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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 28 December 2016
Since I can remember the MOJ has huffed and puffed like a miserable old dragon on its intention to retrieve outstanding fines. This year is no exception. Latest figures indicate that currently the jumbo amount of £747 million is outstanding. Indeed it is outstanding that none of the young weasel brains in Petty France has been able to invent a system of punishment for low level summary [often motoring] offending which has a modicum of a chance of being successful; success being defined as achieving its aim. In a month when 34 people were jailed for not paying Council Tax in Bradford there must be some other form of chastisement available which doesn`t cost over £18,000 annually as it does per prisoner for an open prison; the cheapest in the prison estate.
Recent proposals to streamline summary justice have indicated that a single J.P. could dispense very low level simple summary matters eg TV Licenses from suitable office premises with the assistance of a legal advisor. Proposed changes to the Prisons and Court Reform Bill could herald the establishment of virtually secret on line courts where innocence or guilt would be established by e mail and those pleading guilty would not as at present have their guilt open to public reporting. There are some who argue that such decisions should be available on line; an argument unlikely to succeed. But it is the principle that matters currently seen and heard by anybody choosing to sit in the public gallery of any British court might no longer be held sacrosanct which is a great cause for concern for those who note the continuing reduction in the civil liberties of a citizen in what was once an open society.
Governments seek to persuade us that they are achieving the maximum result for the minimum cost whatever the subject of spending. It is beyond reasonable doubt that they fail more often than not. Such failures are covered up until a media organisation or individual ferrets out the truth. That the MOJ under Chris Grayling was able to waste so much tax payers` money on matters motivated by politics rather than good old fashioned common sense eg Transforming Probation, is a disgrace to us all especially the system which allows him to continue in office as Transport overlord. The NHS has also suffered from political upheaval since 2010 which has resulted in the instigator of such "reforms", now discredited, being found a seat in that sinecure called the House of Lords.
Is it surprising that the great British public is losing faith in the established order? It is by such incremental deficiencies in the actions of those voted into office that losing faith transforms into something more sinister. Perhaps there is still time for those with the foresight to alter the general direction of political drift. Brexit is just a single indicator of changes in the national psyche. Momentum is another. What comes later could be disturbing to the extreme.
Friday, 23 December 2016
But it`s not just Yorkshire men with their cry of D.H. Lawrence, England and John Thomas who have made it to the courts recently. They`re at it in Lincolnshire where this time it`s
They used to say, Only in America........
At this for some, festive period I must thank my reader for using a few of their precious minutes over the past twelve months to peruse my offerings. I will be spending the holiday period at hameldaeme this year so there might be a post or the odd Twitter contribution (@bloggingJP) before the start of 2017.
As the great poet put it:-
O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us
Thursday, 22 December 2016
Those households which do not enforce reasoned rules and discipline upon their children to immunise them against the effects of "non immunised" children ie their feral untamed peers, face misery. Childrens` bad behaviour is similar to a disease like measles where the "herd" effect of vaccination is paramount in keeping the disease to a minimum level of spread. Currently owing to misguided policies of government over the last thirty years in the fields of law, welfare and education we are in a situation where compulsory "this" or compulsory "that" will have to be employed so that the desirable change in direction can be achieved. Youth offending is perhaps the most depressing part of the Criminal Justice System. To incarcerate teenagers because society and family constraints on bad behaviour have failed is depressing for everyone involved. To avoid this outcome very often the most positive gift a parent can give a child is the meaning of "no".
Wednesday, 21 December 2016
So the argument will continue as surely as Andy Murray hits the ball back and forward with unfailing regularity. People such as this poor soul will appear at every magistrates` court in the country so often as to be recognised by those sitting in judgement. And the same limited choices will be available to them. Those with the power to effect change will continue to make their speeches in and out of parliament and publish their papers on the topic while those howling from the cloisters will rant back and forwards choosing their statistical bases to suit their cause. We must strive to divert offenders from the court system. And then perhaps we can call ourselves a civilised country.
Tuesday, 20 December 2016
Supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug / Possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply it to another is governed by Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 s.4(3), Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, s.5(3). The sentencing guideline for this offence is a prime example of the labyrinthine tortuosity of the thinking processes of the Sentencing Council. It would have been more honest to provide a real tick box for judges instead of this masquerade of one. But notwithstanding all that it is the judge`s remarks which disturb me. By these remarks, in particular, “Potentially this defendant has been denied a really significant right, and that is the right to have a crown court trial in a case where the magistrates should never have retained jurisdiction.” she has arguably brought the law into contempt by her scathing criticism however justified it might or might not have been. I would argue that she would have been wiser to have refrained from making those withering comments and to have put them in writing to the appropriate authority because it is inconceivable that the bench were acting without the full knowledge of the L/A. If, however, that were not the case and the bench`s decision had not previously been conveyed to the L/A both it and s/he have questions to answer. My bench`s actions described above, I would opine, would have been appropriate in this case. Perhaps similar statements were indeed made at the magistrates` court. We do not know. There is no record.
