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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Monday, 31 July 2017

THE JEREMIAH JUSTICE OF THE PEACE BLOG

When I was a student the situation re law `n order was on the surface reasonably transparent; you committed an act which for various reasons was considered illegal, somebody called the police and if admitting guilt or found guilty an appropriate punishment would be ordered: simples.  Not any more it is. Councils in liaison with or without police have umpteen powers to enforce restrictions, impose fines, relocate individuals etc all without the orders of a court.  In straightforward language those people who transgress in someway against certain specified norms and who can be wholly innocent of any criminal offence can be subjected to arbritary demands of a council official or police constable.  In most such cases the victimes have not the wherewithall in any worthwhile capacity to resist such orders.  This case is a classic example.  The property does not belong to the council but to a private landlord and no charges have apparently been brought against either of the occupants yet one of them has been evicted.  By its very nature the report is brief but is this really the way our society has developed since the swinging sixties?  Salami slicing of our freedoms is progressing at a frightening pace yet the real issues of today are brushed under the political carpet. For obvious reasons I have more than average knowledge and awareness of what goes on in most aspects of our lives that can even loosely be described as the manifestations of what pass for policies at the MOJ and Home Office. But I ask myself; what is happening within the NHS and associated organisations where I have no special knowledge or within the MOD where aircraft carriers are constructed at billions of pounds over estimates to accommodate planes that don`t perform according to projections, to a railway expansion where those in control deny that the final price will double original numbers and where others insist that its construction is unnecessary and of a governemnt forced into having a referendum which is incompatible with parliamentary democracy the governing party of which chose its least objectionable individual to be our prime minister whose inadequate abilities are now on public display to our collective cost.

Societies do not implode overnight. Blatent anti semitism openly tolerated in the Labour Party is not an instant reacion to Israel`s survival in 1967 or the Entebbe rescue in 1976 both of which were lauded by most people and parties in the West. Drug addiction on its current scale didn`t arise from nowhere.  Private health insurence was unknown for 99% of the population forty years ago.  Nations and their societies are living organic entities; they are subject to continual incremental change.  That process can develop in many directions and each of us can offer some input. That being the case those whom we endow with our votes from time to time have failed us, are failing us and God help us will continue to fail us.  Perhaps I should change the title of this blog to Jeremiah Justice of the Peace.

Friday, 28 July 2017

IS 2 OUT OF 3 A SATISFACTORY MARGIN FOR GUILTY VERDICT IN COURT?

In all the many hundreds of articles, tweets, posts etc on the workings of magistrates` courts rarely is it written or explained that in a bench of three lay magistrates a unanimous decision on guilt or innocence is not required; it is sufficient for only two of the bench of three to be in agreement.  Such a majority verdict is not made public. The court is simply informed of the decision.  This has long struck me as at least inherently less than transparent and at most departing from judicial honesty. The fact that I have never heard comment form senior judiciary is astonishing.  If the public were to be told there would not unlikely be an outcry.  In Scotland`s higher court a simple majority of fifteen jurors is all that is required for a guilty verdict. At all court levels including summary matters a third option is the "not proven" verdict. Wikipedia is a fine reference source. If ever there was an argument and one with which I agree for the Scottish Verdict to be available in England surely it is in the magistrates` court that it should be offered.  JPs are not random jurors taken from the electoral register; they are highly trained people skilled in the forensic analysis of complicated and/or technical argument.  If one third of their number has reasonable doubt on guilt surely that should have significance. When it comes to sentencing the stakes are equally high in such a circumstance.  When in my position as a dissenter I have been asked for my input when exploring the sentencing structure I have often recused myself from proceeding through the maze which the Sentencing Guidelines have made compulsory. If that experience was whilst I was chairman of the bench I limited my input to ensuring that my colleagues had followed correct procedures in line with their perceived reasoning. I know that colleagues took different options in these circumstances.  I also know that many were not bothered at all.  With a bench of two and an intractable collision of opinion obvious difficulties arise.  I have experienced situations where the JP for guilty felt duty bound to go along with his/her not guilty colleague; a course of action which I believe follows judicial oath. Very occasionally a mistrial was declared and the game was replayed.

