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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.
Friday, 31 March 2017
At Highbury Corner it seems that lawyers are venting their splenetic energies at this ridiculous notion. The proponents have offered an alternative arrangement of continuing the current practice of a 10.00am start but running courts until 8.30pm; an alternative road to revolution by many of the legal fraternity. Everyone involved with the magistrates` courts system knows that it is almost a certainty that active sittings rarely begin on time. Many defendants don`t know or care which day of the week they are due to appear never mind the time of day. To imagine that the miscreants of North London will arrive at a court at 8.00am is to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of the court`s car park. And what of the court staff including those sometimes considered by HMCTS as unpaid employees; the Justices of the Peace without whom the system would collapse? Paid employees including District Judges might be offered some sort of inducement financial or time off in lieu to upend their whole work/home balance but J.P.s? There would be resignations en masse. But they are so afraid of retribution that not one dares to voice a public objection. Perhaps in its unsaid quest to professionalise the magistrates` courts system the MOJ would welcome a further erosion of J.P.s` involvement at the court level to one of a neutered group dealing with TV license evasion or similar minor transgressions.
This proposal is just one more step in wrapping funding cuts around a seemingly plausible route to efficiency. The civil court has in the guise of "meeting its costs" put itself beyond the reach of many who cannot afford the required fees to obtain justice. Civil, family and criminal courts are not experiencing all the savings expected by the wholesale restriction of legal aid because litigants in person and defendants require much more time to present their cases and we all know as those Whitehall weasels think they know; time is money.
Thursday, 30 March 2017
Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Monday, 27 March 2017
Thursday, 23 March 2017
The truth is that the MOJ and its cousin HMCTS don`t know where to turn or in what direction they should set their compasses. Money has been squeezed from their and the Home Office`s budgets until there`s not much juice left for them to squeeze. When awful events occur as happened yesterday politicians are vying to make clear their support for our wonderful police and emergency services whilst simultaneously conspiring in their being forced to run on empty. Such is the true nature of politics.
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
The Sentencing Council persists with its current tick box approach and seems to overlook simpler and more effective methods of punishing driving offences.
Friday, 17 March 2017
It is totally unacceptable to me that town councils do not provide automated secure pay as you pee public lavatories. With technology allowing homes to be monitored remotely surely a similar provision could be profitably established in city centres so that late night revellers are not faced with embarassing decisions that could cost them dearly.
Tuesday, 14 March 2017
Rotherham town council or whichever civic authority is involved has paid £1 to Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service for a local court building. Is this a case of Peter paying Paul with tax payers` cash? No doubt in a few years we will be told of some unusual conditions that enable somebody or other to make a few quid perhaps more easily than should have been the case.
When our families were young my closest neighbours would gather in my garden every 5th November for our home grown fireworks display. Seems that innocent pastime sensibly conducted could have ended my being a magistrate if it were under today`s heavy handed application of legislation.
The closure of magistrates` courts in Suffolk has led to predictable repercussions; a shortage of Justices of the Peace. A very apt report in the local press tells a story that could be repeated in rural areas nationwide.
Criminal Behaviour Orders remind me in a very minor way of the actions of organisations such as the Stasi in what was East Germany. Proof is not especially needed; anonymous accounts from witnesses will suffice. Admittedly there might be some occasions when fear and distrust of police leads to individuals being bullied, harassed or victimised but in a society where policing in general had the necessary funds to operate efficiently at street level traditional methods brought traditional results where guilt was proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It is almost exactly two years since my final court sitting. In the light of the changes in procedures in that period and contrary to what I thought at that time I really do think I`m pleased now not to have to preside over a magistrates` court where the rights of defendants especially the poor, tired huddled masses are being eroded.
