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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Friday, 10 November 2017
MAGISTRATES` COURTS` SECRET VERDICTS
In Sheriff Courts under solemn procedure a requirement for a verdict is simple; the jury is asked its decision and whether it is by majority or unanimous. Crown Court judges will ask for a unanimous decision or a majority of 10 to 2 if that change would render a verdict. Anything else and a mistrial would be declared. The Supreme Court is constituted so that a majority decision is accepted where unanimity cannot be achieved. The form of verdict is announced publicly in both courts. Where it is not announced publicly is in the Magistrates` Court with a lay bench where a bench of three having made its decision does not indicate whether it is a majority or unanimous decision. During my active career I found and still find that this is not justice being seen to be done. It is secret justice. At the very least declaring a majority decision would give an indication as to the strength of the case presented by the defendant declared guilty. At the most it would allow the offender who had the means and/or the ability to consider the option of appealing to the Crown Court where the case would be reheard in front of a judge sitting with two different Justices of the Peace. Indeed taking it a step further, a majority decision could be grounds alone to appeal.
I am sensible enough to know that my opinion is not worth even twopence. Such an extension of citizens` rights is totally contradicted by government actions over the last 20 years. Courts are increasingly sacrificing justice for pounds. Magistrates` Court closures affect the poorest of defendants with much increased travel costs; the virtual abolition of Legal Aid for all but the very poorest of the poor has led to increasing numbers of equivocal guilty pleas as has the imposition of court costs eg the now terminated Criminal Courts Charge based on the MOJ`s demands that courts should be self financing: in itself a concept that is incompatible with a nation that pre supposes Justice to be a pillar of democracy.
All this is taking place with a supine parliament the competence of which is being shown almost daily to be devoid of intellect except for a minority of individuals who whilst not being a Burke or Fox or Churchill or Bevan still appear to have a philosophy of good intent for the individual citizen as the basis for their involvement.