There are lessons to be learnt and changes to be implemented. I have often wondered why an even number of jurors is selected.  Surely the principle of an odd number as in Scotland even with a more limited majority decision required makes more sense and would obviate the need for mistrial outcomes.  The Law Commission or another appropriate body should undertake a redefining of what makes for a guilty verdict in magistrates` courts and opinion expressed on the 2/3 majority remaining valid and withheld from the public.  

 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

THE CPS//QUANTITY INJUSTICES OVER QUALITY JUSTICE

Everybody likes to win whatever the competition. The anodyne statement that "It`s the taking part that counts" is often just an excuse for losers. Organisations of all sizes and complexities will always seek to demonstrate that their performance in one way or another is the best or is improving at such a rate that confidence in its ability to do whatever it`s supposed to do is or has improved. Business, academia, trades, professions etc etc all provide statistics and/or analyses to indicate their success or to provide reasons (excuses) for a poor or unfulfilled performance. Nowhere IMHO is this approach more seriously undertaken than at the MOJ.  It might be my imagination or incompetence but I have the clear impression that there are now fewer statistics published on dealings at magistrates` courts than in years gone by. For sure there are tables on courts` efficiencies and timeliness but I have today found it impossible to source numbers of defendants and convictions on charges of common assault; a summary offence with a maximum sentence of six months custody.  Assault occasioning actual bodily harm is an either way offence with a maximum sentence at crown court of five years custody. Sentencing Guidelines are available here. As all who work in the courts` system will probably know already there is a marked tendency of the CPS to undercharge.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the aforesaid matter of "assault". Two reasons are responsible; charging common assault in the lower court is very much cheaper than taking it to crown court and secondly the chances of a conviction are greater simply because a "serious" matter charged as a lesser offence will more likely elicit a guilty plea or the facts are more likely to be proved. The result is that hundreds if not thousands of victims are cheated of seeing their assailant getting his just rewards and as a corollary offenders are much more likely to be less limited in their venom and aggression in the full knowledge that if they are caught and convicted the punishments will be relatively minor and certainly not appropriate for the degree of violence employed.  

Paul Gascoyne; Gaza, a former highly rated international footballer with a sorry record of domestic violence and inebriation as an alcoholic leading to severe mental disorders was, last year, the subject of a viscous assault which caused severe injuries. The offender pleaded guilty to common assault. The report is here. My question is whether or not such an assault was far in excess of common assault. Should it have been charged as the more serious and consequential ABH with the possibility of an initial not guilty plea leading to an expensive crown court trial?  I leave it to readers to make their own conclusions but in my opinion this is a truly awful example of my opening sentences of this post. The CPS sacrifices quality justice for quantity injustices.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

COURTS` EXTENDED HOURS

With increasing concern at the plans of HMCTS to impose extended hours for court sittings Twitter has been a useful pointer.  On Inside HMCTS Blog there is published a series of questions and observations to the organisation including by a couple of crown court judges.  Surprisingly there is not a single word referring to or written by magistrates except an unanswered series of questions I noticed yesterday.  I copy that part below and will do similar when a reply is published. 

Have you secured sufficient numbers of magistrates to the proposed rota for extended hours? Similarly have you DJs in place. If to my first question the answer is "no" will you attempt to use DJs more often? Have you sufficient of them for your proposed needs? Do you have a division of sittings in mind for JPs and DJs?

PUTTING THE WORLD TO RIGHTS

Put the world to rights; that phrase is often used to describe conversations in the pub where Joe Everyman gives his opinion on what he would do to change the world between downing his pint and opening another packet of crisps.  It is a derogatory way that the elite of this country describe the opinions of the plebs.  There are, however, some situations where the elite have failed us, are failing us and will continue to fail us. Nowhere is this disdain for acting for the common good more apparent than in the panoply of our justice system.  I have posted, perhaps too often, on the failure of government to divert addicts from the criminal justice system to the health services.  The active removal of legal safeguards for defendants in our courts by the withdrawal of legal aid for those most in need is nothing short of a disgrace. The removal similarly of that benefit to parents in the family courts as demonstrated by the tragic matter of baby Charlie whose parents were able to seek justice whatever the outcome only by pro bono work of unselfish lawyers is as clear a demonstration as could be manufactured of the total disregard of the realities of life for most people. It is not unlikely that this case will lead to a review of legal aid provision in the family court where hundreds if not thousands of parents have had to be litigants in person; a situation not to their advantage nor to the courts where time is costed by a team of accountants at HMCTS. 

