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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


Reading about this bench`s controversial decision  reminded me of a recent sitting where I at least faced a completely new situation.  No additional training in whatever format  would have been of any help.  As I have remarked in conversation with new colleagues there are many times  when training and book reading are little preparation to fulfil the position of a bench chairman.  Today as it so happens  one of my spies attended a seminar on improving magistrates` training deficits organised by Transform Justice, a lobbying group run by a former J.P. Penelope Gibbs.  But more of that in another post.  In simple terms either one has the ability to run a court or one hasn`t.  Unfortunately IMHO I have seen those who might overcome the hurdle of appraisal but are as unsuited to the role as a doctor without a bedside manner.  

 But returning to the subject of this post;  last month my colleagues and I were sitting on yet another assault by beating in a DV context.  The complainant had not turned up on the previous occasion.  At 10.00 o`clock we were told by CPS that she was under the care of a charity dealing with such matters and that having had a witness summons served the previous day by a police officer she was “on her way”.  Just when defence counsel was sensing a dismissal of the charge she arrived.  The defendant was removed whilst she was positioned behind screens and examination in chief began.  It took only five minutes for her to begin showing signs of stress. She whispered something to the usher who was close by.  He made his way to the public gallery where he indicated to a man that he should leave.  CPS rose to continue but I intervened to ask the usher what was going on.  Apparently the member of the public gallery was known to the complainant as being a friend of the defendant and she had felt uncomfortable.  This was an occasion when a chairman has to have control of the court and make instant decisions. I explained that any member of the public has a right to peacefully view the proceedings at a magistrates` court without any hindrance and that a complainant cannot put her discomfort above that basic freedom.  The usher was instructed to inform the person concerned who apparently was still outside the courtroom.  He returned to his seat and the case continued. Before or after his removal he was not seen to have made any action that would have been considered unusual i.e. he had silently listened to the proceedings making no expression to the witness whom he could barely see behind the screen.   My colleagues, also chairmen, were doubtful if they would have acted similarly on the basis that they were very sympathetic to the complainant`s situation.  Best I stop here.


  1. "Not only must justice be done, but justice must be seen to be done"

    I agree with your position. Provided there is no question of the member of the public acting in an inappropriate or unacceptable manner then there is no justification in removal. It seems that the witness was already somewhat reluctant to give evidence but she was already supported.

    I am somewhat surprised that the usher took it upon him/her self to approach the member of the public. I should have thought it more appropriate to speak to the Chair.

  2. as an ex-usher, I am surprised that he seemingly took it upon himself to banish the man in the public gallery; I would have brought the matter to the LA's attention