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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

IS APPEAL TO A HIGHER COURT A LOTTERY OR SUPERIOR JURISPRUDENCE?

The Court of Appeal has yesterday reinstated Dr Bawa-Garba to the medical register. Readers will be knowledgeable of the details. I do not intend to discuss the rights and the wrongs of the final decision or the ramifications for the NHS.  My point is to understand the differences between that court and the Supreme Court from a lay person`s point of view. The major difference is  that the latter is administered under a chief executive and is the highest court in the land. Yesterday`s result I suppose could yet be taken to the Supreme Court.  The brains on those courts are presumably the highest of the applicants who applied. From the lower court some will find their way to that Supreme Court.  Are we to consider that intellectually and legally minded there is a superiority of one over the other?  Or is it that there are two courts sitting consecutively and the verdict of the second supersedes the first? Is a judge in the Court of Appeal verdict which was eventually overturned who differed from his colleagues and in effect brought in the same result as the Supreme Court would do in the future appeal to be considered a more suitable contender for that court than the colleagues whose verdict was overturned?  In a similar argument would it not be prudent for two juries to sit on the most serious cases so that two verdicts of guilty are required for conviction?   In other words with the current system of appeal is it as much a lottery as superior jurisprudence?


Monday, 13 August 2018

JCIO; A MODERN WITCH HUNT

THE JUDICIAL CONDUCT INVESTIGATIONS OFFICE is the star chamber where judicial office holders are held to account.  Its machinations are secret.  Investigations are conducted far from the public eye.  In that respect itself one must suspect the integrity and/or fairness of its deliberations.  Secrecy in government departments is guaranteed to raise questions but I cannot recollect any serious journalistic inquiry or reference to this process little known outside the legal fraternity.

Today it has published its latest findings...........copied below.


The very wording, "remarks........which suggested that she holds prejudices..........." is enough to consider that this accusation was perhaps on less than solid ground.  The fact of the accused`s resignation does not detract from that.  The mental stress of such proceedings would be more than enough to break the resolve of even the strongest personality.  The expense of defending such a charge is enormous. Magistrates have no group defence body. Of course we know nothing of the actual case except the result.  This is not justice.  It could very easily be a modern witch hunt.

Friday, 10 August 2018

MORE BLAH FROM THE MOJ

Criminals with drug, alcohol and mental health problems could avoid jail after ministers branded short prison sentences “ineffective”.
David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, wants “vulnerable” offenders to be given community orders requiring them to undertake treatment instead of going to jail.
But the scheme, being piloted in several regions, risks a backlash from victim groups amid fears that criminals could play the system to avoid prison.
Under the initiative, psychologists present in court assess offenders who could be eligible for a community order. Local panels of justice and health officials will provide information to magistrates and judges so they can determine the appropriate outcome.
The Ministry of Justice said the measures have already resulted in more Community Sentence Treatment Requirements (CSTRs) being issued. Government research has found less re-offending among those who undergo treatment.  In a speech today Mr Gauke will say: “We are all clear that we need to do more to support vulnerable offenders in the community… We need to do more to raise awareness and increase confidence in treatment requirements and I look forward to exploring how these sites progress.”  Since the pilot sites went live in Birmingham, Plymouth, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Sefton on Merseyside, initial figures suggest that more than 400 CSTRs have been issued. 
District Judge Richard Clancy, lead judge at the Complex Case Court in Merseyside, which is part of the Sefton pilot scheme, said: “To have a trial scheme where the court has on-site psychologists capable of testing suitability of a defendant for a mental health treatment requirement, so that such a community order can be made by the judge on the same day without need for adjournment, is a remarkable and innovative move which I fully support.”
Community sentences can include offenders being required to carry out unpaid work as well as attending centres for their addictions or health issues.

The above is copied from The Telegraph.  Over the last two decades governments of both colours have been responsible for closing dozens of mental hospitals and refuges.  Indeed the building closest to my house about three miles away founded in 1851 as an asylum  and later was a NHS  psychiatric hospital was closed in 1993 as were so many others similar. It is now a very desirable address where Premier League players are known to have flats. Judges and magistrates have been aware for many years that the provision for the 70% of offenders who have addiction problems; drugs and/or alcohol is very thin on the ground.  The numbers of professionals available to treat such offenders is nowhere near enough to offer a prompt effective route to abstinence.  The only sensible way forward is to remove the court journey to that of a medical pathway for such offenders. That means that drug taking [not dealing] must be de-criminalised.  Secure facilities must be constructed where appropriate offenders are forcibly incarcerated.  In previous posts I have termed these places as "workhouses for the 21st century" where they are released when it is considered they are clean and no longer a threat to a peaceful society. Some may comment that this  is draconian.  I don`t disagree but where we are now and where this Justice Secretary wants to go are just not possible even with all the press releases and their blah blah blah.  

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

GOOD GOVERNANCE NOT

A great debate is taking place in the USA over the separation of powers; a theme throughout the constitution which is the basis of that country`s democracy and a matter of concern with the current POTUS tending to disparage Congress and Justice Dept.  We have no written constitution as many puffed up parliamentary representatives are not tired of explaining.  This is all very well except that there is no defined path for true democrats to follow when the system seems to be near breaking point.  Those same representatives make it up as they go along; hence the debacle of the Brexit Shambles. Nearer to home and as a topic for a blog which usually focuses on matters legal, paedophilia and its perpetrators are rarely out of the headlines. We have come a very long way in the last twenty years in recognising this heinous lifestyle whether initiated by genetic or environmental disorders as a scourge in our society.  As in all criminal matters the police must investigate, the CPS must charge, the court must deliver verdict and the judge must sentence.  If the chain is broken anywhere along its length justice will not be done or seen to be done. Last year Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for child protection, said that paedophiles who view indecent images should not be charged and taken to court unless they pose a physical threat to children.  He added that low level offenders should simply be placed on the sex offenders register and given counselling and rehabilitation instead. A few days ago the Solicitor General indicated that he would make provision for appealing against sentences for paedophiles which are considered too lenient. 

