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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 30 June 2016


I had always thought that equality before the law was a fundamental part of our judicial system whether in a magistrates` court or at the Supreme Court notwithstanding secondary considerations such as level of advocacy etc.  In practice offenders`  behaviour which perhaps would be considered acceptable in other countries or cultures would not be given any more tolerance or have any mitigating factor assigned to it which would not apply to a British citizen or anybody living in or  visiting this country.  At least that`s what I thought until I read of the recent case before High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn.  According to a report he wanted to show tolerance in a matter of multiple child neglect, "to the traditions of different communities".     

HH has a chequered history.  In 2013 it was his comments on EU law which caused raised eyebrows. In 2014 in the matter of  of Rochdale MBC v KW [2014] EWCOP 45  settlement was reached before it went to the Appeal Court.  In January last year he was thrown off a case for showing too much hostility to a gravely ill husband. Not content with that warning as to his conduct later that year he was removed from another case  after the Appeal Court decided his “passionate view” of the law was “distorting” his judgement.

Of course it is not a simple everyday matter to remove a High Court Judge but as with the recent controversy over Mrs Justice Hogg and the child who was sent back to her "absolutely innocent father" only to die at his hands  it does appear that giving somebody however knowledgeable, grand and eloquent a job virtually for life has its own problems where ego, self agrandisement and pride impinge upon the job description.  Any factor real or perceived which brings justice into disrepute is a burden we should not carry. Surely it cannot  be beyond the wit of man or Gove to think outside the box on this issue?

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


Today the College of Policing published its Undercover Policing Guidance.  Criticism of police methods working outside regular parameters has been intense particularly regarding officers who had been revealed as having had sexual liaisons and indeed children with those who were supposedly under surveillance.  The detail in the 80pp document is such that it constitutes a ready made policeipedia of the subject and with so many hurdles to be overcome by all involved it would not be surprising if there is a lack of applicants for all levels of supervision and activity.  One section which should not be overlooked is on pp54 which I copy below:- 

"If a UCO engages in unauthorised sexual activity for whatever reason (for example, they perceive an immediate threat to themselves and/or others if they do not do so) this activity will be restricted to the minimum conduct necessary to mitigate the threat. In such extreme circumstances UCOs must record and report this to the cover officer at the earliest opportunity. The authorising officer will be informed immediately and the circumstances investigated for welfare and training purposes".

There cannot be many such official documents even in draft form where an employee is instructed to have sexual activity when his/her life might be in danger and such sexual activity seems to be the only way to mitigate the threat. 

Before and especially subsequent to the referendum people here and abroad wondered what was so special about the British.  I just cannot imagine such a document being issued to members of the FBI, the Sureté,the FSB or even the Stasi in what was East Germany. Once again this is a classic example of British pragmatism. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016


I am not a supporter of Howard League.  That organisation or more exactly a one woman band lobbying machine,   would abolish any custodial sentence of less than twelve months.  In a paradoxical fashion it fits in to some extent with the Magistrates Association desire to increase to that very same number the maximum sentence in the lower court from the current six.  In her latest pitch for parliamentary support Frances Crook cites M.P. David Lammy and his remarks to the Criminal Justice Alliance  itself a lobby group. It is noted that two of its trustees are its chairman and treasurer.  The voice behind another lobbying organisation Transform Justice is also a trustee.  But to return to Mr Lammy and his comments: as an experienced parliamentarian his speech and particularly his observations pp4 make unsupported detail into "facts" worthy of repetition.........exactly what he questioned a few lines previously.  This is the same David Lammy who called for a second referendum within 36 hours  of the LEAVE  vote being officially confirmed.  

As the numbers of District Judges(M.C.), currently 139 and a slightly higher number  of Deputy District Judges preside over an increasing share of the cases before magistrates` courts it follows that any analyses of results of magistrates` courts will have results where either a lay bench or a professional single judge was presiding.  A detailed investigation into all the functions at magistrates` courts  was made in 2011 not without resulting controversy.  As far as I am aware (and would be happy to be informed otherwise) there is no substantive answer to the question of the proportion of prosecutions before a lay or professional bench.  