In the last twenty years begging and vagrancy have become more apparent in larger towns and cities and with the accession of the East European states to the EU and thus to our shores the problem has increased. The Victorians had a simple way of dealing with the down and outs of society 150 years ago; the workhouse where basic provision was made to shelter and feed such unfortunates until such time they could find their feet in a winner takes nearly all society.  The unenlightened attitudes of local councils since the turn of the millennium have been brought into the spotlight by the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. The revelations still to be made will demonstrate the inadequacy of local government.  The unadulterated rottenness of elected and employed individuals exposed in Rochdale and other northern towns when confronted by  Muslim scum whose heinous activities were allowed to prosper by the ineptitude at the best and politically correct tolerance at worst  will long be remembered as a carbuncle on the face of these councils. In Oxford the Labour controlled council has decreed that homeless people "who keep possessions in doorways could face fines of up to £2,500 for being ‘detrimental’ to the area". As magistrates a guiding light on sentencing has always been that offenders should not be set up to fail by the imposition of impossible to fulfil  requirements. The burghers of Oxford are deserving of public disgrace. They should be pilloried and showered with rotten tomatoes. To threaten vagrants with what appears to be a form of locally approved ASBOs the breaching of which will not be able to be funded is a recipe for failure.  This country was made great during the Victorian era in spirit as well as in prosperity.  There is no doubt that a modern form of the workhouse with compulsory attendance under some form of supervision combined with medical assistance to cure a drug habit would be beneficial to all with lives saved, criminality reduced and in the long run financial expenditure reduced. But we are plebs; who cares what we think. It`s just more pub talk putting the world to rights.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

PUBLIC DISUNITY//WHY THERESA MAY MUST GO NOW

It seems to this distant observer that a form of mob rule is gradually taking over certain areas or our lives.  On a political level Big Chief Corbyn and his indian braves have asserted that one way to achieve power is by having a 1,000,000 protesters on the streets. This should not be a surprise.  That he is an avowed Marxist who has made no secret of his intentions is clear from this speech in 2012.  As is their historical profile those of similar philosophy have been involved (allegedly) when local groups have had and are having real concerns about decisions affecting their lives made by socially and politically distant often state connected organisations. The issues surrounding the Grenfell fire, genuine and perhaps criminal, are being used to undermine the fabric of the state and it is not unlikely that a few years down the line results of inquiries and prosecutions whatever the results  will be used as stick to beat all authorities however involved.

Actions of police are under the microscope of public opinion at a wholly different level. They used to be literally a law unto themselves. Not a week goes by when that attitude is revealed still to be motivating a not inconsiderable number of police officers. Last year 108 police officers were dismissed for misconduct. The bar for sacking is set very high.  Much of the Policing and Crime Bill`s sections on police discipline became law a few months ago in the corresponding Act.  The amount of criminality within the police is quite shocking for the layman to comprehend the Met Police being the cheerleader.

As a result of public policy by the Home Office led by a certain Mrs T. May police were instructed to reduce "stop & search" and the pursuit of those using vehicles to evade arrest or questioning.  The unintended consequences have been an unholy increase in knife crime and an explosion in criminals evading arrest by using mopeds as getaway vehicles. There is considerable controversy over the numbers within these topics. That controversy is both political and statistical in quantity and quality.

What is not in doubt is the increase in mob behaviour generally when disputed matters go public epitomised by the situation of the baby Charlie and that surrounding areas where permission has been granted for fracking. Decisions by legally authorised public bodies are being challenged by no less than mob rule.  There are many definitions of "mob" but they all have a similar underlying theme of the possibility of violence resulting; "a large or disorderly crowd; especially : one bent on riotous or destructive action". 