This complete incongruity between police and courts is more of a tragedy than a farce. But it certainly does the profile of what constitutes good governance no favours.   

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Monday, 6 August 2018

NO END IN SIGHT FOR ADDICTS AND THE DESTRUCTIVE JUSTICE SYSTEM

"Sentencing Collins to eight weeks in custody, bench chairman Graham Commons said that he felt there was a gap in the criminal system to deal with people like him.
He told him: “We don’t normally get customers as cooperative as you, so thank you for being cooperative.

“All I can say is when you’re in custody please try and get the help that you’re asking for.”

The above is copied from the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.  The sentiments of the bench chairman are exactly in line with my thoughts formed many years ago on drug addiction. I have commented similarly many times here but rarely has the current situation been more clearly expressed and reported within a magistrates court. Only by the combined efforts of a courageous Home Secretary, a Justice Secretary who actually has balls and a Health Secretary with no leadership ambitions defying his civil servants and perhaps his boss will anything like the correction action be taken. Needless to tell, the current destructive process for addicts going through the justice system will continue indefinitely.  

Friday, 3 August 2018

A LINCOLNSHIRE DRIVER//NOT A LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER


More than a decade ago national sentencing guidelines were introduced to avoid or minimise sentencing by postcode.  This innovation in hindsight can be marked as the beginning of the end of what had euphemistically been termed "local justice". We have come a long way since then.  Magistrates are now accorded the privilege? of being qualified to sit in any local justice area in England and Wales when previously they were limited to their "home" court.  Whether one agrees or not this is the situation.  

A lawyer addressing magistrates in Boston Magistrates Court pleaded for his drink driving client to have a reduced ban cf similar miscreant in London who could avail himself of the myriad transport choices in that city cf rural Lincolnshire. I must admit that that is the first time I have heard of mitigation along these lines.  Imagine if courts could act retrospectively if the mood chose them.  There could be special reasons based on the supposed historic inbreeding in East Anglia, they could designate fines in bushels utilising the high number of those employed in farming,  two thirds in the county voted to Leave EU so learning French could be a part of community service.  

I suppose the lawyer in question was just trying to do best by his client.  I wonder what his approach would have been faced with mitigating a Lincolnshire poacher? 

Monday, 30 July 2018

A STAR CHAMBER FOR TODAY//THE JCIO

Last week yet another magistrate was castigated by the star chamber AKA the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.  The statement is copied below.


Last week a serving magistrate in Wales had what appears to be self serving portrait of himself and his recreational interests published in Barry and District News

Perhaps somebody can explain why this person should not be appearing before the JCIO?


Friday, 27 July 2018

MAGISTRATES ASSOCIATION AND FUNNY PROBATION MONEY

The current (for how much longer) Justice Secretary today outlines the future vision he has for probation. The underlying theme of his statement is that one of his predecessors, the notorious Chris Grayling, f***** up the whole process of privatisation of much of what we term the probation service.  What is not widely known is that during this upheaval the Magistrates Association accepted money from some of the newly created probation companies.  Not now being a member of said association I have no knowledge of the financial machinations within that organisation. However at that time I posted on the story.  It can be read here

Thursday, 26 July 2018

LATEST CONVICTION RATES


B.A. ABSOLVED OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR 12 DRUNKS HARASSMENT OF PASSENGER

I doubt there are many reading this who have not felt harassment, alarm or distress at the behaviour of fellow travellers when a passenger on an international flight. If even one fellow passenger behaves in such a manner there is just no escape.  Many reports have been filed of pilots diverting to the nearest airport in order that such passengers can be removed from the plane and taken into custody by local law enforcement.  Of course such a diversion will inevitably prove costly for the airline and would be considered only when the captain followed certain protocols.  I have no knowledge of these but a revealing report in the Express a couple of months ago goes a long way to explain procedures to be followed.  It was therefore a surprise for me when I read today of a passenger`s failed attempt to obtain compensation from British Airways for a truly unhappy and alarming flight to Las Vegas when he was harassed by twelve football fans during said flight. It would appear that the flight crew did not follow the protocols in such a situation.  The pilot had many opportunities to divert  from Gander in Ireland, Halifax Nova Scotia and many airports in continental USA.  I hope the claimant who obviously had the means to go to law appeals this appalling decision made by Judge Paul Brooks at Central London County Court.  

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

FLIES, WHISKY, SQUIRRELS & J.P.s` FREEDOM OF SPEECH


               A couple of days ago I was sitting comfortably at my desk top typing away merrily at a speed which allowed me every so often to take my evening dose of muscle relaxant without spilling a drop until unnoticed by me a fly had decided it could no longer resist the smell of pure malt and decided to commit hari kari in a manner that even Rob Roy or Braveheart would have appreciated. Spooning away the now inebriated six legged intruder I took another sip safe in the knowledge that no bacteria could survive the 47% proof alcohol and continued putting the string of words within my cortex into a meaningful order before fingers once again tapped keys. A few minutes later and would you believe the thousand eyed identical cousin of the winged invader had also decided to see if immersion in a fine Scotch malt was worth dying for. So for all makers of fly traps I have a tip……bait them with your favourite tipple from the glens.The imbibing was an absolute necessity after coming upon two stories which for me became very personal indeed. 

