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, 29 July 2015

COURTS CHARGE AND THE LOST CREDIBILITY OF MICHAEL GOVE/MAGISTRATES RESIGN

I took my retirement from the bench a month or so earlier than my chronology suggested owing to the simultaneous imposition of the iniquitous courts charge introduced in April.  In my mind it had become a retiring issue; the straw which would have broken this camel`s back.  The so called "victims` surcharge" imposed from 2012 caused me personally a twinge of conscience owing to its being non means tested and therefore increasing the financial burden on those least able to bear it.  It is thought that it was a resigning issue for scores if not hundreds  of colleagues as was the amalgamation of courts that same year. The courts charge is of a different dimension. In the lower court it begins at £150 for a guilty plea to a summary offence, £180 similarly for a guilty plea to an either way offence increasing to £520 after conviction at trial for a summary offence and £1,000 for conviction at trial of an either way offence. These charges are not means tested.  In his letter to the Magistrates Association house magazine explaining his decision to resign from the magistracy   George Lyons with 15 years on the bench wrote:-

"I have spent 15 years on the bench and was in the very privileged position of sitting as a chair in the adult and youth courts gaining knowledge and experience every day that I sat. We would exercise our discretion on every aspect of sentencing, within the guidelines, and arrive at a proportionate sentence for the offence charged. I cannot tell a defendant that the costs are reduced because they do not have the means to pay them then say, without any regard to personal circumstances, that I also impose £180 admin fee (that is what it is) and warn that a prison cell is waiting if they do not pay."

His is an opinion probably shared by the majority of his colleagues nationwide.  It is thought that at least twenty other J.P.s have resigned.  The Justices Clerk to my old bench has written to all my former colleagues telling them that if they are unhappy to be imposing the charge they should resign.  

Much as I am was an admirer of the current Justice Secretary,  by accepting his office and acquiescing to this legal abomination he has devalued himself as a man of good conscience.  Reversing his predecessor`s action on limiting prisoners` reading materials is not enough for him to regain the credibility he justifiably attained at Dept. of Education.    

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