One essential requirement for a democratic society to exist or even flourish is the freedom to demonstrate on the streets of our towns and cities and where such peaceful protest is sanctioned by police. Such freedom to protest is itself never far from dispute eg the flying of the flags of a terrorist organisation recently in London where the police did not intervene on the basis that they considered that the non military part of the organisation was indicated on the flags.   

With Brexit negotiations in effect, a left wing take over of Labour in the offing, a Tory Party in disarray, little indication of large numbers of Muslims willing to adapt to a British society and to accept their minority status, pork barrel politics to bribe the DUP and Scots Nats still howling independance, reduced public confidence in our institutions bodes ill for a harmonious future.  All those however loosely described as The Establishment must react to the twitching antennae of public mores and do their utmost to unite where there is currently disunity. Such decisiveness must come from the top. Theresa May must go NOW.


Friday, 21 July 2017

BENCHES ARE NOT HANGERS AND FLOGGERS

There are single issue lobbyists financed often by wealthy individuals whose purpose in life, in addition to their salaries, is to discredit the benefit of short custodial sentences whilst at the same time to manipulate statistics to indicate that such sentences are failing, expensive and no deterrent to offenders. In addition magistrates are often accused of being too ready to sentence recidivists to immediate custody notwithstanding guidelines being followed. This case earlier this week before Swindon magistrates is an example of what really happens at every similar court every day countrywide. Benches go out of their way, sometimes in defiance of guidelines, to avoid sending offenders to immediate custody.  Indeed such decisions often bring unwelcome criticism from members of the public insofar as they are seen to be "too soft".  With the latest report on the utterly appalling conditions in our prisons a prison sentence must be a test of strength, mental and physical, for many in order to have a chance of rehabilitation. The absolute incompetence of successive Justice Secretaries since 2010 with the possible exemption of Michael Gove, has been a prime cause.  Predictable problems with interpreters, legal aid, probation service, prison officers, police have all contributed to the current position with Theresa May`s six years at the Home Office as much a failure as her colleagues` debacle at Petty France. There`s austerity and there`s foolhardiness.

When a population loses confidence in all that comprises a justice system black clouds on the horizon are just a pre cursor to a storm ahead.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

ACCUSATIONS OF VERBAL ABUSE CAN BE AN ABUSE OF FREE SPEECH




“Verbal abuse is the use of words to cause harm to the person being spoken to. It is difficult to define and may take many forms. Similarly, the harm caused is often difficult to measure. The most commonly understood form is name-calling. Verbal abuse may consist of shouting, insulting, intimidating, threatening, shaming, demeaning, or derogatory language, among other forms of communication.”

It was brought home to me over twenty years ago in a fairly crowded retail unit in a town with the dubious reputation at the time of being just about the most racist place in England when two rather large tattooed white shaven headed gentlemen about forty years old remonstrated with a group of white teenage boys who were foully verbally abusing a middle aged South Asian man and his wife, that some sort of social self censorship was taking place as to just what was acceptable or unacceptable in a public place. For a few reasons perhaps we have reached a situation where many are simply too afraid of speaking openly; afraid that in effect recourse to s.5 Public Order Act will be taken by a self certificating aggrieved party.

Some years ago I was in the large entrance hall of a general hospital waiting for the return of a relative from a consultation in a room in nearby corridor. My mobile phone rang and almost immediately there was a shout, “Get that off; didn`t you see the sign?” In truth I hadn`t. Almost before I could retrieve it from deep in a pocket that individual behind a nearby desk screamed, “If you don`t put that off now I`ll get security!” By then I had reached the exit. 

A few years ago I was with an elderly relative at her G.P. requesting a copy of recent blood tests which should have been e-mailed to her by the practice. When the practice manager demanded £20 to produce a copy my relative said firmly that that was outrageous and it should not be charged for. Her language was polite and precise but perhaps her volume was a touch raised. The doctor emerged (a locum unknown to my relative) and confirmed she could not have the test results unless she paid but in the circumstances offered a reduced fee of £10.00. With great reluctance I handed over said fee on her behalf and we left with the copy. Two weeks later she was told in writing that she had been removed from the doctor`s list because her language and behaviour and general verbal abusing of him and the staff had put them (there were no patients) in fear of violence. As an aside, efforts by my relative`s nearest and dearest had the G.P. reprimanded and the £10 refunded. The expulsion was cancelled but of course she had since made other arrangements for her medical care. The point remains that by the definition above the perpetrator of any verbal abuse could arguably have been the doctor and his manager.