Beatrix Potter in 1903 little realised that a charming story of a red squirrel would in its own sweet way lead to the conviction of a man at Burton Magistrates` Court under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006; another of these pieces of useless legislation that passed without a whimper through the bowels of a rotten parliament to be excreted unsuspectingly in the path of many right minded citizens going about their everyday duties of doing the best for themselves, their families and utilising the little piece of England that most would know as their garden. The original Squirrel Nutkin was Sciurus vulgaris a red squirrel. A native of this island it lives in coniferous woodland and survives on a diet of nuts and seeds. Around the time of the publication of Squirrel Nutkin the story goes that a pair of grey squirrels Sciurus carolinensis was introduced to Britain and has led to a current population of about two and a half million. Unlike the red which is endangered and is now confined to very few areas in Northern England and Scotland the grey is a wonderful example of Darwinism at its best. It is widespread everywhere and is as much a pest to suburban environments as its cousin the rat. Until 2006 like many wild creatures its welfare was covered by the Wild Mammals [Protection]Act 1986 which protects all wild mammals from cruelty. At its core the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 has in its first line the following:-(1) In this Act, except subsections (4) and (5), “animal” means a vertebrate other than man.
Bit of a catch all is that clause. Break a mouse`s back with a trap and one is caught. 



Magistrates must apply the law which in my interpretation means that if that law is broken the offender is guilty…no doubts, no ifs, no buts……s/he is guilty but if a bench takes a view that the charge need not have been brought or is relying on the letter rather than the spirit of the law there are disposals which can indicate this; an absolute or conditional discharge can be applied and the costs requested can be discounted to zero if thought appropriate. In 2010 Burton Magistrates in my opinion took a somewhat perverse view when Raymond Elliot admitted causing unnecessary suffering to a grey squirrel by trapping and drowning it. He was given a six month conditional discharge but ordered to pay £1,547 prosecution costs. Grey squirrels are pests. I have had them ruin plants in my garden, steal food left out for birds, eat birds` eggs, invade my loft causing a nasty mess and via a chimney come into my house causing havoc. I have used traps and a high powered air gun to rid myself of them and I continue doing so. This law is itself a trap. It is an example of all that was on the surface touchy feely about Blair and New Labour but red in tooth and claw underneath. So if this legislation is used to bully any reader here for exterminating a mammal which is called vermin by any other name think thoroughly before pleading guilty because an Act which has as its first line quoted above makes us all guilty.And to the second matter this week in which I had a personal connection being a bench chairman at the time; the fellow Justice of the Peace who was forced to apologise by senior judges for saying in court to an immigrant that “he had abused our hospitalitywas only saying what many of my colleagues and I have said in various contexts in a variety of formats to those from abroad who have appeared consistently before us for usually common offences of no insurance, shoplifting, affray etc etc. We are supposed to be local people with local knowledge dispensing local justice but that is no longer the case. But we certainly are not mouthpieces for high level individuals who usually describe shovels as long handled implements with a metal bit at the end for digging the earth. The details of the incident were not  disclosed whether to protect the J.P. or to protect the grand members of the higher judiciary who with their high handedness once again were seen to be reverting to form of being above rather than part of society.



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Monday, 23 July 2018

LEGS CROSSED IN YORK

Urinating in public is not an action that I would think takes place to cause a disturbance or offence.  It takes place usually  because there are no public facilities available.  During normal office hours most town centres will have public toilets open. Whether or not these toilets are kept in a state of cleanliness or whether or not there is a charge is a matter for the local council and its tax payers.  As an example in the City of York  no public toilets are open after 8pm and indeed most close at 5.00pm or 6.00pm.  However in an obviously coordinated  report eight counts of urinating in public so far this year after a crack down by City of York Council and North Yorkshire Police have been publicised.  But in only one instance has the time of the offence been listed. In the circumstances I don`t think that was an oversight. Indeed it is quite possible that listing the stated time of that particular offence as "after midnight" was the oversight.  The underlying problem is that York as with many cities, does not provide safe clean toilet facilities when they are most needed and that is 24 hours a day seven days a week.  It is a matter of shame for those brought to court and for those who dispense council tax. Chester is another city with a similar problem.  With an ageing population still wishing to enjoy evenings out and having to cope with subtle and not so subtle changes in their physiological processes local councils must take this matter more seriously.  Synchronised media reports like the one indicated earlier are a cheap way for jobsworth people and organisations to make a lot of noise. But when police and the legal system are involved in this charade it sickens me. It might not be the BBC and Sir Cliff Richard but the only difference is the scale. 

Friday, 20 July 2018

SEAGULLS , CRIME STATISTICS AND DEMOCRACY

Everyone is aware that the agencies, words and figures and associated numbers which constitute crime statistics are according to what Humpty Dumpty said, "Meaning what I want them to mean".  This was never so apposite as currently. After six years under the control of an incompetent Home Secretary who is now revealed in all her disgrace undisguised as an incompetent Prime Minister those who rule us cannot escape the fact that disastrously falling police numbers have been a major contributor to rising crime; particularly crime that involves violence and murder. This post and this blogger do not need to reel off details which are well known to readers but sometimes the Alice in Wonderland world in which the aforesaid agencies which contribute to what we laughingly term our criminal justice system is not confined to the imagination of Lewis Carrol.  Today The Times in adjoining pages publishes the story of how the police in Somerset have asked the public for reports on a man who is suspected of bashing a seagull against a wall after it stole his chips and follows that with the revelation that 90% of crimes result in nobody being charged. 






