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.




Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

WHAT THE JUDGE MEANT!

Blogging by magistrates came in for some severe criticism from the Senior Presiding Judge about three years ago. Content per se was not  the subject of such criticism but the very act itself. Others will have  judged the implications of such criticism. Those who lived by the sword were not to be surprised if they died by the self same instrument. Needless to say his threats of fire and brimstone were just an example of judicial hufffing and puffing.  Remarks by more senior judiciary, and for J.P.s all judiciary is more senior, from time to time go unreported except in the provincial press. To focus attention to what is already in the public domain, albeit unremarked, has long been a feature of this blog. Readers will have made up and I hope continue to make up their own independent minds on such topics. 

Most sentencing in our criminal courts is now contained in a little black book known as Sentencing Guidelines. Judges and magistrates are well used to making clear their route which led to their eventually pronounced sentence. Decisions on bail are also ensconced with guidelines based on the precept that all defendants, innocent until proved guilty, are entitled to bail. It is a matter of judgement that they should be remanded in custody when the bench has fears eg of interference with witnesses, committing further offences or failing to appear which cannot be allayed by any conditions offered by the defendant or on his/her behalf eg residence, tag, security etc. There are also situations where the judgement of the bench is to decide whether or not to accept jurisdiction on a matter which can be heard at either their own court or is more suited to being tried at the Crown Court. Even where such a case has been heard at the lower court a bench has the option to send the offender to the Crown Court for sentencing.  In the light of all the above it is remarkable to read the reported comments last October of HH  Judge  Jeremy Richardson QC at Hull Crown Court.  From his lofty perch he  publicly criticised local Justices of the Peace for putting the case in the hands of his court.  "Cases such as these should be resolved by the magistrates' court," said Judge Richardson. "Then, when issues are resolved, you apply your mind to the committal provision. "Crown court is purely a sentencing exercise. Stage one needs to be sorted entirely before stage two commences." He was not referring to a single decision. He made a generalised comment which in effect has denigrated his junior colleagues and IMHO has brought the judiciary into disrespect. The guidance on blogging to which I referred above contains the following, “They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.” It would seem, by that statement, that my criticism of H. H. Judge Richardson is more likely to damage public confidence in the judiciary than the remarks uttered by the judge himself. Two extracts from the Media Guide for the Judiciary might offer some illumination:-
“Making planned statements in open court.
Courts and most tribunals operate in public, and any comment made by a judicial office-holder in public session is regarded as open to reporting. This extends to comments made when there’s no reporter in the room, as long as someone has repeated it to them. Judges may occasionally read out statements in open court, for example commenting on misreporting of a case."
"Lord Mackay a previous Lord Chancellor has stated that” judges must avoid public statements either on general issues or particular cases which might cast any doubt on their complete impartiality, and above all, they should avoid any involvement, either direct or indirect, in issues which are or might become politically controversial”",
This begs the question whether or not public criticism of magistrates by a crown court judge is politically controversial. 

4 comments:

  1. Really sad that a judge of his seniority should use a public forum to vent his displeasure. I am pleased to say that in our county (not a million miles from London) we have have an excellent relationship with the Crown Court and issues such have as this are discussed and resolved quickly and efficiently. Sounds like our experience is not mirrored throughout the land.

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  2. Further research shows that the case was sent to the Crown Court by a District Judge (not a lay bench) who had found (correctly in my view) that the required sentence exceeded the maximum available to the Magistrates Court. Went back to the same DJ who was "surprised". I bet he was!

    See http://www.bridlingtonfreepress.co.uk/news/local/cannabis-man-was-very-fortunate-to-get-a-lower-sentence-1-6938180

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  3. In my experience of CC lunches when we sat on appeals, their Honours were very sniffy about DJs. It was interesting to hear their views. Presumably this Judge would have known from the papers who made the original decision but his remarks do seem to be damaging to public confidence in the judicial system. Shouldn't he have anticipated that?

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