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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

BARRISTER`S PREJUDICE AGAINST MAGISTRATES

The first time I put pen to paper in the public forum as a Justice of the Peace   was to sign an article in the Times repudiating prejudice, allegations and slurs towards the institution to which I had been appointed a couple of months previously  and which had been published a few days earlier.  During my time on the bench lawyer friends would occasionally delight in trying to  provoke me by recalling their colleagues frequent use of the term "muppets" in their references to a lay bench.  Scores of articles, speeches, advice, proposals etc from individual lawyers, institutions, policy advisors, pressure groups, politicians and not excluding Uncle Tom Tobley  have suggested with varying degrees of logic, passion and simple prejudice that the magistracy is not fit for purpose and criminal procedures in the lower courts should be presided over by a single District Judge.  Various reasons are usually offered eg cost encompassing greater efficiency of D.J.s, representative nature of J.P.s being essentially white middle class and elderly and lack of competence.  Generally those who hold these opinions argue vociferously for the right to trial by jury for the very lowest level of either way offences but see no contradiction in the single D.J. replacing a mini jury of three magistrates for summary matters. The *figures for appeals at Crown Court  against lower courts` decisions are an illustration of how often J.P.s get it right.   In short whilst there are logical reasons of cost and efficiency between a lay bench and a professional D.J. to be debated it is the old watchword prejudice which drives the argument amongst those barristers who feel they have to kowtow in court to those without a legal qualification.

PREJUDICE:- an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.

PREJUDICE:- prejudgement, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case. The word is often used to refer to preconceived, usually unfavourable, judgements toward people or a person because of gender, political opinion, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, language, nationality, or other personal characteristics.

A perfect example of such self righteous opinion is that of the blogger The Secret Barrister who seeks to promulgate this decades old antagonism against my former colleagues.  Whilst his language is that of the arrogant know all his logic is that of the rabble rouser using individual failings as he sees them to castigate a majority of members of an institution. 

My own opinion presented many times here is that this government or the next for reasons of control will reduce considerably the powers of the lay bench.  Examples are already with us.  These changes will take place not because of magistrates` incompetence but, paradoxically for the Secret Barrister, because overarching government will no longer tolerate a truly independent minded lay bench over which it has little control when it comes to conscience.  The resignation of perhaps thirty J.P.s over the Courts Charge is but an example.  Professional government employed District Judges do not have the freedom to resign over "principle" .  Aye that`s the rub as the great man wrote.    

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7 comments:

  1. "The figures for appeals at Crown Court against lower courts` decisions are an illustration of how often J.P.s get it right."

    Unless I'm misunderstanding, the figures you quote show over 50% of appeals being allowed. Doesn't that rather undermine your argument?

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    1. Considering the numbers of either way cases retained at magistrates` courts..I have the numbers somewhere from MOJ statistics....the very low actual number of reversals is indicative of the correct findings by JPs.

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    2. Er...............no it doesn't. It shows that in over half of those cases that were appealed, the Lay Magistracy got it wrong.

      A failure rate of 50%+ is what it shows. No spin please.

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    3. Thank you Anonymous 16.19. Firstly the FOI table refers to either way offences only. To put all in perspective there are about 350,000 either way offences with convictions at magistrates annually. Now perhaps you will appreciate that even when appeals are held at the rate shown they represent a miniscule number of all such cases dealt with by magistrates.

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  2. For my sins I did have a look at The Secret Barrister and was astounded at the tone and language delivered. Talk about chips on his shoulder... My guess is that, if he has addressed benches of lay magistrates (or any bench for that matter) with that tone, he won't have achieved very much in the way of success. IMHO he doesn't represent many, if any, of my colleagues at the Bar. I can only encourage other JP friends to look at the ramblings of a disalousioned practitioner of that very noble profession.

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  3. I have to admit to a reluctant snigger at some of the prose and invective used by Secret Barrister.I must also, with equal reluctance, admit that at least in part I recognise some truth in what he wrote. As a relatively new JP I have been sometimes embarrassed & sometimes quite alarmed about a colleague or two. Some Chairmen are not effective or indeed competent.

    On the other hand I do believe that my lack of a professional legal qualification does not place me at a disadvantage in the finding of fact and the application of the correct procedures, principles and administration of the law, aided and abetted as we are by a legal advisor.

    It is sad that we have (some) lawyers have this skewed view. It is sad that some probation officers, police officers, ushers and other court professionals have this view. Perhaps the days of the magistracy are numbered. Certainly things are going to change. Perhaps they need to, but I do hope that the baby isn't going to be thrown out with the bath water. I don't think all DJs (salary ca £100K) or, for that matter some barristers, are necessarily in touch with the issues of the poor.

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  4. Commenters consistently understate by a considerable margin the cost of a DJ, and on an associated matter: When I joined the bench many years ago, a very senior member of what became HMCTS told me that comparisons in costs between the (then lay) magistracy and the (then) stipes always included the ECONOMIC cost of using members of the public, some of whom would otherwise be at work. I wonder if the consultants used by the MOJ still do that??

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