We are a laughing stock at so many levels in society. Authority in many departments from MPs waiving pairing rules in a critical vote then denying it was deliberate to the Director of Public Prosecutions failing in her duties that JUSTICE must be done to ALL and yet allowed to continue in office until her contract ends instead of being relieved of her duties adds yet another notch to those who think there is an easy answer to this country`s problems.  This is how democracy breaks down; not by smashing windows and marching through the streets but by those in power failing to keep the standards which society demands or should demand to retain respect of the governed. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

AN EVERYDAY STORY AT COURT

Sometimes events enmeshed within the legal system give rise to thoughts of "How can this happen? Is nobody prepared to tell it how it is?" It is no wonder that Franz Kafka who gave his name to the description of such events {Kafkaesque}  is most well known for his novel "The Trial" published posthumously in 1925. 

Convicted sex offenders must re register with police annually and give notice of address change within three days. This offender failed to do so and was summonsed to appear at Kirklees Magistrates Court. He turned up drunk and was refused admission to the building. As a result he was bailed to appear to appear at a subsequent time. Much valued court time was wasted, the case is still unanswered and the registration etc has still not been completed. Surely it would have been sensible to admit him with security escort, place him in the cells for contempt of court if he had not sobered up for the bench and keep him either in the cells or at a police station for appearance the following day.  Perhaps my cynicism of current practice is showing........it`s only three years since I retired.........but truly there has been something lost in the justice system if a drunk sex offender can be allowed to continue to go on his way in these circumstances? 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

COURT CLOSURES ARE A PRELUDE TO ANARCHY

Within the legal fraternity in its widest definition there used to be a belief in the concept of "local justice".  In the centuries that magistrates` courts have been in existence "local" has been extended from parish, to district, to borough, to county, to region. Now the terms under which magistrates undertake their duties specify that their remit is "national".  When the Ministry of Justice initiated its closure programme for courts in 2010 faint objections were made on the grounds of accessibility. These objections are now at their height when the predictions of "justice denied" owing to travel times and costs made by parliamentarians and court workers have proved accurate. It was widely reported that the MOJ insisted that even for court appearances in rural areas eg Cumbria and Northumbria, Devon and Cornwall, North Wales and East Anglia  no witnesses would be be required to travel on public transport for longer than one hour.  That commitment has always been denied by the MOJ.

On March 3rd 2018 The Times published the following:-

Reforms to the justice system, including court closures and a move to virtual hearings, will have a damaging impact on access to justice, MPs have warned. In a letter to Lucy Frazer, the junior justice minister, they say the elderly, mothers of young children and those without internet access will be disadvantaged by Ministry of Justice plans. The justice select committee says that proposals flout the principle that 90 per cent of people should be able to reach courts by public transport in one hour. The plans have no “convincing policy justification” and “appear to favour value for money over the principle of access to justice”. They also criticise the “increasing reliance on virtual and online justice”, pursued in the absence of evaluation of pilot projects. A ministry spokesman said: “This government is investing over £1 billion to reform and modernise the justice system, making it more convenient and providing better value for the taxpayer.”

In 2015 the House of Common Justice Select Committee published its findings after questioning many witnesses when investigating the magistracy including those which related to travel times to courts   The situation today has worsened.  Even in 2016 the MOJ denied it had set maximum travel times to court on public transport. But the truth will out.  The situation in Cambridge this year has become a topic of further debate about the terminological inexatitude of the weasels in Petty France.  Similar noises of the real state of affairs in rural areas with court closures can be heard in Suffolk

Like so much else emanating from this government there has come about a total non belief in the veracity of senior ministers when describing policy and its ramifications, the statements from the very pinnacle of power re Brexit being just the most obvious but the odious tendency to lie when a cover up is failing will have the most serious consequences for a population beguiled into believing that simplistic populist measures are in its best interests. That way lies anarchy and that is the way we seem to be heading. 

Friday, 13 July 2018

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Recently the big chief of the Magistrates Association was interviewed by The Times for its law pages.  Even a man from Mars would have thought that that would be a perfect opportunity for this representative of 15,000 JPs to have made plain the ramifications for justice of the Ministry of Justice`s cost cutting and incompetence over the last few years especially when the prisons and the courts are still reeling from the policies of a certain Chris Grayling; perhaps the most incompetent cabinet minister of the last decade although there are others vying for that honour. How more wrong could our alien have been. Apart from slight gentlemanly veiled criticism of the effect on travelling times to court for some and innocuous comments on recruitment an opportunity to say it like it is was neglected.  I have no doubt that this was no oversight. The virtual removal of legal aid at magistrates` courts, the never ending problems of interpretation services, the emasculation of probation services not forgetting the financial tie up the M.A. has with some providers, the apparent intention to phase in video courts in a wholesale manner, the risk to justice of the rubber stamping single justice procedure and the apparent acceptance of the normality of two person benches........all these problems emanating from the bowels of Petty France were obvious by their absence in the interview.  So it`s same as usual. A chairman of the Magistrates Association given a public platform considers his future gong more important than risking being honest about the problems facing a society`s courts system. Once again an opportunity to tell the real truth about justice today is missed. 




Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Monday, 9 July 2018

SALAMI SLICING OUR FREEDOM//LIBERTY REDUCTION ORDERS

Changes have been made to our justice system in the last two decades which would have raised cries of horror from parliamentarians of the 19th and 20th centuries who were as concerned with liberties for the populace as they were with party politics. During my time on the bench ASBOs became the easy way to control behaviour which some described as arbitrary; a seemingly innocuous civil order which opened the door to five years custody if broken. This was followed by Drink Banning Orders in 2010. All they do is displace the problem drinker from one area to another. If ever legislation is seen to be like moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic DBOs are a prime example.  CRASBOs, Criminal Anti Social Behaviour Orders followed; another attempt by the Home Office under Teresa May to limit the options of those who might have behaved not in accordance with some unstated standards. Since my retirement Community Protection Notices have been a favoured method of exerting control over those deemed to have caused some sort of offence to others whether or not such behaviour could be proved to be dangerous to society as a whole or to individuals.  The senior legal profession has as usual remained silent on the introduction of these liberty reduction orders.