A few months ago at one of the major supermarkets as I was placing about £180 worth of groceries on the conveyor belt the cashier told me there were no large bags available and began opening bags each just about big enough to place a lettuce. I told him that they were unacceptable and unless he found large bags the goods would remain in the trolley or on the belt and I would go to the competition. He replied that the store had run out of normal sized bags and continued that he would tolerate no abuse from me. He refused to continue. His colleague on the adjoining till suggested he seek some bags. In the end I spoke to a nearby manager who conjured up enough bags to serve my requirements and reminded the cashier of his position.

Four simple anecdotes separated by twenty years but by an eon in public attitudes. Anywhere and everywhere are notices where public and employees converge that have the message that “abuse to staff will not be tolerated” or some such similar wording. “Verbal abuse” is a term that would have been unfamiliar in the swinging sixties. There is remarkably little evidence of its origin but I would venture it arose around the same time as the feminist lobby began to agitate for equal rights in employment etc and became a term commonly used to describe dysfunctional intimate relationships between men and women. Be that as it may the circumscription around many forms of disagreement especially when police are involved under s.5 using the pretext “verbal abuse” is one that magistrates must openly confront. The current trends to stifling free speech are singularly wafer thin but put those slices of self censorship in a bundle and it can be more easily recognised how far from the free speech of the 1950s we have travelled. Magistrates  must administer the law as it stands; not as they might wish it to be but they can and should take a broad look at any individual circumstance.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

PROHIBITION UK STYLE

From their very inception I was concerned at the implications of that wonderful, so they said, innovation; the ASBO.  Having to impose such I did my judicial duty but without enthusiasm. ASBO was but the first of many so called exclusion notices. For the last ten years constables have had the authority to issue a written exclusion notice to anyone considered to represent a "risk of disorder", even if they are not drunk or have committed no offence. The aim is to enable the police to stop violence escalating by immediately removing potential troublemakers from the scene. As a matter of interest David Davis, the shadow home secretary at the time,  said the Conservatives would consider backing the proposals but said Labour "has form for making headline-grabbing announcements only to fail to follow them up"; another politician`s words coming back to haunt him.......as if they care; it`s happening all the time. Soon to follow was the CRASBO; criminal anti-social behaviour order.  I sat on the very first hearing in this country where such was brought.  It was a shambles and we threw it out.  Notices can be issued to those whose presence "is likely, in all the circumstances, to cause or contribute to the occurrence or continuance in that locality of alcohol-related crime or disorder". Magistrates' courts are able to issue civil orders banning persistent drunks and binge drinkers from all pubs and clubs in designated areas for up to two years and  operate on a similar basis to Asbos which have been condemned by a European human rights group  These were designated Drinking Banning Orders with criminal sanctions if breached.  Their effect was to displace the offence to another locality or to set up an order for him/her to fail when such orders referred to the whole county or even the whole country. And these orders sometimes without due process don`t stop.  Domestic Violence Protection Notices allow police to exclude a householder from his/her own home on the say so of a senior officer. 

Nationwide it seems there has been a steady increase in begging whether through increased poverty and/or straightened circumstances owing to addiction(s). The problem local authorities have is, of course, what to do about it. Leamington Magistrates Court on behalf of the local council has issued one such vagrant with the ubiquitous CRASBO.  This will solve nothing except that the offender will be before another court sooner or later on a criminal charge for which he will probably be imprisoned.

This little story is typical of so much that this and previous governments do in order to paper over deep problems in our society.  Today`s announcement by the Home Secretary that she seeks to introduce new legislation on banning knives is just another pathetic attempt to remedy what are thought to be intractable problems.  They are not. They require only honesty, money and a sincere wish to get to grip with one of society`s problems.  If that requires authoritarian means so be it I say. 