There has always been comment about justice as dispensed by Justices of the Peace; some worthy of debate but most appearing to be  examples of prejudice.  Until the rump of J.P.s over the next decade is reduced to sitting only on out of court matters there will continue to be lobbyists plying their trade with the cover of the Charities Commission to ease their costs seeking to finally extinguish a centuries old system of summary justice.

Monday, 27 June 2016


Exceptional hardship applications  always initiated a lively discussion especially when all bench participants were experienced in such matters.  New colleagues generally found  such discussions a very good learning experience.  As the case of Cornwall v Coke 1976 Crim L.R 519 makes clear the Courts have a duty to assess the implications of a disqualification upon persons other than the defendant, bearing in mind that such persons are effectively innocent and will be punished irrespective of this. Financial implications were often put forward to substantiate many applications.  Other common arguments on an offender`s behalf were the effect of a driving ban on the health of close relatives who relied upon him/her for eg transportation for medical reasons or the  disruption to the routine of a child.  One argument I never heard was that an ability to undertake voluntary work would be curtailed. The very term itself seems to preclude such work being a just reason for allowing the argument.  Magistrates in Wiltshire thought otherwise.  IMHO considering the offender`s history I think they were generous. Their decision, however, is a reminder that there are still areas within the capacity of the magistrates` courts` system that cannot be prescribed by the Sentencing Council and its tick box approach to justice.

Friday, 24 June 2016


HUBRIS!    The statements from David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were worthy of their positions and deserve respect from all of us.  But the second tier politicians, bankers, business people and various observers whose opinions have been rejected serve as a lesson for all time.  By the UK allowing the steam cooker of right wing nationalism to escape in an orderly fashion,  notwithstanding short term fluctuations financial and political, we have avoided what is emerging in Germany, France, Spain and Italy; namely xenophobic nationalists and left wing trade unionists facing off against each other on the streets. EU leaders were offered the opportunity by David Cameron to show how much they could assist him in his negotiation; they offered him crumbs from the European table  and thought that he could make enough bread with the addition  of  fear and bluster. Now Merkel and Hollande are expressing their dismay at British voters` decision.  They have only themselves to blame.

British or perhaps English pragmatism is a triumph for common sense.

Thursday, 23 June 2016


On Referendum Day it would be churlish to overlook its significance even on this site.  Referendums are a bit like London buses; until recently there hadn`t been one for close on forty years and then two arrive in quick succession.  

One major area where the two sides have been throwing slings and arrows is that of the proportion of the legislation under which we live that is due to its being imposed upon us by the E.U.  Remain say around 10% and Brexit estimate anything between 50% and 70%.  The difference as I understand it is that there is direct legislation but much more in the form of directives imposed upon us.  On the bench this was brought home to me during an afternoon dealing with transgressions concerning lorries and their drivers and/or owners.  The prosecutor`s opinion was that at the very minimum 50% of the regulations were down to EU directives over which our government had no power to refuse implementation.  My immediate thoughts at the time were that we don`t need an outside body for such matters when our own parliament can introduce the necessary legislation in that area in the normal way. 

I have voted LEAVE.  It will be black coffee for me this evening and a whisky and cigar if we obtain the magical n+1.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


Another father has been jailed for killing his own young daughter.  Nobody can feel anything but profound sorrow.  Apparently there has been an inquiry into how this evil man was granted custody.  This time it seems that the usual suspects were blameless.  The agencies involved did all they legally could to protect this unfortunate child. It would appear from reports that the judge involved in awarding this future child killer custody had been advised of his violent history and in her judgement went further than the law required in ensuring that all agencies and personnel involved with the child be informed of his absolute innocence of a charge of violence against his daughter for which he had been previously jailed.  The judge retired very recently; so recently that it was just three weeks before the killer went on trial.  Perhaps that was a coincidence; perhaps not.  Investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office cannot now take place.  Earlier this year it became policy that police officers could not escape investigation for misconduct because new regulations prevent their retiring or resigning to avoid dismissal. In the very sad case of Ellie Butler with the words of her grandfather who cared for her for several years and who predicted her coming to harm  surely it behoves those with the authority to enquire into the perverse decision of Mrs Justice Hogg to return Ellie to the care of the man who killed her.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


