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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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

J.P.s ARE NOT PARROTS



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. 



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