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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Thursday, 2 July 2015

THE UNREALITY OF THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE

Yesterday I posted on the silence of the senior judiciary regarding the unequal status of unrepresented defendants owing in the main to the withdrawal of legal aid for many in the magistrates` courts. Today the Lord Chief Justice is once more making his pitch for the abolition of the dock and the adoption of the American preceedure of having the defendant sitting in the well of the court with his advocate.  I wonder why he is pursuing this line of thought? He is repeating remarks he made in January.  Is it owing to the savings he thinks could be made?  He admits to the fact of unruly defendants posing a problem.  Oh really..........how perceptive of him.  He considers how  a court would  distinguish between those who would be the benefits of this new process and those who would not.  He doesn`t actually say that a dock should be kept in reserve for such circumstances.  Over my time on the Bench there were many occasions where only the secure dock both at first hearing and trial  prevented a defendant from running amok.  Perhaps from the rarified heights of his position he doesn`t realise that there is no security at most hearings in magistrates` courts. He speculates that such changes would lower court costs:- 

"One reason was expense — retaining docks for magistrates’ hearings was costly because it required old court buildings with a traditional layout to be maintained, instead of switching to cheaper alternative venues. The need for security staff to guard docks also added to the cost".


In that remark is he being an apolitical mouthpeace for his political masters? Every American court I have attended has had at least two armed police officers or state troopers in attendance.  I doubt His Lordship has that innovation in mind.

Until I was appointed as a J.P. I had a healthy respect for senior judiciary.  The more interest I have taken over the years in this subject the more I conclude that just as the Senior Presiding Judge in 2012 preached fire and brimstone to J.P. bloggers this archbishop of our legal system is as much out of touch with judicial reality as is his religious counterpart with society as it is and not as he would wish it.  For all his high falutin` talk his attitude to Justices of the Peace can be described at its best as one of tolerance.  I`d bet a pound to his Lordship`s penny that he has not discussed this "initiative" with magistrates under any of the formats available to him.  Respect is a two edged sword but I suppose if there is only one sword he who wields it has all the power............

4 comments:

  1. I've been on the bench in a number of courts. One very old court was closed with the explanation that because there was no dock, and no prison cell, that it was impossible to deal with any case where there was a risk of imprisonment.

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  2. I am writing this with such sadness on hearing the death of a lady custody officer who was attacked whilst escorting a prisoner to a van and doing her duty at Blackfriars Crown Court yesterday. I trust the good LCJ would be choking on his cornfakes as he read the news after his non-sensical advocation about the removal of docks. In more than 30 years on the bench I have seen it all in the mag's court. Defendants and supporters running amuk, water jug hurled at the bench. Escapes from the court room then courthouse and away. Thank goodness we installed secure docks some years ago and that has prevented more of these incidents. Dear LCJ - get a grip. Start supporting the backbone of the criminal justice system - the magistrates - and use your position to say to government that they are a high demoralised group having to impose ridiculous charges such as the courts charge. We don't even collect the fines that are imposed anyway.
    In 30 years the prison population has more than doubled from 40,000 to more than 86,000. Please look at the figures. It is not magistrates who have added to these numbers. It is the the Crown Court and 12,000 are foreign prisoners. Suggest the LCJ spends a week in a busy mag's court. How about Highbury Corner? He would then see what happens when there are no ushers, interpreters, duty solicitors etc. Forget the nonsense about docks and thank the Lord there haven't been other tragedies. Hope he reads this. Maybe a minion reads it and tells him...

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  3. I fully endorse what Too old JP writes about secure docks; I have likewise seen it all, particularly defendants who refuse to go quietly down those stairs to the cells. It happened again only this week in our magistrates court, fourth or fifth this year, somebody who didn't fancy being remanded in custody launching into an attack on the two prison escort officers (one female) before they could handcuff him. As you say, like some WW1 generals, Lord Thomas should get out more and see what is actually happening at the front line. I am sure he will also have noted the tragic events at Blackfriars Crown Court, which indicates just how violent prisoners can be, and will hopefully recall and reconsider his report on 'modernising' of courtrooms.

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  4. Senior judges (along with their political masters and "civil" servants) have sadly never experienced the real world of the lower courts.

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