A year or so before the authorities in their infinite wisdom considered that I was too senile to continue serving as a magistrate..........I know.........unless old codgers are ejected where is the room for all those enthusiastic would be J.P.s to do their bit for queen and country........but to order for a criminal behaviour order for a just convicted offender was placed before us by the CPS on behalf of the police. A police officer who was called as witness described himself as probably the country`s expert on the application of what was then a brand new disposal.  CPS then told us that it was highly probable that this being new legislation was the first time such an application had been made in any court.  We all listened intently to the witness whilst our legal advisor leafed through the various law books and information sheets on her desk.  After the witness`s testimony we were handed some of the information sheets.  And then we came across the paragraph which said quite unambiguously that, to quote the current  guideline (although the original information might have been worded slightly differently) " the order must specify the individual or organisation that is responsible for supervising compliance with the requirement (ABCPA 2014, s24(1)) and must hear from them about both the suitability and enforceability of a requirement, before including it in the CBO (ABCPA 2014, s24(2))".  We put this to the police officer.  He was stumped for an answer and admitted that he could not supply the information regarding compliance. CPS was unable to assist the court.  Thus although we were the first  bench in England to hear an application for a CBO we were not the first bench to make a criminal behaviour order. 

Monday, 20 June 2016


In April I posted on the law on abortion as it affects Northern Ireland.  It truly can be said that in many respects Ulster is a law unto itself.  The political and social history of the province in the last hundred years is far removed from any similarity to the rest of the U.K. 

An attempt has begun today in the High Court in Belfast to reverse a ruling that abortion law in Northern Ireland is "incompatible" with human rights law. It seems that there is going to be an almighty clash between die hard reactionaries who would do the late Dr Ian Paisley proud and those who would drag this aspect of Northern Ireland legislation kicking and screaming into the 21st century. 

It is paradoxical that pregnant women with their different heritages seeking abortion from either side of the border   must travel to another country, usually the U.K., for the procedure to be carried out.  

Friday, 17 June 2016


The public accounts committee of the House of Commons recently published its report "Efficiency in the criminal justice system"In general terms it exposes the problems which have been on going and predictable since 2010 when Kenneth Clarke in his eagerness to please initiated 23% budget cuts in his domain as Lord Chancellor.  This death by a thousand cuts continued under his unlamented successor C. Grayling.  Michael Gove`s appointment to the position gave hope to those who work in the justice system that he might be able to halt the accelerating slide into a situation where to a certain degree the law of the jungle now operates in couortrooms where often only the strongest (read wealthiest) survive.  He made a promising start by abolishing the Criminal Courts Charge brought into being only eight months previously by Grayling.  His apparent straightforward no nonsense approach to his job has given some comfort to critics that now perhaps the nadir has been reached the only way is a gradual ascent to a justice system which although heavily damaged might just be able to return at least to a shadow of its former being. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


The Senior Presiding Judge has recently published his update on reform.  His remarks on the future working of J.P.s will be of interest to them and others who consider that a bench of three is a safeguard for justice to be seen to be done.  On the other hand there is no doubt that many very simple uncomplicated offences eg to which the good judge makes reference can be very boring for two wingers who generally nod through their approval. His statement where it matters is copied below. 

