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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Tuesday, 17 March 2015


As I  approach the end of my tenure as a magistrate my cynicism is increasing as fast as the Ministry`s trumpet blows its shriek notes about improving efficiency by the digitalisation of all court files and the implementation of a policy of video justice at distance.  Whilst the mismanagement, at my court at least,  continues to make the proverbial brewery piss up seem like Harvard Business School best practice audit,  the magistrates` courts system will never offer criminal justice simple speedy and summary  in a quantity required to offer confidence to all participants.

Yesterday morning`s trial involved a defendant from Finland and a complainant from Poland.  Three hours had been set aside. It had been listed three times previously.  All witnesses were available.  We were sitting in a courtroom equipped with screens as agreed thus allowing the complainant to give her best evidence in what was a domestic violence matter.  The Polish interpreter as indicated in the case management form was outside awaiting request to enter when defence council rose to his feet to inform us that  no Finnish interpreter had answered the usher`s  tannoy request to come to the courtroom.  Our legal advisor confirmed that a Finnish interpreter had indeed been specified on the form.  We retired whist inquiries were made.  It transpired that in order to improve communication between courtroom and administrative staff  when an interpreter is required for a defendant (the court`s responsibility of course) a yellow page is attached to the front of the case management form to that effect.  In the case in question it appeared that the page had been removed during a pre filing process so the instruction was lost.  We were also told that a previous plea and case management hearing  had had to be vacated for lack of a Finnish interpreter. We are supposed to have a case progression officer whose job as the name suggests is to ensure that all court pre trial requirements have been met or to inform where necessary of perceived difficulties.   To me and my colleagues it appeared that he or she was as much to blame as anybody.

We enquired whether or not a manager on the administration staff could appear.  We were told that the line of management forbids such action.  Outside the courtroom our L/A explained  the  process:  she would inform the managing clerk who might or might not escalate the complaint to the Deputy Justices` Clerk who would contact the manager in the administration side who would make the decision as to how the complaint should proceed.  That is how three magistrates, an agent of the CPS, defence counsel, the officer in the case, a defendant, a complainant, a police officer witness, one interpreter and a legal advisor spent their morning.  `nuff said!  

1 comment:

  1. I am amazed at how disorganised the Courts are. I was accused of assault following a domestic incident 3 years ago. The first hearing at the local Magistrates' Court involved the Court personnel, my barrister, a translator for my now ex (utterly ludicrous as she had been living in the UK for 12 years and spoke perfectly good English), a PC and the CPS. An hour (from memory) had been allocated, the Chair of the Bench remarked that half a day should have been allocated. Next hearing, a member of the Bench was not present due to illness. I was given the opportunity of proceeding with 2 magistrates. I decided that the matter was too important to be heard by just two. Hearing three went as planned and I was acquitted within 15 minutes of their Worships retiring. From this experience, and from another many years ago appearing as a prosecution witness, the system seems to be highly dysfunctional.