I don`t often agree with much that is written in the Guardian but this piece from Saturday`s edition is a must for those seeking greater understanding of what is happening to justice and individual liberty under our very noses which seem unable to smell the poison emanating from the MOJ and a supine parliament which is in intellectual decline as never before allowing another slice of our freedom to be taken from us. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

AN IGNORANT BARONESS

House of Lords 3rd July 2018

Read below the enlightening remarks of an unelected law maker. Booted upstairs she spouts this rubbish.  If she believes it she ought to know the Sentencing Guidelines. If she`s looking for publicity by being outspoken she should resign.  One more reason to abolish the House of Lords.

Baroness Corston Labour


My Lords, I, too, welcome the fact that the Government have abandoned their prison building programme in favour of women’s community centres. That is certainly better than anything that happened under the coalition. However, I point out to the Minister that in 2017 one-quarter of the women sentenced to prison were serving sentences of less than one month, and 217 women were sentenced to less than two weeks. What action are the Government going to take to stop magistrates imposing these ludicrous sentences?

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

WHEN LEGAL ADVISERS BARE THEIR TEETH



J.P.s are appointed on the basis of their possessing many of the qualities thought to be necessary to do the job. Whether the job template needs altering is another matter for another time. Although there are lawyers on the bench there are also many other highly qualified people and some not so qualified in academic terms. The legal adviser is there to ensure that decisions made by justices are lawful although that does not preclude a very small minority of decisions going to appeal. I myself have been on a bench whose decision on a property matter some years ago went to appeal at the Queens Bench Division; it failed. Over the fog of time I recollect that our legal adviser when told of our original decision was surprised but when she heard of our structured approach to reach that decision admitted it could not be faulted. And that is as it should be. In my opinion she performed her duty to the letter…..that her conclusion might have differed from ours had she been on the bench instead of in front of it is not relevant. 

These thoughts passed briefly through the space between my ears a couple of months later when we were considering a case of possession of a bladed article. Unless a person has a specific good reason for having the item in his possession he is guilty. In addition that reason must also apply to the moment of possession. So a carpenter eg who uses a particular knife for his job but is found in possession on a Saturday night out is guilty but if he were in possession one morning driving his van between jobs the defence could apply.  Our defendant, an illiterate Kurdish man in his sixties, had been found with a small fruit knife at the bottom of a shopping bag when stopped at a department store on suspicion of committing theft. His defence was that since he had severe untreated dental problems the knife was needed to cut fruit the mainstay of his diet. We were told that he made some money doing odd jobs here and there and he confirmed that he ate a lot of fruit at home and when he was out working because it was relatively cheap and nutritious but that he needed the knife as his teeth were so bad biting was almost impossible. At this point he demonstrated to all that his few remaining canine and incisors were very loose. The prosecutor herself was on shaky ground and this wizened old man held fast to his version of events. The total sum of the CPS evidence was the finding of the knife which was of course admitted. 

Some legal advisers take a more pro active approach to their role than others. It was my practice to tell the adviser that either we would ring for him/her when required or to allow a certain time before joining our discussions. Certainly, unless the situation was very unusual, I did not invite the adviser to join us at the beginning of our deliberations; any legal advice being given in open court. 

In the above case we decided that there was a valid reason for possession and asked our L/A to join us as we began to write our reasons. He asked us to confirm that we had followed a structured approach to our decision and that we truly were aware of the legal interpretation of possession at that moment. We explained that we considered the “moment” was an ongoing event owing to the defendant`s continuing inability to eat fruit in the normal way and cutting small pieces was reasonable activity with the small kitchen knife. However instead of accepting our decision he continued in an attempt to change our minds. He did not succeed. Our decision making was based on a correct application of the judicial structure in which we all received very high quality training and reviews. 

The L/A referred to above in the property case that went to the Divisional Court accepted our decision when assured it had been correctly derived although she admitted her conclusion might have differed. She became a Crown Court judge. There is a moral there somewhere.


Thursday, 28 June 2018

PUTNEY BRIDGE JOGGER JOGS FREE

We are often told that this country is the most image recorded in the world. There are an estimated 5 million cameras between John O Groats and Lands End and the density of such technology is highest in London and the major cities. In the capital the central boroughs including the Cities of London and Westminster are the most densely packed with such optical technology.  Putney Bridge, a major traffic artery over the River Thames, has cameras yet all this technical innovation, some would say police snooping, was unable to identify a jogger who last August attempted to injure or worse a woman pedestrian on the bridge. When accessing said webcam today it is no surprise; the picture is blank at 11.15am.   Or is a more likely reason that a man attempting murder has got off scot free because the Met Police are so thin on the ground that they can`t devote the resources to catch somebody who didn`t actually succeed in his criminality?

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

FRAUD RUNNER

Sourcing news which might be of interest to magistrates especially when returning to the keyboard after a time away rarely fails to surprise.  But surprise doesn`t do justice IMHO to the man who was jailed for assuming the identity of a registered runner at the London Marathon.  He was convicted of *fraud by false representation; an either way offence. The report is available here.  It would seem that the sentence of four months custody was based on the court`s maximum with one third discount for a guilty plea.  It is not unlikely that sentencing for the other offences was concurrent. My question is just how on earth could a lay bench justify in these times such a heavy sentence. Of course we know nothing about any previous convictions he might have had but considering that only about 4% of those sentenced at the lower court receive a custodial sentence this outcome seems arbitrary.  I would opine that if his representative did not immediately file an appeal against sentence there and then she failed in her professional duty.  About a half of such appeals succeed. 