PS Last month on 21st June I predicted legislation on knives by the new Justice Secretary.  I didn`t think it would come so soon. Seems I had the wrong department in mind but the right idea. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

A NEW MAGISTRATE`S OPINIONS

It would seem that MOJ has decided that more Justices of the Peace need to be appointed. The article in this local newspaper is one of many similar I have read over the last few months.  What does strike me, however, is the quote of a new magistrate when commenting on a decision of custody, "There were long discussions about whether it was the right thing to do, what purpose it would serve and the impact on both the defendant, and of course the wider community and the victim". 


He does not mention Guidelines or public protection except for "impact". I also consider it questionable if "the right thing to do" is part of a structured sentencing exercise.  As far as I am aware the victims` considerations should not inform sentencing. But then having been appointed 20 years ago my attitudes, training and experience might now be considered anti deluvian if I were still active. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

ONLY IN AMERICA



Some might have heard of this case but if you haven`t I have to tell you I have seen and heard of it from two sources so it must be true……..mustn`t it??????? For those who have served on jury...this one is something to think about...Just when you think you have heard everything!! Do you like to read a good murder mystery? Not even Law and Order would attempt to capture this mess. This is an unbelievable twist of fate!!! Are you sitting comfortably boys and girls and then I`ll begin.

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, (AAFS) President Dr. Don Harper Mills astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story:

On March 23, 1994 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a 10-story building intending to commit suicide. He left a note to the effect indicating his despondency. As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast passing through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.
The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he was threatening her with a shotgun! The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window, striking Mr. Opus. When one intends to kill subject 'A' but kills subject 'B' in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject 'B.'

When confronted with the murder charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant, and both said that they thought the shotgun was not loaded. The old man said it was a long- standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore, the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident; that is, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun about 6 weeks prior to the fatal accident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he didn't actually pull the trigger. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Now for the exquisite twist... Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus. He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the 10 story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window. The son, Ronald Opus, had actually murdered himself. So the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

Friday, 7 July 2017

BENCH CHAIRMAN OUT OF ORDER

Earlier this week I posted on the advantage of having in England as is the choice in Scotland of a third verdict after trial; namely not proven. Before discussing this further let me make plain the main disadvantage antagonists offer on this subject; the possibility of an innocent defendant being smeared by the underlying assumption that he was really guilty but proof was lacking. I suppose that is a form of an oxymoronic argument.  The advantages on the other hand are seemingly quite apparent. Benjamin Franklin inventor of bifocals and a signatory to the American Constitution in 1776 is quoted as saying, "that it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved".  Its basic concept has been repeated many times.  My opinion is that that reasoning would be better served by the availability of a verdict of not proven.  Indeed the tale of woe in the last twenty years where the verdicts in high profile trials have been overturned on appeal often after many years in jail for alleged offenders is a stain on the so called high standards of British justice.

Notwithstanding the above I am indebted to a commenter for bringing to my attention this case.  After a verdict of not guilty had been announced the bench chairman Dr Ian Haffenden is quoted in the penultimate paragraph as saying, “although we think that the defendant may have taken the items, the prosecution has not proved it so”. If this were in a Scottish courtroom the verdict would have been not proven and would have been respected as such.  In England, however, it is an absolute disgrace.  The chairman has cast aspersions on a woman his bench found to be not guilty because they applied the test; beyond reasonable doubt.  To confirm their doubt is beyond belief. There is a tradition, I know no better, that even if a decision is split 2:1 a bench must not make that public. This bench chairman should be held to account before the appropriate authority. He was out of order.  However it is unlikely that the defendant will have the wherewithal intellectually or financially to pursue that option.   Indeed it is possible that her relief in being found not guilty will in itself be enough satisfaction for her.

