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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


Although I am approaching the first anniversary of my retirement from the bench I still occasionally receive correspondence appropriate to that position.  Amongst such correspondence late last month was the bundle sent to active bench members prior to the impending six monthly bench meeting. Some observations on that bundle I think are worth commenting upon.

The minutes of the previous meeting formed part of the bundle.  As per my own experience only about 20% of the membership attended that meeting last year and about one third sent apologies.  A maths wizard calculates that around half the bench showed no interest whatsoever in the proceedings. When I left the bench last year its complement was 250 or thereabouts. Since then, so remarks by the Justices` Clerk as recorded in the minutes  stated, 28 new J.P.s had been appointed. He further said that another 17 would be required by next summer.  Wishful thinking perhaps when the minutes further recorded the local advisory committee`s struggle to effect the recruitment of the required extra numbers.  It was also recorded in the minutes of that previous bench meeting that the Justices` Clerk had said that there was currently a single Family Court and that there could  be a move to a single Criminal Court.  From such an elevated source such a remark is not to be lightly dismissed.  It also could be a further signal of the removal of the lay magistrate if not from the proposed court configuration then certainly from the middle chair.  

Documents for presentation at the forthcoming bench meeting   contained a report on the situation with the probation service. Here are a couple of quotes;

"The National Probation Service have put a strategy in place to speed up the process of obtaining reports; the majority should now be "short format reports" with 55% on the day oral reports and 20% fast delivery reports adjourned for one week.  Three week adjournments for reports should become the exception rather than the rule.  Currently ******* is falling well short of these targets, largely due to staffing problems within probation. Whilst ********** (senior probation officer) and her team are working hard to address this, the fact is that their difficulties are likely to be exacerbated in coming months as a result of the new post sentence supervision requirements, whereby all defendants who have received a custodial sentence, are, following their release on licence, subject to supervision for 12 months". 
"Magistrates are therefore reminded that when ordering reports they should consider whether one is really necessary.  Clearly sometimes more information is required (particularly in DV cases), but where the situation is straight forward there are alternative disposals to a community order that do not require a report. Curfews, Attendance Centre Orders and Band D fines (250% relevant weekly income) are sentencing options that do not require reports. Band D fines can be useful when dealing with more serious motoring offences".

Readers will be able to interpret these statements in line with their own experiences.  Another report to be presented at the meeting showed that about 60% of trials were effective and around 10% were being vacated. These numbers are not out of the ordinary but indicate just how much court time is being wasted.  

My final observation is that throughout the minutes of the previous meeting not one single question is reported to 
having been asked  of any of the reports presented to those attending or of any of the speakers including report writers,  Justices` Clerk, Deputy Justices` Clerk and Bench chairman. 

Of those who attended the previous meeting, what a supine lot of individuals they appear to be!  Perhaps they all considered that they did not disagree or required any extra information about what they had read or heard  or perhaps they were afraid of upsetting the great leader. It therefore follows that it is unlikely the forthcoming meeting will be a platform for any dissent.

1 comment:

  1. Goodness knows why anyone would want to become a JP now, except for its perceived status. At a social to meet new JPs, the wife of a newly appointed JP told me that he wanted it because it would help him improve his potential for promotion in his current civil service post! There are more satisfying and constructive ways of helping ones local community now but I suppose none of them carries a suffix to append to ones name!