine in Whitehall were measured by the number of lines published of (dis)information, “news” releases and “initiatives” those responsible at Petty France London SW1 would surely win. Now we are informed that those guilty of rebellious behaviour in prisons (now without the help of legal aid to argue their case)  are to be subject to increased  severity in punishments  notwithstanding the sacking of about a third of prison officers and the replacement of some of these by people of little experience and the consequent increase in the time prisoners are kept confined to their cells.  Enquiries are currently being carried out concerning the increased number of prison suicides and the efficiency or lack thereof at privately run penal establishments. The policies of this so called justice administration are passing from the merely bizarre and economising to the demonic.  Judges, lawyers, probation service, prison service and even magistrates have expressed their opposition to Grayling who continues before our almost incomprehensible  unbelieving eyes to take our once admirable justice system into the abyss from which there is no recovery in sight.