"I heard from a JP, who has been involved in the trial of the Single Justice Procedure at Lavender Hill Magistrates’ court. He reported that, during the course of 2 hours, when he sat alone with just a legal advisor to assist him, he was able to “fly through” many different types of traffic cases. He asked whether there are plans to extend the procedure to other types of crime.
The Single Justice Procedure is now in use at 31 locations across England and Wales for cases as diverse as vehicle-related crime (including from the DVLA), TV Licensing and some Transport for London prosecutions. A number of other authorities have expressed a strong interest in using the Single Justice Procedure, and a statutory instrument was laid in Parliament before Easter to enable a range of bodies such as Local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Train Operators to utilise this option. The scheme will be extended in this way over the next few months.
The JP suggested that some Magistrates would welcome the chance to undertake this work at weekends. HMCTS is considering different sitting patterns, but weekend sittings are not currently envisaged, not least because of the costs."

With  rumours that the government is considering outcomes with the magistracy reduced to 12,000 by 2020 it is more than likely IMHO  that single justice benches will be expanded as will the number of District Judges(MC) whose cost would be covered by the reduction in the payments of magistrates` expenses.  My prediction is that eventually, say by 2025, a J.P`.s role will be limited to cases where custody is not an option.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


There are about 40,000 trials annually in the crown courts of England and Wales of which about half are effective.  As a result about a quarter of a million people over eighteen years old and under seventy five are called to determine whether or not a defendant has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  As an aside, that upper age limit does not fit well with the compulsory removal from the active lay bench of magistrates when they attain three score years and ten.   Be that as it may the restrictions on those selected are rather limited. This is the official information although it has not updated age requirement.  There is no requirement to be a British citizen nor is there any formal test of competence.  

Contempt of court by jurors was a relatively rare situation before the age of the internet and particularly before a smart phone was in most people`s pockets.  There do not appear to be any official figures but I would hazard a guess that if there are fewer than a dozen cases reported annually in the press then the actual number would be perhaps twice that or more.  Last year I posted three times on various aspects of judges, courts and juries.  The numbers of jurors being found in contempt by reason of using the internet seems to be on the rise.  Despite advice some judges do not impose immediate custody for this offence whilst others do. 

An informative paper was published by the Law Commission at the end of 2013. pp77 +  are of particular interest.  IMHO this whole internet thing all leads back to the variations in the understanding of the proceedings  by jurors.  Being drawn as a microcosm of society they have an average IQ of 100.  With there being no requirement for citizenship there is no awareness of any individual`s understanding of the English language. There is no doubt in my mind that the "almost anybody can serve" attitude of those who decide such matters is due for re-consideration. If a  juror with specialist and/or professional knowledge can interpret information given in evidence from his own mental resources is he not only doing his duty in providing that knowledge to his colleagues but putting himself at risk of being charged with contempt? And surely it makes more sense to have an odd number of jurors.  The whole process needs a thorough parliamentary commission to bring it into the 21st century.

Monday, 13 June 2016


We are all from time to time guilty of deception.   The phrase mutton dressed as lamb (1811) originally  referred to women trying to pass themselves off as younger than they were in order to deceive men.  A group of so called McKenzie Friends has been trying to convince cash poor defendants that their so called members can substitute for lawyers.  Naturally enough solicitors and barristers have an opinion on this topic and surprise surprise they are not very happy.  I am in total agreement with them.  The substitution of true professional expertise by low grade ancillary workers has been common place in this country since State Registered nurses were taken from wards to classrooms to learn their trade.  They were followed by teaching assistants who now teach, Police Community Support Officers who are pressurising under funded constabularies for increased powers and others following similar pathways the object being to do the job more cheaply with supposedly no reduction in efficiency as perceived by the public.  When government is involved as is usually the situation the civil service press officials spew endless paragraphs of the benefits to accrue to the public purse by the aforementioned radical changes.  Both the Bar Council and Law Society have made clear their opposition to McKenzie Friends being allowed to seek payment for court advocacy.  Of course this opposition has gathered pace with the unavailability of legal aid for the vast majority of lower paid defendants in both criminal and civil matters.  