*Fraud by false representation (Section 2)

The defendant:
  • made a false representation 
  • dishonestly 
  • knowing that the representation was or might be untrue or misleading 
  • with intent to make a gain for himself or another, to cause loss to another or to expose another to risk of loss.
The offence is entirely focused on the conduct of the defendant.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

THE END OF JUSTICES OF THE PEACE IS NIGH

Having enjoyed the fruits and benefits of a Mediterranean lifestyle albeit including the facilities of air conditioning, superb swimming  and poolside overeating and drinking I am surprised that I have found no comment here or elsewhere on the MOJ`s seeking to appoint a "National Leadership Magistrate" the subject of my previous post. With so many local judicial areas advertising for new magistrates and the increasing retirements of those past their sell by date many benches will soon be constituted by those who have little or no knowledge of what once was the independent magistracy.  The Magistrates Association, a voluntary organisation paid for by subscription, at one time did actually appear to represent Justices of the Peace in their collisions with government.  It failed, however, owing to its articles of association in being a truly members` protective body akin to the BMA and individual J.P.s had no backing when faced with problems concerning their behaviour or words which were deemed to be against the ethos of their position as the junior members of the judiciary.  Indeed many would argue that they were held to higher standards than their seniors. Over my tenure Justices Clerks, their Deputies and legal advisors seemed to exert ever more influence on individuals in their judicial functions; functions which were and should still be for individual magistrates and benches collectively to exercise according to the law and their consciences. A classic case occurred at my court after the riots of August 2011. Pre sitting "advice" from the DJC was that eligible [either way] cases were to be sent to the crown court. My bench disagreed on a particular matter and retained the case. After the legal advisor had made that advice explicit in open court I told a packed courtroom that we were acting against her advice and that she had done her job as she understood it.  There were no repercussions although I`m unsure what the situation would be if a similar situation occurred today. It was the custom at my former court to hold three bench meetings annually where any relevant matters could be discussed informally. The DJC would normally be present. About ten years into my appointment at one such meeting we were "honoured" by the presence of the Justices Clerk; a man ruling over twelve courts. I recollect asking a question or making a point which brought said gentleman to his feet demanding discussion of that particular topic was not to be continued. Naturally I objected to his interference and persuaded the meeting that we should not be told by him when we can or cannot discuss an item on our agenda. Shortly afterwards became the establishment of the National Bench Chairmens` Forum. With the drastic decline in the numbers of magistrates beginning to be felt corresponding to a similar lack of influence by the M.A. and courts closing right left and centre Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service became increasingly active in the life of the average J.P. who was being treated as an unpaid employee as previously individual courts` control of their affairs was taken over, eg rota functions.  

The appointment of a National Leadership Magistrate is nothing short of appointing a government stooge to validate the extinction of J.P.s function in our courts.  An extract from my post on the topic of June 14th is copied below.  `Nuff said!

 Role Description

The National Leadership Magistrate (NLM) will be the leadership magistrate for England and Wales and is responsible for leading the development and execution of the judiciary’s long-term strategy for magistrates.  The National Leadership Magistrate will serve a three-year term.
The NLM will liaise directly with the Senior Judiciary, HMCTS and external stakeholders.  The NLM will provide a voice for the magistracy at national level and communicate with bench chairs, magistrates and other stakeholders.

Duties and Responsibilities

  1. To lead the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive (MLE).
  2. To promote the efficient and effective operation of magistrates’ courts. Sharing best practice and assisting in the development and implementation of national and regional strategies.
  3. To communicate effectively with the judiciary, HMCTS and other key stakeholders, whilst recognising the need to respect confidentiality, as appropriate.
  4. In conjunction with the Regional Leadership Magistrates, to develop national and regional agendas.
  5. To represent the views of the magistracy at national level.
  6. To provide a positive role model for the magistracy.
  7. Provide effective leadership in a rapidly changing environment;


Thursday, 14 June 2018

THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE IS SEEKING A TOAD


I consider the following announcement earlier today of considerable significance so I`ve stopped packing the sun cream for a minute or two to copy it below. The toady who is appointed will no more be representative of JPs than a pig is representative of farmers.  The person selected will be an arrogant bore seeking another post to justify his/her future CBE. This is just another milestone in the road to the total elimination of JPs from our court system



Expression of Interest: National Leadership Magistrate

|News|Magistrates
We are now inviting expressions of interest for the role of National Leadership Magistrate (NLM).   This is a judicial process being administered by HMCTS.
There is one vacancy, with the successful candidate taking up their position on 1 October 2018.
The closing date for expressions of interest is 6 July 2018
Term length: The NLM will serve a three-year term.
Eligibility: Eligibility criteria and requirements for the role is set out in the attached role description.
Appointments Process
Applicants who would like to express an interest in this role should complete the expressions of interest form and return it to the email address at the top of the application. Forms received after the closing date will not be considered.
Interviews dates are subject to panel members’ availability and will be confirmed with applicants as soon as possible. It is likely however, that they will take place late July/early August.

References

A reference is required before the sift takes place and will be used to inform decisions throughout the selection process.
Your referee should be someone who is well placed to comment on how you meet the requirements set out in the job description.  They should be able to provide specific examples that demonstrate how your skills match the qualities and abilities for this role.
Your referee will be contacted very soon after receipt of applications so please provide an accurate email address.  The deadline for return of all completed reference forms is noon on 20 July.
Please ensure you provide the name, email address and contact telephone number of your referee.
Please advise your referee that the preferred method of return is via email – hard copy returns will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances.
Please check with your referee that they do not have a conflict of interest in this exercise and that they are able and content to support you within the required timescale.  You should not nominate an individual who you know to be a candidate within the exercise as a referee.

