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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Monday, 9 November 2015

MAGISTRATES THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

During my seventeen years on the bench I warned only five defendants or witnesses of the slippery slope of contempt of court on which their mouths or actions were leading them.  In all cases a brief period in the cells was enough for them {or with their advocate`s advice} to see some sense and make verbal or written apology to the court.  Magistrates in Westminster who are used to dealing with high profile cases  apparently released on unconditional bail until next year,  defendants who refused to identify themselves or provide addresses.  Just how did they and presumably their legal advisor allow this to happen?  It seems those defendants have succeeded in making a mockery of the justice system.

Contempt of court is governed by the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s.12.  A magistrates` court has power to deal with any person who wilfully insults the justices, any witnesses before the court, any officer of the court having business before the court either during a sitting or in going to or returning from court.  In addition the Act applies to anyone who wilfully interrupts the proceedings of the court or otherwise misbehaves in court.  IMHO not providing information legally required by the court constitutes contempt.  

This was IMHO  a grave error on the part of the bench and if some legal expert considers differently then we must face ourselves in the looking glass and wonder how we have lost sight of reality and are living in the world of Alice.

2 comments:

  1. Regardless of the issue of contempt, surely with no address remand would be the only option? You have to wonder if there was some mis-reporting there.

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    1. No, from the information given the court had no power to remand into custody since the offences charged were summary only and non-imprisonable with a maximum penalty of a Level 3 fine. Returning to the question of contempt, I think it quite unlikely that contempt could be found merely for a politely expressed refusal to give name and address to the court. But, even if it could, it would contribute little to solving the main issue. The maximum penalty a magistrates’ court can impose for contempt is one month in custody. The seriousness of this contempt would merit something very much less than the maximum. With release to apply halfway through the sentence, the defendants would be out after only a few days – with no different likelihood than before of their turning up for their trial. Courts must keep a sense of proportion. The defendants have already spent two days in custody for a fine only alleged offence of which they are innocent both for the moment and, for all the court now knows, possibly for all time. Westminster magistrates clearly got it right.

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