It is not too much stretching the argument to conclude that the British public`s apparent disdain for all the so called expert opinion on the dire consequences of Brexit is a direct result of government of all shades belittling the position of "expert" in so many spheres of life the previously mentioned just a few.  If expert professional attitudes and opinions are disregarded so frequently why should they be given a hearing just because on this occasion it suits government wishes and policies?

Friday, 10 June 2016


lack of integrity or honesty; use of a position of trust for dishonest gain

illegal, bad, or dishonest behaviour especially by people in positions of power 

destroying someone's (or some group's) honesty or loyalty; undermining moral integrity

Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision.

The above are just a few definitions of the word CORRUPTION.  It is to be noted that powerful people  figure in defining the word and that the acceptance of money is not necessarily part of the definition but changing some something is a factor.  I have posted not infrequently on how in apparently ever increasing numbers senior police officers of various constabularies have been caught out for corrupt practices.  This of course might be because society is more open and investigative journalism is more thorough and conclusive than in past decades.  On the other hand there might indeed, as I believe, be an increasing amount of this infection in the bodies of senior police officers and the institutions they control.  Scotland Yard seems to have more than its fair share of rottenness at its head.  Obfuscation and sheer lies are every bit as corrupting in police as is fabrication of evidence or the taking of bribes. The Birmingham 6, Hillsborough, Stephen Lawrence and countless other scandals both investigated, under investigation or to be investigated hit the headlines in a remorseless parade of shame.  Today is no exception. The castigating conclusion of a Met Chief Inspector of unimpeachable reputation`s claim against his employer was that a Metropolitan Assistant Commissioner "sought to disguise her involvement" and gave misleading evidence.  In addition A Deputy Assistant Commissioner was found to have given evidence that was "not credible".  The devastating conclusions by the tribunal continued with stating that another Deputy Assistant Commissioner gave evidence that "was so vague that we were unable to have any confidence as to his actual reason". 

That officers in the Met in such senior positions have had their evidence under oath so thoroughly discredited should lead to questions as to their suitability to remain in post.  Indeed IMHO the Met is now an institution no longer fit for use a well known description by a previous Home Secretary.

When the result of the referendum has passed into history there should be action for a thorough investigation into the Met and if necessary the whole senior management structure should be up for reform.  Only when the senior ranks above inspector have been cleansed will the organisation be able to have the confidence of its rank and file and of more importance the public it is supposed to serve.



As an avowed Brexiteer who doesn`t wish to go door to door enthusing his neighbours the piece below from Civitas today might be of interest.
Press Release
Embargo: Immediate
Tel: 020 7799 6677

Predictions that can't be proved correct one way or the other versus demonstrated facts available to all
The Remain camp has succeeded in making economic predictions about the economy the most important 'factual' battleground.
This has allowed them to distract attention from the factual record of the Single Market. It also enables them to base their appeal for votes on the authority of the predictors rather than on the demonstrated evidence that is available to every citizen. The last thing they want is voters making up their minds after assessing the objective facts.

A new commentary by the analyst Michael Burrage provides the latest objective facts concerning the growth of exports to the EU of 40 economies since the inception of the Single Market in 1993 up until 2015. It is a abundantly clear that the UK's compound annual growth rate of 3.44 per cent over the period is woeful compared with that of a large number of countries who are not even members of the Single Market.

Burrage writes: "The economic argument for remaining in the EU pivots on the supposed benefits to members of the Single Market. It is because the UK must keep access to this market that it must put up with all the other costs, obligations and inconveniences of membership. And since non-members only have access to this market, while accepting many of these costs, obligations and inconveniences, non-membership is not thought to be a sensible option.

"Curiously, none of those who use this argument, including David Cameron, ever refer to the published and readily accessible record, showing the impact of membership on UK trade or exports. The Prime Minister prefers to cite highly speculative forecasts of what might happen in 10 or 15 years time, as if what has happened over the past 23 years is not important.

"Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, might have directed him to the comprehensive database of her organization, but she preferred to tell him, and the British people of her ‘hunch’ that the consequences of Brexit would all be negative.

"Shortly before her UK visit, the IMF Direction of Trade Statistics database was updated with the figures from 2015. They are used in the Table (visit the CIvitas website for a larger view of the table) which shows the growth in the value of the exports of goods to the EU since the formal inauguration of the Single Market in 1993 to 2015 of forty countries, all of which have been exporting to the EU under WTO rules, which according to Messrs Cameron and Osborne is ‘the worst possible post-Brexit option’.

"They have not played any part in setting EU rules, have not concluded any trade agreements with the EU, and have not paid a penny for access to the Single Market. The UK meanwhile has been enjoying all the benefits of membership."


Michael Burrage is the author of Myth and Paradox of the Single Market and The Eurosceptic's Handbook, both published by Civitas in 2016. He is a director of Cimigo, which is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and conducts market and corporate strategy research in China, India and 12 countries in the Asia Pacific region. He was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, has been a lecturer at the London School of Economics and at the Institute of United States Studies, specialising in the comparative analysis of industrial enterprise and professional institutions. He has been a research fellow at Harvard, at the Swedish Collegium of Advanced Study, Uppsala, at the Free University of Berlin, and at the Center for Higher Education Studies and the Institute of Government of the University of California, Berkeley. He has also been British Council lecturer at the University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil, and on several occasions a visiting professor in Japan, at the universities of Kyoto, Hokkaido and Kansai and at Hosei University in Tokyo.

For more information, contact Michael Burrage on 020 7101 2011 or Daniel Bentley on 020 7799 6677.

Thursday, 9 June 2016


On January 25th I commented on a police action that was beyond being sublime and ridiculous.  The case has now progressed to the ranks of Alice in Wonderland although police would say that Alice would be at risk.  Perhaps Kafka would have appreciated the nonsense produced from that super efficient constabulary that protects the worthy citizens of North Yorkshire.  In this case under threat of a long period in custody if he disobeys a man must tell police 24 hours before he has sexual intercourse.  It is a presumption that it is heterosexual intercourse under discussion and that the man might masturbate without notice to anybody if he feels the urge. It is beyond belief but then that is how Kafka gave his name to such idiotic officialdom. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


I`ve been writing this blog for almost seven years and until a couple of weeks ago had never gone "off topic" but my recent experience with Microsoft has so irritated me that the following can be taken as a simple story of personal frustration or an example of how a multi billion pound organisation with reprehensible practices is never  mentioned in the same sentence as alleged international tax evaders eg Google, Amazon, Starbucks etc either because it`s clean and/or its magnanimous founder is the greatest ever charity giver the world has ever known.  

About two years ago my main PC......I have another spare.......running on Windows XP Pro needed replacing.  I bought another  running on newly installed Windows 8.1 from a national supplier.  After about a fortnight the PC developed a manufacturing fault and I opted to return it for a full refund. During that period I realised I much preferred XP to 8.1 but knowing it no longer had support had a local dealer build me a new PC with Windows 7 Pro.  So far so good. Meanwhile I had my spare PC also upgraded to run on Windows7.  Using that machine a few months ago I took a deep breath and allowed Windows 10 to be downloaded to it.  After using it occasionally I decided that for my purposes I preferred Windows 7 and although after the four week simple uninstall process had expired eventually returned that machine to Windows 7.  Meanwhile like all Windows users I was receiving notices to upgrade free to Windows 10  each time closing down the page.  That was until a few days ago when after leaving my office I noticed upon return an hour later that the screen showed a page stating Windows 10 upgrade.  I thought at first that this doesn`t apply to my PC; I have not authorised anything but to be sure and against the usual  do not turn off instruction I pulled the plug because there was no other way to halt the process.  Yesterday I was at the machine when the upgrade instruction came through with no way to halt an upgrade to Windows 10; an upgrade I definitely did not want.  Only by going to Microsoft support was I able to have an operative  remove all data informing an upgrade.