Sifting

All applications will be sifted by a judicial panel, who will consider the information provided in your application form and in the reference.  A decision will be taken on whether your application should progress to interview stage.  You will receive a letter advising you on the outcome of the sift.
No feedback will be available for this stage.

Interview

If you are shortlisted, you will be invited to an interview with a judicial panel.  Details of dates and location will be sent with any invitation to attend.
The interview will consist of the panel seeking evidence from you against the qualities and abilities for the post.
You will receive a letter (via email) advising you of the outcome of your interview, should you be invited to attend. It is anticipated that you will be informed of the outcome of your interview early/mid August.
If you are unsuccessful at interview, you can request written feedback.  You should make this request to Kelly.dyke@judiciary.uk within four weeks of the date of the letter informing you that you have not been successful.  We will aim to respond to your request within 20 working days.
If you have any queries in relation to the administration of this process, please contact legal.operations@justice.gov.uk.

Role Description

The National Leadership Magistrate (NLM) will be the leadership magistrate for England and Wales and is responsible for leading the development and execution of the judiciary’s long-term strategy for magistrates.  The National Leadership Magistrate will serve a three-year term.
The NLM will liaise directly with the Senior Judiciary, HMCTS and external stakeholders.  The NLM will provide a voice for the magistracy at national level and communicate with bench chairs, magistrates and other stakeholders.

Duties and Responsibilities

  1. To lead the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive (MLE).
  2. To promote the efficient and effective operation of magistrates’ courts. Sharing best practice and assisting in the development and implementation of national and regional strategies.
  3. To communicate effectively with the judiciary, HMCTS and other key stakeholders, whilst recognising the need to respect confidentiality, as appropriate.
  4. In conjunction with the Regional Leadership Magistrates, to develop national and regional agendas.
  5. To represent the views of the magistracy at national level.
  6. To provide a positive role model for the magistracy.
  7. Provide effective leadership in a rapidly changing environment;

Person Specification

Essential

  1. Be a bench chair or have been a bench chair in the three years preceding the recruitment campaign.
  2. Be eligible to remain a serving magistrate during the full term of office.
  3. Be able to put aside necessary time for the role.
  4. Have an ability to build effective relationships with bench Chairs, other judiciary and agencies, such as HMCTS, Probation, CPS and Advisory Committees.
  5. Be a team player.
  6. Have excellent communication skills.
  7. Understand current issues affecting bench management
  8. Be comfortable with basic aspects of IT (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, eJudiciary) and interpreting magistrates’ court performance data and similar reports.
  9. Have an ability to perform under pressure and support others under pressure.

Desirable

  1. Experience of other leadership roles within the magistracy or externally.
 This role will require a very significant investment of your time and frequent travel will be necessary.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

THIS J.P.`s OUT OF THE OFFICE

Unless there is momentous news concerning magistrates and their courts this blogger will be on holiday for a couple of weeks exchanging the keyboard for the finest humous and kleftiko that Crete can provide. And no doubt a shot or three of Ouzo might come his way.

Τα λέμε σύντομα

Monday, 11 June 2018

CANADA AND DRUG USE

The decriminalisation of hard drugs has been debated here and elsewhere for decades.  My personal view is that the current so called "war on drugs" has failed and that the current legal situation has no long term future.  Various small countries and US states have legalised the use of marijuana.  It is likely that the first G7 nation, Canada, will follow suit.  An interesting article was published last week in the Guardian a newspaper whose "liberal progressive" opinions are well known.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

COURT CLOSURES 2010- 2017 & MY 1000TH POST


Short and simple but NOT very sweet: court closures listed today which shame the MOJ

This my 1000th post on this site since I moved here in 2013.  The previous four years on a now defunct site when I was active contained 2000+ posts.  I  have my doubts as to whether I`ll be writing here in four years never mind producing posts at a similar rate. Anyway thanks to all who occasionally give a few minutes of their time perusing my offerings.

THE WHOLE SORRY TALE OF MOJ CUTS

From time to time there are, in every walk of life, unheralded events which often are a more accurate indicator of the underlying situations behind those events  than any number of statistical analyses or television interviews by those in authority.  The closure of a third of magistrates courts in the last decade was justified by the Ministry of Justice on cost saving.  But that`s not the message that the dozens of weasels in the MOJ press and PR department  distributed.  Efficiency was going to be improved without any significant downside.  Travelling times for participants to, from and between the reducing available courts were manipulated, predictable detrimental effects of video court "justice" were ignored, communication problems were similarly held to be simply overcome. Add to the mix the limited possibility of legal aid for many? most? defendants and a system that once was held in high regard was seen from outside Petty France as crumbling before our very eyes.  In Shropshire an example of a relatively minor unheralded event (for non participants) being symptomatic of the underlying malaise more or less tells the whole sorry tale.    

Repetition can sometimes, I confess, be a little boring but that does not necessarily reduce the underlying truth.  As a society we are failing the lowest drug addled,addicted and often  mentally impaired  members of society.  Sometimes we lock them up and sometimes we are so much in despair that we don`t.  Pressures are increasing to abandon completely custodial sentences currently available to magistrates.  We are told that rehabilitation will reduce offending for those currently being sent to custody within current magistrates` sentencing guidelines.  It is, however, because that cabinet member of supreme failure Chris Grayling emasculated the probation service on the basis of political ideology that it will be years before there will be confidence in truly being able to undertake such changes.  But we have been here before. His successor three times removed as justice secretary, David Gauke, has said that 3,111 prison officers were recruited between October 2016 and March 2018, surpassing a government pledge to recruit 2,500 prison officers by the end of this year.  What he doesn`t say is that approximately 5,000 prison officers lost their jobs between 2010 and 2016.  The MOJ instigated enormous cuts in those years ignoring the outcries from those who were in a perfect position to predict the outcome. 

