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, 18 November 2015


In my earliest days in the middle chair I can recollect my thoughts at the time of how much respect I had for judges; especially those at the top of the profession.  Their accumulated knowledge and wisdom in addition to the power they exercised appeared to be, from my low level function, quite extraordinary.    But as time went by and my own confidence and knowledge increased that respect began slowly to diminish.  When some of the  judiciary threatened resignation over their pension situation  a further degrading of their position infiltrated my mindset.  In 2012 the Senior Presiding Judge issued so called "guidance" ordering J.P.s not to blog or cease forthwith. My opinion of that "guidance" was blogged on 10/08/2012 at my previous site. It goes without saying but say it I will that my impression of senior judiciary took a further downward turn especially when it transpired he was just blowing inordinate amounts of hot air.  Leveson and his enquiry proposals which threatened then and still do, the freedom of the press was IMHO another judge who seemed to have lost his sense of direction.  Now fast forward to yesterday`s press conference by the Lord Chief Justice.  If ever their was a public indictment of the inadequacy and shallow thinking of a person in his position it was in his own replies to questions about the criminal courts charge. 

Can I just ask you specifically about the criminal courts charge? Fifty magistrates at least have resigned already because they consider it to be extremely unjust and unfair. They tell stories about defendants who are making a commercial decision whether to plead guilty or not based on the size of the charge they would have to pay in respect of that decision. The Government are committed to review within three years. The Magistrates Association want that review to take place immediately. They want the charge to become discretionary. It is causing a huge amount of concern. What is your view on that? 
When the criminal courts charge was mooted, we pointed out that the only sure area where money would be raised would be from those who commit crimes by way of motoring offences, those companies that commit environmental offences and some rich individuals and those who also have substantial means. It was unlikely ever that if anyone was sent to prison he would ever be able to pay it. I think that the reality of what we said at the time has turned out to be correct. The charge, I do not believe, is raising much money and it does seem to me that although in principle it is right that the financial penalties at the end of a case ought to reflect the ability of someone to pay, the whole thing has to be looked together. If I can give you by way of illustration, for example, at the end of a case there is the victim surcharge, the possibility of paying the prosecution’s cost, there is the question of compensation, the question of confiscation. All of these issues need to be considered in the round. We have gone, as quite often happens in the justice system, from adding charge after charge after charge without looking at it in the round and I think it has all got to be looked at in the round. There must be a case for defendants who can pay and others making the contribution but it has got to be looked at in the round.
So it should be means tested. 
I do not know. I am not saying that. I am saying that you have got to look in the round at all the financial impositions that are imposed and actually come up with a proper solution of how a court should approach it and obviously one of the considerations must be the means to pay. There may be other considerations but I would not want to prejudge a proper look at the whole thing. When something has not gone correctly, I think the best solution is to look at the problem that has arisen and the problem is a much wider one. 
A complete transcript is available here.

It appears that the Lord Chief Justice with all his experience, knowledge and supposed wisdom has confessed to his own incompetence in being unable to predict the consequences of the policy or his inability to persuade Whitehall and the minister of their folly.  Nowhere in his reply does he make the point in principle that justice accessible and available for all, irrespective of ability to pay,  for complainants and defendants alike is a pre requesite   for a just and humane society. Indeed he endorses the very opposite.  The assumption must be that he believes in the policy in principle.  That, in my opinion, is a disgrace! 

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with your entire piece. I too started by finding myself somewhat bewildered when I was elevated to the middle chair but as time went on I felt stronger and stronger in my disappointment with the actions of certain 'senior' judiciary. I have had many experiences sitting on appeals at Crown Court - sometimes with the resident judges who were generally very good and welcoming. Others including some recorders have had no experience of anything that went on in Mags courts but were just doing their 6 weeks a year. We were telling THEM what the law was. And I remember one occasion when a bombastic senior judge wanted to get his own way and really didn't like to be challenged or outvoted. But outvoted he was. Lunch time on a Friday in the judges' dining room can be a chilly affair and you have to have a thickish skin and a fair amount of seniority to withstand it. Overall though I have generally been welcomed at Crown Court and have enjoyed the experiences.