On a personal level this intended imposition of an operating system I did not want was an annoyance but on a grander level it exposed me to the power and control of this financial monster; something I have rarely experienced.  The more I hear D. Cameron making his argument to remain in the E.U. and using the answer of all these organisations agree with me   to make his case whatever the question I wonder just how much control do we as citizens have in this  supposedly democratic country. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


During my time on the bench I had the enormous benefit of having had as  colleagues four first class District Judges. Each one in his and her own way was a superb communicator, teacher and advisor. One common factor that each of those people emphasised to the bench as a collective and to me personally was that our powers in court were identical to theirs. This certainly boosted my confidence when I became a chairman and I have no reason to think that many colleagues did not have similar experiences.

One aspect of the job that one quickly learned was whilst not necessarily parroting pronouncements like a ventriloquist’s dummy one should be somewhat circumspect in anything one said from the bench whether eg it was the manner in which an informal warning was given about an offender`s future behaviour or an explanation in rather simple terms to somebody whose comprehension was thought to be slightly wanting. It would certainly have been beyond my personal remit to have followed the example of a Deputy District Judge [MC] Bennett at Westminster Magistrates` Court (The Times behind its paywall) who declared from the bench a few years ago, after having found guilty of careless driving a lorry driver whose offending caused very serious injury to a cyclist, that he would be writing to then Mayor Boris Johnson to consider the layout of the accident location to improve safety for cyclists. Or the anonymous District Judge at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court who voiced his criticism of the closure of Fareham Magistrates` Court. Such statements whilst not often reported do happen from time to time as this from 2012 indicates. In Northern Ireland they have their own way to justice but for a District Judge  to criticise a local M.P. takes a certain amount of chutzpah. There are however times when Big Brother does wade in when the authorities  consider matters have gone too far.  In 2013 District Judge Tim Pattinson was certainly thought to have gone too far at Oxford Magistrates` Court in his remarks re the RSPCA.  Interestingly enough that organisation has been forced to change its prosecution policy as a result of the Oxford case and others

It`s my opinion that J.P.s are more likely to be officially castigated for speaking out of turn no matter the accuracy or benevolent intention of any extraneous remarks cf a District Judge.  Be that as it may the day when official pronouncements have to be followed parrot fashion like those of parliamentarians in North Korea would be a very sad day indeed. 

Monday, 6 June 2016


Last Thursday 2nd June I posted on the recently completed selection procedure for judges.  It seems that the MOJ might have miscalculated supply and demand.  Whilst to the man on the fabled Clapham omnibus judicial salaries might appear to be an unobtainable  small fortune, to those aspiring beaks who currently inhabit the ranks of the legal profession the numbers are just not enticing enough to make the move from appearing in front of the bench to sitting upon it.  In two regions crown court cases have been postponed owing to the lack of suitably qualified judges; in East Anglia and Kent

On all fronts our judicial system seems to have more problems than can be solved. With there no longer being a level legal playing field and equality of legal arms now a part of history perhaps we should allow for trial by combat.

Friday, 3 June 2016


Amongst the most disturbing of the many high profile criminal cases reported this week is that of Patrick Rock who was convicted of downloading indecent pictures of young pre pubescent girls.  As a retired J.P. my personal experience of such cases is necessarily very limited. They inevitably end up at crown court.  However I do recollect sitting on a few first appearances where barristers for the accused attempted to persuade us not to send to the higher court arguing that the images involved were grade 1.  My thoughts therefore on the Rock case are those of a middle class parent and member of society.

It seems that the judge`s decision to sentence him to the lowest possible outcome; a conditional discharge, was based upon the idea that Rock, being a public figure, would suffer personal, professional and public humiliation by the mere fact of being found guilty.  I find this perverse.  This man did not just operate on the fringes of power; he was an active participant at the very top.   He had previously advised  Michael Howard, when he was Home Secretary,  where he was responsible for developing policy to protect children from sexual abuse on the internet.   Therefore there can be no doubt that he was well aware as to what constituted illegal pictures of children.  That in itself is an aggravating feature of enormous significance.  He has been placed on the sex offenders` register for two years.  