Just two of thousands of cases of recidivism which our current sentencing guidelines cannot cope with are available here and here.  Similar offenders  are being sentenced in every courtroom every day all over the country. It is a national disgrace. It must not continue.

There must be out of the box thinking on what can be done for those tens of thousands locked up by my former colleagues annually.  Although forming only about 4% of all those sentenced the costs to society are enormous.  My out of the brain box remedy is a workhouse designed and staffed for the 21st century.  For those interested just type "workhouse" in the search box for my more detailed previous posts on the topic.  

Thursday, 31 May 2018

MAGISTRATES RETIRING AGE

For as long as I can remember since joining the bench there have been two underlying causes on their wish list from magistrates individually and as a collective; to increase sentencing powers and to increase retirement age.  As far as the former is concerned there is absolutely no chance of that being granted unless the legal climate experiences a  catastrophic warming.  The question of compulsory retirement at age 70 is more contentious. Firstly the trend for some time as the baby boomers retire is to under resource replacements owing to the gradual but steady increase in District Judges who by their very positioning have been ready, willing and able to forfeit the dubious advantages of steady employment or self employment  in the private sector for a pensioned position in the civil service where they are unlikely, in line with their senior colleagues, to question the actions or directions of the executive paying their wages until they are in a receipt of a juicy pension. There is of course the equality [no discrimination] argument where age related compulsory retirement is illegal in the private sector. Add to that the very reasonable argument that oldies are holding up the progression of younger magistrates and the arguments for and against are likely to continue.  The government certainly is not offering any clues to its thinking judging by the answer below to a recent parliamentary question. So don`t hold your breath.  You`re liable to suffocate before there is a change of policy at the MOJ.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

SINGLE JUSTICE PROCEDURE

The Single Justice Procedure is governed by The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.  Many magistrates, I believe, are not fully supportive of the process.  The Magistrates Association has yet to make clear its opinion.  As with some decisions made by individual JPs as to where they want to sit the SJP is for volunteers.  But more to the point it is not justice seen to be done in a court the doors of which are open for anyone to witness the daily activities where  c95% of the criminal justice system takes place. It is a clear example of where the Ministry of Justice and its  wunderkind, Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service, know the price of everything and the value of naught.  It is a system to save money pure and simple.  It is a moot point whether or not justice is done behind these closed doors where SJP takes place.  Here is a recently published report in the Norwich Evening News. 

Our once admired criminal justice system is being salami sliced to an unrecognisable tick box procedure of an assumption of guilt which the defendant must overturn.  It doesn`t just take place at crown courts where the shifty shenanigans of the Crown Prosecution Service often with the collaboration of the police have shown activities which every honest citizen of this country must find to be blots on our social landscape.  Magistrates are coming under enormous pressures both personal and procedural. Ever since Criminal Justice Simple Speedy Summary [CJSSS] became the watchword a decade ago  government removed its gloves and made it clear it would fight dirty to reduce costs.  Indeed the arch proponent of remaining in the EU Kenneth Clarke when he was Lord Chancellor in 2010 was the very first minister after the election to offer a reduced budget for his department in accord with the Treasury demands; 23%.  His current pathetic performance indicates just how much he values our legal system never mind the result of June 23rd 2016.  Supine individuals have followed him like chocolate soldiers in a heatwave within Petty France  to emasculate our justice system. With a prime minister who in her previous incarnation cared nothing for the rights of the individual I fear we have still some way to travel along that insidious path where only the rich and/or the famous have the wherewithal to fight the state when accused of wrong doing.   

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

MAXINE DE BRUNNER: CHUTZPAH OR ARROGANCE

I had intended to begin by describing the topic today as an individual who had chutzpah:- the classic definition of which is that given by Leo Rosten: "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."  But in the case of Maxine de Brunner of whom I last posted last Thursday May 24th that definition just doesn`t do justice to the unashamed arrogance of this woman.  When she was an Assistant Commissioner at the Met that arrogance should have been extirpated if those at the very top of that organisation had any wider concerns of their public role apart from polishing the turds within their fiefdom.  Still I suppose old habits die hard. 

It seems that the aforesaid disgraced police chief who has cost her previous employer over a million pounds in trying to defend the indefensible seeks to persuade business organisations that her opinions and advice are worth paying for in the form of presentations filtered through her speech giving agent Speakers Associates.  On the basis that the old adage; a fool and his money are soon parted, applies to business I can only assume that any company that employs this person deserves to go down the pan sooner rather than later. 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

MAXINE DE BRUNNER: A DISGRACE TO THE POLICE

Recently BBC TV has been showing short docudramas from forty years ago; "Law and Order" in which the corruption of the Metropolitan Police, often hinted at but rarely investigated, is depicted in all its rotten reality. That rottenness has never been entirely eliminated owing perhaps to political awareness of what problems and embarrassment the revelations would cause or the fact that the corrosive constituents are still in place; greed, pride and ego. 

The history of an ex senior Met officer Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner is a history of all that is wrong with the Met. I first commented upon her activities  on 10th June 2016  and then a month later and finally on 19th August 2016.  This sad sordid story is now concluded. Chief Inspector  Adrian Denby a decorated and respected officer has been awarded £870K as a result of de Brunner`s sex discriminating actions against him. That it has taken two years to achieve the wronged officer`s vindication is a disgrace.  That the Met is considering an appeal compounds its folly. What is equally disturbing is that the Home Office refuses to divulge under the Freedom of Information Act the numbers of senior police officers convicted of misconduct; such refusal being only an indication of how serious misconduct by senior officers is on the increase and that the confidence of we the public would take a massive hit if the truth were known.