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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Wednesday, 11 March 2015


It had been at least two years since I had last sat on a means court.  There were over forty on the list and about a dozen attendees.  One common feature was that the “histories” as recorded on the means files of each of them were so truncated as to be almost meaningless.  That being the case where possible our L/A had to send for the original court files to be certain of the facts and chronologies.  But our usher was functioning over two other courts also so it takes no imagination to picture the pressure she was under.  We actually managed in the three hour session  to deal with eight of the attendees the remainder filling the downtime of other courts.  For the others listed (the non attendees) we sat at 2.00p.m. to decide on warrants and then another blatant inefficiency in administration appeared like Hamlet`s ghost.  In order, as we had expected, to issue warrants with or without bail we had to be sure that such a warning was written on the summonses which had been served on those failing to appear.  But lo!  No such warning had been written.  What had   been written as a last sentence was a warning to those who failed to show that “the court would consider other measures” without explicitly mentioning the threat of a warrant being issued.  My colleague and I with the consent of our L/A decided that in those circumstances it would be unjust to issue warrants and instead they would be written to again to appear at the next means court with a clearly worded threat of warrant with or without bail for those who failed to attend at that later date.  But and it`s a big “but” the original letters were signed off pp not by a legal advisor, a legal manager nor a Deputy Justices Clerk but by the Justices` Clerk; he who must be obeyed who has ultimate responsibility for an entire justice area.  If he had actually approved the wording it would appear he was not as competent as perhaps he should be.  If he had given the job to an underling and allowed the latter to have his signature attached his management skills were perhaps open to question.  The upshot of this seemingly minor carelessness was yet another hidden increase in costs associated with time wasted and future time to be allocated.  Add the myriad such situations in our court systems owing to staff reductions, staff incompetence, low staff morale, poor quality management and a box ticking mentality and it is quite clear why with an induced reduced workload magistrates` courts are almost as inefficient in practice as they were a decade ago notwithstanding all the statistics, video gizmos and grandstanding by the Ministry of efficiently having adapted to a 23% budget reduction and more to come. But what do I know?

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