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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 31 May 2016


Transform Justice is a lobby organisation funded philanthropically and run on a tight budget by a former magistrate who left the judiciary many years ago.  Its purpose is:-

"Transform Justice was set up in 2012 by Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate who had worked (successfully) to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK. The charity will help create a better justice system in the UK, a system which is fairer, more open, more humane and more effective. Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change – by generating research and evidence to show how the system works and how it could be improved, and by persuading the public to support those changes and practitioners and politicians to make them".

These are laudable aims by any account and are so astutely worded that one would be a fool to simply argue against them.  "Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change". The question to be put is what kind of change.  Below are a few quotes on "change". 

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) Thirty-fifth President of the USA
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Preeminent leader of Indian nationalism.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) English Naturalist
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) African-American writer.
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British politician.
You can't expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday's tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer.
When it becomes more difficult to suffer than change -- then you will change.
To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher.
When you're finished changing, you're finished.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist and philosopher.

Generally speaking those who oppose change are  history`s losers.  It is the quality of change that makes for a better world or a better life.  And so it is with legislation.  The Dangerous Dogs Act  1991 is considered by many to have been a change in the law so ill thought out that it created as many problems (or more) than it solved.  The common term used in such circumstances is the law of unintended consequences.  

Recently  Transform Justice posed the question; "Can we curb our addiction to the short prison sentence?"  Nowhere in the piece is the word magistrate written and this is rather strange.  Nowhere are statistics quoted.  An extract is taken from Sentencing Council`s "Consultation on draft guideline for Imposition of Community & Custodial sentences"..........  "suspended sentences are being imposed as a more severe form of community order where the offending has not crossed the custody threshold."  This is indeed disingenuous and unworthy of the authors and TR.  Within the consultation are listed the clearly defined steps sentencers must employ before the imposition of custody and the basic first hurdle is that custody is the only option its threshold having been breached.  From my own experience it is new J.P.s and the probation officers  who write pre sentence reports who often do not understand this.  I have lost count of the number of times I personally, a single J.P., have told probation after reading a PSR sentencing option which goes from recommending a community order to a suspended custody order that there must be a clear breach of the threshold before that option can have validity.  Speaking from the position of magistrates if they are unaware that Suspended Sentence Orders are being imposed against defined structural decision making, the blame must fall at the feet of their legal advisors and those who design training and/or appraisers` courses.  

On short sentences whether or not suspended there is a clear difference between those imposed at magistrates court or at crown court.  By the very structure of our system they are used with much greater frequency in the former where in 2014 73,993 were imposed [up to 6 months] of which 30,058 (40.6%) were suspended. At crown court there were 9,227 sentences up to 6 months and a total out of all crown court sentences of 22,921 suspended. Of these SSOs no record is available of their length.  Another surprising omission from government statistics is the total number of breaches of SSOs  and their consequences.  To argue against short custodial sentences which are suspended without knowledge of the consequences of their being breached is myopic indeed. 

There are only two consequences of the raising of the minimum custodial sentence to 12 months as some would wish; either all boats in the water would rise on the rising tide or the safety of the public and the concept of punishment per se would be at risk.  The decimation of a national probation service, the unavailability of legal aid,  the disgrace of our prison system, the continual pressure on budget of our whole judicial system including enforcement of all kinds.......police, border agency etc are such that any tinkering with the current processes is liable to have far reaching consequences; some unpredictable.   But what do politicians care?  The next election is their priority and if our legal and judicial system is showing signs of collapse blame the Opposition or the EU or multi national tax evaders or immigrants or benefit scroungers or dangerous dogs but don`t blame us.

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