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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Monday, 25 May 2015


A relaxed stay at home Bank Holiday weekend is not usually a time for profound or even not so profound thoughts but then end of season all to play for football matches are not the time for the glaring deficiencies in the game to be so rudely demonstrated. There were no debates over did it cross the line or did it not; this season cameras have seen to that. But there were debateable decisions on fouls which would and could have been beyond doubt if only the referee had had the cojones to stop play for a minute and consult a TV set on the touchline. One might say that FIFA rules do not allow for such confirmation but one day if a referee were to take such an action prior to making a decision nobody but nobody would fault him. 

And so it was that I considered the doubt that exists in juries and magistrates` benches. I can recollect sitting on the wing at a DV trial with the Bench Chairman of a joining amalgamating bench in the chair. We were split as to the defendant`s guilt. The chairman made his pronouncement which ended, “and we find the case proved beyond reasonable doubt”. Can a split bench truly justify such a verdict? Logic suggests otherwise.

Juries in Scotland differ from those south of the border in three major respects:-
1. There are three possible decisions; guilty, not guilty or not proven
2. There is an odd number of jurors…..15
3. A simple majority verdict carries the day

In England under the Juries Act 1974, a majority verdict (10 out of 12) is permitted in some circumstances. A bench of magistrates seems to be empowered with the worst of both worlds. A majority of 2:1 is not exactly overwhelming considering the “jurors” are well versed and trained in structured decision making with regard to an assessment of the facts agreed or in dispute. That majority decision cannot logically or sensibly indicate guilt beyond reasonable doubt if a third of the bench holds such doubt.

Currently no indication is given in open magistrates` court if a decision is split. English law could be aligned with that of the Scots and “Not Proven” be offered as an alternative to “Not Guilty”. Or if that were too radical surely justice would be best served if a split guilty finding led automatically to an appeal before a Judge and two Justices of the Peace at Crown Court? But on thinking about it, it is a near certaintity that this new government [or any other] would not consider justice has a priority over costs.

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