Monday, 13 March 2017
In an increasing effort to secure ever more early guilty pleas defendants have been encouraged inter alia to plead guilty to a lower level of offence than would normally have been laid against them. This is especially true in cases of assault. Magistrates and lawyers are well acquainted with defendants being prosecuted for both s.4 and s.5 public order offences with the more serious being dropped if a guilty plea is made to the lesser charge. The benefit to an offender of a sentence reduction for an "early" guilty plea especially for those matters to be tried at the crown court is not unreasonable insofar as the tax payer and witnesses are saved costs and no little trauma. Generally the offender would have had the assistance of a lawyer and would have pleaded guilty with knowledge. But at the magistrates` court it is an altogether different scenario. A great many defendants have no legal representation especially at first hearing. A duty solicitor should be available at all times but the help given can be of variable quality and therefore a guilty plea in that instance can, for some defendants, be a short cut to ridding themselves of the problem with a sentence discount of a third and an acceptance of what they think are their just deserts especially if they have a record. Without much fanfare the Sentencing Council announced recently that that maximum discount will in future be available in the magistrates` court only for a guilty plea at the first hearing. One would have thought that behind such a change of direction there would be if not a mass but at least some statistical evidence to indicate the basis of a benefit to society in this effort to persuade defendants not to continue putting the crown to proof in establishing guilt. One would have been wrong. There are no statistics on guilty pleas at magistrates` courts. There is of course a wealth of convictions analyses but that`s a different thing. In its consultation document (copied in part below) on this change in discount situation there is an admission of the lack of evidence......my underline.
Is this really the way we go about trying to secure higher conviction rates which the Sentencing Council is apparently embarked upon? In China the conviction rate for all offences is >99%. The noisy advocates who scream that convictions for rape are too low; no doubt increasing their decibel levels over recent cases, would argue that 99% conviction is perhaps just a tad too high. For those of us who believe that our once proud to be British justice system is losing its lustre this imminent change does nothing to alter our opinion. Basing sentencing policy on known unknowns is, quite simply, not justified.
Statistical research and analysis.
Virtually all criminal cases start in magistrates’ courts. The most recent annual statistics14 show that approximately 1.47 million defendants were proceeded against at magistrates’ courts in 2014. Of those, 1.22 million resulted in convictions in either magistrates’ courts or the Crown Court, which means that the offender either pleaded guilty or was convicted after a trial. Information on the percentage of offenders who plead guilty is only available for the Crown Court. Of the 86,297 offenders sentenced in the Crown Court in 2014, 77,289 (90 per cent) pleaded guilty and 9,008 were found guilty after a trial. Of the 90 per cent who pleaded guilty in the Crown Court, 72 per cent pleaded guilty at what was adjudged to be the ‘first reasonable opportunity.’ It would seem likely that there are many factors which influence the decision whether and when to plead guilty. One suggestion is that offenders are likely to be encouraged to plead guilty at an early stage if they believe that by doing so they will avoid a custodial sentence. The published statistics show some evidence of this in the Crown Court; a lower proportion of offenders that pleaded guilty were sentenced to immediate custody (53 per cent) compared to those that pleaded not guilty (71 per cent). There are also differences across offence types, with the rate of guilty pleas among those convicted of indictable sexual offences at the Crown Court at 61 per cent, which is considerably lower than the overall rate for indictable offences (89 per cent).
Friday, 10 March 2017
Those who actual work within the justice system from judiciary to prison officers via probation service know that there is no adequately financed and operative path to mental health services that is fit for purpose. The noble lords and ladies may sound their trumpets but nobody is listening. Pass GO and collect £300.
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
Monday, 6 March 2017
“Flying a plane is not easy. I know because I have taken flying lessons myself. Flying an aeroplane is not an easy thing to do.”These were some of a recorder`s words in sentencing Wesley Tierney at Cambridge Crown Court last week after flying aeroplanes without holding a licence or having the correct training. I can identify with those few words of the sentencer having had a similar experience. However later in the report he is quoted as remarking, "you have pleaded guilty means I am going to give you a suspended sentence.”
An early plea of guilty indicates a sentence reduction of one third; at least that was a basic part of my training. It does not in my experience allow an immediate custodial sentence to be altered to a suspended sentence order. Perhaps the recorder had other unreported reasons. It is almost certain that this offence is one where the sentencer must use his discretion and is not trapped within Sentencing Guidelines. Is this yet another case of a Recorder not being sufficiently aware of the processes available under the law and advice from senior judiciary?