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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

NHS WORSHIPPERS –V- A.N.OTHER



It seems that the Labour Party has finally decided to put the coalition`s justice policy and its Secretary of State`s many terminological inexactitudes into its forthcoming manifesto.  The position on legal aid will be just the first of several such announcements. How much influence there will be on a public which is generally uninterested and, according to pollsters, worships at the god of NHS remains to be seen. 

Friday, 30 January 2015

THE INNOCENT BABY AND THE CPS BATHWATER



Rape is probably the crime where very few thinking people have nothing to say; most have an opinion.  On that basis magistrates are no different from others.  The guidance issued by the CPS earlier this week seeks to increase the conviction rate for this offence; a conviction rate which is lower for sexual offences than other groups of indictable offences.  Between 2003 and 2013 the conviction rate for sexual offences increased from 46% to 58%.   There are probably as many opinions on all aspects of this crime as on most others put together.  This is hardly surprising.  The most natural human urge, allowed to find its outlet with little hindrance over millennia, has gradually been brought within the justice system of most nations over the last few hundred years.  However even today there are societies where it is extremely difficult if not impossible to secure conviction for this crime such are the impediments erected by the legal,  cultural or religious  overlords in such societies.  It is essential to differentiate between numbers of rapes reported to the authorities and figures for actual convictions.  Misleading statistics muddy the waters of this controversial topic. At one extreme conviction rates in Russia, China and Japan are  around 90% or higher. In Sweden much is made of the number of reported rapes and the low conviction rates.   There is a very strong argument that the type of society in which this offence is committed is an indicator of the likely conviction rate.   India and Pakistan are examples.



This post is not to argue about statistics.  My impression after many years absorbing all the many changes to our justice system which reach right down to the lower court is that the target to increase  conviction rates has quite rightly tightened up procedures which allowed offenders to escape their due deserts.   But I feel that we are in great danger in throwing out the innocent  baby with the target bathwater in this regard.  Those accused of rape are now to some degree being required to prove their innocence.  How long before this philosophy is applied to other offences?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

DO PROBATION OFFICERS UNDERSTAND THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS IN SENTENCING TO CUSTODY SUSPENDED?



A recent sitting was in the breach court. I find the prosecution at my court to be of a good  standard notwithstanding errors and omissions owing to the mal functioning in the back office and the apparent inability of reduced staff numbers to cope with their workload.  All evidence seems to be available with the only chink in the armour a reliance on computer print outs of the chronology of the case; print outs which sometimes raise more questions than answers. It has been admitted in open court more than once that the reliance on probation workers recording accurately every interaction with the clients has to be weighed against the number of clients passing through the system and the numbers in the office dealing with them. I have ceased to be over critical in my comments.

There is one trend in pre sentence reports that I do find difficult to tolerate and an example presented at that recent sitting. We were being asked to revoke and re-sentence. The offender had been convicted of a relatively low level offence and had been sentenced to a medium term of unpaid work in the community. We had therefore in front of us the PSR based upon which the defendant had been sentenced previously and which he had breached twice initiating the request from the prosecutor who read out an addendum from the officer concerned. Apparently he recommended that he now be “sentenced to a Suspended Sentence Order with additional work hours requirement imposed. My words to the prosecutor were, “ Are you telling us that the report writer now considers that the defendant`s substantive offence is now so serious that only custody is appropriate?” To make the point I continued, “To suspend custody one must firstly cross the threshold that only custody is appropriate before considering whether there are considerations which warrant suspension.” We did not follow the proposal and the prosecutor assured us he would report our comments to the officer concerned.

I am inclined to think that such muddled thinking in probation offices is not confined to my court.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

NOT BEFORE TIME



It seems that Lord Leveson is once again having a major influence on judicial procedures. We have no way of knowing whether or not his colleagues view the matters presented in a similar light.  What seems plain for all to see is that his high profile demands that government of whatever hue is elected in May will place his proposals at the higher end of its “must do” list.  As a magistrate and blogger my main interest in his recent report is that concerning the right of defendants to choose mode of trial in either way offences.  This allocation procedure was changed last year.  Theft to the value of less than £200 is now tried summarily only.  Indeed the second ever  post of my blogging attempts (at a previous host) in November 2009 was devoted to the subject.  Further posts on 26/10/2010 and 14/01/2013 seem prescient.  My opinion then and currently was not that of some crystal ball gazing individual with incredible foresight; it was held by the vast majority of my colleagues.  In other words it was in common parlance a “no brainer”.  If, as is almost certain,  his recommendation on limiting defendant choice of jury trial eventually comes into being it will not be a day too soon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

LOCAL JUSTICE IS ALMOST AN OXYMORON



It seems that there are still some within and many without the legal profession who still retain the concept that justice is “local”.  There is an argument to be made that the concept should be and in many cases is considered an anachronism.  When transport between villages and towns was limited to the strength of a person`s legs for the majority and by horseback or cart for most of the remainder of the population petty sessions  had to be held locally.  As an example there were over twenty petty sessions courts in the West Riding of Yorkshire alone in the 19th and early 20th century.  Currently there are 871 J.P.s sitting in West Yorkshire and they now sit each for a minimum of 26 half days annually at  only four magistrates` courts in this geographical region.  There is currently a    consultation on the merger of the local justice areas in North Yorkshire which portends more courts closing in that area.   Even in  London with its transport links where many courts have been closed and similar mergers have taken place attendees be they defendants or witnesses can have over an hour`s travel to their “local” court with the cost that that entails.



For M.P.s of whatever colour  these closures are in reality a perfect platform for them to broadcast their  concerns for their constituents.  I would opine that they know as well as those directly involved that the HMCTS steamroller will not be persuaded from its path by any argument that does not meet the single criterion of meeting its budgetary requirements.   But then there`s an election in a 100 days.