The level of punishment imposed seems to be saying to the public that if you`re an important public figure loss of reputation is a sufficient outcome.  This strikes me as an affront to us all.  Justice must be even handed to the highest and the lowest in society.  When there seems to be deviation from that principle questions need to be asked as to whether the rottenness in our society with regard to children`s social services to which I have previously alluded has now extended under judicial cover to the courtroom.


A veritable trove of sentencing and criminal statistics has recently been published by the Ministry of Justice.  For those interested in number crunching the tables provide a fascinating insight into what has been happening and the trends over the last 12 months and more.

Thursday, 2 June 2016


Politicians and therefore governments have become obsessed about representation.  100 years ago they couldn`t give a damn.  Selection from a coterie of public schools, aristocracy, landed gentry and the old boy network was a virtual guarantee of appointment to the upper echelons of the military, judiciary and civil service.  All that fell apart in 1914, received a further push during the Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain national governments which held office from 1931 until 1940, was further sidestepped in 1945 and suffered its near death blow under Harold Wilson.  Ever since 1997 actual positive actions have been taken with varying degrees of success to ensure that in all spheres of our society there was equal opportunity for every individual to rise to his/her maximum potential irrespective of race, creed, colour, sexuality and laterally gender.  As a refreshing example  of this rainbow society, earlier this week we learned that the newly appointed Master of the Rolls is Jewish, is openly gay and  is married subsequent to having been in a civil partnership.    And we know all this because the MOJ has today published  the "Judicial selection and recommendations for appointment statistics April 2015 to March 2016".  

On opening the statistical tables one is presented not only with the ethnic backgrounds of the year`s appointees but also their gender and age.  Not much surprise there then?  The surprise is that that  information is published also of the applicants` eligible pool, numbers of applications and those short listed.   But what is not published is the same subdivisions of those appointed as Justices of the Peace.  Gender, age and ethnicity of magistrates per se has been freely available for many years and although the numbers re J.P.s are much higher than for the paid judiciary I would question this omission.  Government officials and senior judicial figures often correctly use the term "judiciary"  in reference to us, their colleagues on the lowest rung of that profession. J.P.s are subject to the same levels of professional and personal conduct as their full time civil service employed colleagues. And despite the realities, government when it suits its arguments, still refers to magistrates` local representative nature in their communities.  Why then has there not been full disclosure of magisterial applicants` details etc in line with the rest?  Is this not just another indication that local justice for local people is no longer relevant with a third of courts closed and with non local District Judges presiding over ever increasing numbers of courtrooms?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


Another J.P. who blogs with astute observation referred on May 21st to dealing with contempt of court; a subject which has been known to cause  legal wires to buzz.  I`m sure many former colleagues have their own stories. 

My favourite such recollection was after sending somebody down for six weeks I was told, “I`ll get you; you cunt”. The offender was told to say no more or he would be in bigger trouble and to go with the officers. Immediately his lawyer stood up and enquired with half a grin on his face if a written apology would help. He was told if indeed his client could write and the apology fitted the circumstances having it before the bench prior to 1.00pm might save his client additional time inside. At 12.50pm it was presented to us; an unctuous apology in childish handwriting. At 1.50pm preparing for the afternoon sitting in the same courtroom our L/A asked me for the defendant’s apology so that it could be put in the court file. As I was going to keep it as a souvenir I enquired why she wanted it. “ If you`re found with a knife in your back sir, we`ll know who to look for”.

Perhaps we have less dignity to stand upon than our senior colleagues; perhaps we have learned to ignore the mouthings from those who appear before us……does that in any way diminish respect for the law and the legal system in the eyes of the public? If the answer is in the affirmative then we should be less reticent about applying the law of contempt.