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, 6 February 2015


Homo Sapiens Sapiens is a very adaptable species.  In practice that means we can adjust our physical actions and our mental processes to the environment in which we find ourselves.  The very moving testimonies of Haulocast survivors broadcast over recent days are an example.     And so it is in the almost benign atmosphere of the retiring room at 9.30a.m. where similar processes are at work.  We are inured to the inefficiencies around us.  It wasn`t always the case.  Of course matters were often sorted at the last minute but the “unfit for purpose” description of  the magistrates` courts system is perhaps only a few years away if the further mooted reductions in the justice budget are to be believed. 

The morning list consisted of two drug related trials; Possession of Class B and  two charges Possession of Class A in addition to Assault by Beating and the fourth trial of two similar allegations in a domestic context.  At 9.55a.m. we were told that the Class B matter had been vacated the day previously and that the second drugs trial had been allocated to another court.  So far; so good!  Court opened on the dot of 10.00 a.m.  We were informed that the single assault case involved three witnesses each for prosecution and defence and that two of the former were visiting foreigners with no English who were in the country for another four days only.  To add to that the interpreter had not arrived.  After a hopefully inaudible intake of breath the chairman inquired of what was the situation of the DV case.  There was no defendant or lawyer in court.  Our L/A told us that the defendant had gone to our “sister” court in error although he had been present and legally advised by the duty at that sister court where and when he had made his not guilty plea that the trial would not be held there.   CPS told us that his witnesses were present including a ten year old child due to appear by video link.  With no interpreter for the first matter and no defendant for the second what does a bench do?  It retires to the kitchen and hopes the antediluvian coffee/tea machine will work.  Around 11.30 a.m. we are informed  by those awful coincidences  that outside waiting to enter are the interpreter for the first case and the lawyer and defendant for the second.  We invite the lawyer to appear and request an explanation.  His story was that he was appointed only a couple of weeks previously and had taken his client`s advice as to venue.  By the time he had reached the other court his client had already left and had texted him the correct venue;  a venue with which according to his story he was not very familiar.  He then proceeded to ask for an adjournment on the basis that in his opinion his client required an interpreter despite no problem of that nature having been noted from the first hearing in the case management form.  Critical observations from the chairman were a waste of time according to the L/A although on similar previous occasions they had had an effect.  Our L/A told us we had no power to refuse an adjournment on that basis.  Interests of justice reign supreme irrespective of any doubts of the court including consideration of the child witness. We reserved the rights of CPS to a wasted costs hearing when the case was concluded although the rather bad tempered lawyer insisted on his right that such a hearing should be argued immediately.  He was given short shrift.  The interpreter for the first matter gave a reasonable explanation for her delay and that case proceeded to sentencing at about 4.00p.m. whereupon we made our goodbyes and headed home inured to the predictable  unpredictability of the court system to function in a fashion remotely associated with efficiency however advanced the technology proclaimed by the Justice Ministry and HMCTS might files for CPS, video links for witnesses, mobile phones for communication etc. etc. etc.

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