Crown Court judges IMHO do occasionally let their mouths go off before their brains are in gear. This is a sad story for all concerned; the defendant, the bench, the L/A and Her Honour.
Monday, 19 December 2016
Friday, 16 December 2016
As a bench chairman when you are speaking generally no other voice or interruption is permitted unless perhaps the legal advisor is making a salient point. When a bench decides to sentence outside the Sentencing Guidelines it is appropriate to make clear reasons for so doing. These should be logical and significant and directed to the specifics of the offence and/or the offender. I find the the report of a driving whilst disqualified case at North Wiltshire Magistrates Court on Thursday somewhat disjointed insofar as the chairman`s remarks related to the situation.
"If we followed our sentencing guidelines you would lose your job," she said. "I really want to give you a lecture about being honest with your employer and if you had been honest you might not be here in the first place.
"We are going to go against our guidelines with huge reluctance and we will impose a community order of unpaid work of 98 hours. For driving without insurance we are going to fine you £353 and you must pay £85 in costs and a victim surcharge of £85."
The Guideline for this offence is copied below.
Considering he was almost halfway in to his 22 month ban the starting point would appear to be a medium/high level community order. It can hardly be considered that his ban was "recently imposed" as the bench seems to have concluded because that is the only logical route the bench could have taken to state that, "you would lose your job" with the underlying consideration that that consequence would arise from a custodial sentence suspended or otherwise being imposed.
My opinion for what it`s worth is that the final disposal of indeed a low level community order negates entirely the the pompous verbosity of the bench chairman. This apparent unstructured and patronising behaviour is not worthy of a bench chairman and would be another reason for some lawyers to conclude that the word muppet is an accurate designation for my former colleagues.
Thursday, 15 December 2016
Wednesday, 14 December 2016
Simple analysis shows that around one fifth of those caught opted for a not guilty plea in court assuming that rarely did somebody go to court to plead guilty. I have no figures for those in that category who might have pleaded special reasons.
Many organisations; motoring and others complain of the inactivity of police for the apparent reduction in FPNs for use of a mobile phone when driving. Could it not be as per my opening sentence that improved technology is the real reason that drivers appear to be talking and driving? We have all heard stories in court of police evidence of sudden movement of mobiles from hand to elsewhere in a vehicle............
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Monday, 12 December 2016
There are, however, six key qualities which are regarded as vital if you are to perform
successfully in the role of a magistrate. It doesn’t matter how or where you developed
these qualities. It could be through your current or previous employment, involvement
in community or voluntary activities, public appointments, leisure activities, family life
or academic study. The most important thing is that you can demonstrate these in the
selection process and, if appointed, apply them to the role. They are:
° Understanding and communication: to be able to understand documents, relevant facts, follow evidence and communicate effectively.
° Social awareness: to appreciate and accept the rule of law.
° Maturity and sound temperament: to have an awareness and understanding of people and a sense of fairness.
° Sound judgement: to be able to think logically, weigh arguments and reach a sound decision.
° Commitment and reliability: to be committed to serving the community, willing to undergo training and to be in sufficiently good health to undertake your duties on a regular basis.
You have to be over 18 and under 65.
Magistrates must retire at 70 and are normally expected to serve for at least 5 years.
HealthYou need to be able to hear clearly, with or without a hearing aid, to listen to a case.
You also need to be able to sit and concentrate for long periods of time.
You need to show you’ve got the right personal qualities, eg that you are:
- aware of social issues
- mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness
- reliable and committed to serving the community
- understand documents, follow evidence and communicate effectively
- think logically, weigh up arguments and reach a fair decision
Good characterIt’s unlikely you’ll be taken on if you have been:
- found guilty of a serious crime
- found guilty of a number of minor offences
- banned from driving in the past 5 to 10 years
- declared bankrupt
Conflicts of interestYou can’t be a magistrate if you work in one of a small number of jobs where there could be a conflict of interest - eg if you are a police officer.
Time off for magistrate duties
You will need to be in court for at least 13 days, or 26 half-days, a year.
Discuss with your employer how you will balance your work and magistrate duties.