Before I was appointed a chairman I sat often enough to observe not a few occupants of the middle chair who liked the sound of their own voice too much for their own good. I took note to put a five second mental delay before a major input to proceedings and to make that input as pithy as possible whilst ensuring my meaning and intention were clear to all.  That, in my opinion,  is common sense; a requirement for appointment 20 years ago but sadly no longer so.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

FREE PRESS AND DIFFERENCES OF OPINION

From time to time threats, some overt and others surreptitiously, are made to the freedom of the press. I stumbled across two current reports on the state of the forensic service in Scotland.  On reading them it was sometimes difficult to recognise that they were describing the same events. See for yourself....."Police Professional" and "Holyrood" magazine.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

ETHNIC DIVERSITY//THE FAKE NEWS ON THE MAGISTRACY

Quite frankly I am sick and tired of, in effect, being part or having been a part of an aged ethnic majority imposing sentences on ethnic minority offenders in excess of similarly guilty white offenders: sick and tired not to say disappointed with the continual implication that the magistracy is unfit to represent the society within which its members have been appointed to serve. Let me make one thing quite clear:- the idea propagated by these critics that local benches should represent local societies no longer holds water. Government by its actions in amalgamating courts and greatly  increasing numbers of District Judges(MC) with no local affiliation and specifically authorising JPs to sit nationwide if theoretically required  should put that argument to rest. Unfortunately it does not.  The same old untruth, or to use current terminology, FAKE NEWS, continues to be used to undermine what used to be an unequalled expression of a voluntary giving back to society of experience, time and knowledge by members of the public with a communal spirit increasingly rare in current life. The quote below is from yesterday`s Guardian.

Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate and director of the organisation Transform Justice, says: “However good they are, we need magistrates to be truly representative of the communities they serve if trust in the criminal justice system is to be maintained. We don’t have enough BAME magistrates, and those we have are overwhelmingly middle-class and middle-aged. Where are the magistrates from the Somali, Roma and Romanian communities? Nowhere to be seen.”

The pusillanimous final two sentences sum up quite elegantly the type of reasoning put forward to pursue this so called argument.  In order to serve judgement upon one`s fellow man [for the politically correct baggage followers the term embraces woman] for a start a high quality of use and understanding of the English language is required.  Arabic speaking Somalis who are here have generally been refugees from a brutal dictatorship over the last two decades. Perhaps the second generation might emerge in the next decade who would be able to satisfy the requirements of appointment.  They would be treated by appointment committees on their merits just as every would be magistrate has been, is and will be  without regard to ethnicity.  Roma by their very culture are not citizens living in a fixed locality although there are exceptions of course. The writer quoted above has nothing but invective to shout about in line with her political cause.  Romanians in this country are by study generally manual workers with ultimate intentions to return to their country of origin. I am, incidentally, of the opinion that the current rules on appointment to the magistracy which do not require British citizenship, require re-assessment.

Be careful what you wish for.  That hackneyed phrase could come back to haunt Penelope Gibbs, her acolytes and those funding her.  There is no doubt in my mind that government generally would be happy to see the function of lay magistrates reduced to only presiding over simple offending eg TV licensing sitting in a back office a hundred miles removed from any courtroom.  The day is not so far away when non locally affiliated single district judges will rule supreme in every courtroom.  Perhaps after so called ethnicity comparisons of their middle aged white composition leads to some disquiet she will rue the time bemoaning a dearth of a bench which reflected, warts and all, the population of towns and boroughs in England.  I personally think warts should be removed from the face of justice  not excluding judges, lawyers, police when warts include those unfit irrespective of race, creed, religion, colour perceptions or so called ethnic diversity. If positive discrimination is at the heart of the argument let it be made openly. That would be an honest subject of debate.

The table below might be of some interest


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP IS NO LONGER EXCEPTIONAL

With regard to the possibility of being banned from driving as a "totter" there is no legal definition of "exceptional hardship"; a plea for a substitute sentence being imposed without a disqualification.  Many solicitors publish their own opinions on line as a marketing tool. This is just one example from many.  My general thinking processes when listening to such a plea were that if the offender was of such means that s/he could afford to employ a driver for the six month disqualification sentence then the exceptional hardship plea would not have been made out.  I clearly recollect two cases where very wealthy businessmen tried to make the argument: they failed. I do not know the circumstances of the offender in this case but if the bench did not consider whether or not he could afford a driver then they failed in their duty.  My impression over the years is that too many totters escape their deserts by weak benches being too easily persuaded by silver tongued lawyers.