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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Monday, 29 January 2018

HENRY VIII AND ROTTEN TOMATOES FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW

"From today (29 January), 9 further terror-related offences will fall within the scheme which allows the public to challenge sentences handed out by the courts."

That sentence is the headline of a press release from the MOJ. Not satisfied with putting obligations to report those suspected of connection with terrorism upon landlords, estate agents, bankers, lawyers and uncle Tom Cobley the spiders at the centre of the Petty France web are seeking to have public opinion increase sentences on those convicted of terror related offences. Not satisfied with offering the judiciary so called sentencing guidelines about which the public has quite rightly no particular interest or knowledge, this government and the Ministry of so called Justice the senior incumbents of the latter being moved in and out like players in a game of musical chairs, seem only to be interested in a week`s favourable headlines.  There is absolutely no logic to this and similar actions. In the release we are informed that, "141 criminals had their sentences increased, helping victims and their families get justice. This is a small proportion of the 80,000 Crown Court cases heard each year, where in the clear majority the judiciary get it right". So because 0.18% of cases are appealed by the Attorney General a whole new avenue of legal activity is opened. If there were true philosophy in this regard it is not unlikely that there would be at the very least a substantial minority of opinion which would welcome the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty for particularly heinous murders multiple murder in the cause of terrorism being a certain candidate. Allowing public opinion to manipulate judicial decision making is no more than seeking favourable headlines from a government which has no sense of purpose and is merely looking for daily uplifts to its polling position. It began with the positioning of the "victim" to a quasi judicial role and has progressed from there.  There is no doubt that the judiciary will be undermined by this development although of course all will remain silent until they are pensioned off. Let us therefore bring back pillory and the stocks and a plentiful supply of rotten tomatoes.  At least that would be an honest expression of letting the public have what government thinks it wants. 

I am no hanger and flogger but neither am I a soft hearted believer in abolishing short sentences or for society to turn the other cheek. But I do believe that for justice to prevail there are many actions that government should take in particular with regard to legal aid and the belief that a digital image can substitute for reality.  I am however just bleating in the wind.  The authoritarianism seeping into our daily lives will only be appreciated when Cobynista Marxists rule over us and Henry VIII powers are in the hands of those who would wield them for the many not the few to our eternal cost.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

WEALTH BUYS INJUSTICE

From time to time in any profession where procedures are often discretionary a ruling body or professional society will issue guidance about preferred methodology or similar such instructions. In the case of motoring offences where there is a choice of adding points to the offender`s license or imposing a disqualification, however short, advice given to me and my colleagues was to impose the requisite number of points to reflect the seriousness of the offence(s).  It seems magistrates at Norwich have not had the benefit of similar advice or were too weak to follow the unwritten guideline when they banned a wealthy businessman for a month instead of imposing 6 points on his license which as a totter would have led to a disqualification for 6 months. 

Once again justice has not been seen to be done and wealth buys injustice. It is another example of a bench being brought into disrepute by those who can afford high quality advocacy to mesmerise an ineffectual bench.   

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

NOT A BRITISH GULAG

Every interested party bar none voices the opinion that our prisons are overcrowded.  There are those who would abolish custodial sentences being available to magistrates` courts.  There are others who would retain custody for offences only involving violence and no others.  There will be other combinations I`m sure with a similar end result in mind.  There is, however, one feature of criminality that is unchallengeable; around 70% of crime is associated in one way or another with alcohol and/or drug abuse.  No amount of tinkering at the edges of this problem will solve it.  There must be a radical change in thinking by government, NHS and all those involved in whatever capacity.  Offending addicts must be removed from the court system and installed in a half way system in conjunction with the NHS where compulsory incarceration and treatment is available.  Those who show quick response could be released before those who reject or fail to respond to treatment adequately.  To those who liken such a proposal to a British gulag I would answer that current practice is proving ineffective and costly and a case like this is just a single example of the thousands that the courts process annually.  But as with so much that needs parliamentary attention,  with an incompetent, ineffective prime minister leading a minority government it could be decades before this aspect of our justice system receives the priority it should.

Monday, 22 January 2018

CPS PRODUCES ITS OWN COURT REPORTS

I have in the past commented on the lack of or poor quality of court reporting in local media although of late there have been some reports along the lines of "A day in the life of a magistrates` court". A year ago I posted on HMCTS producing its own court reports from West Sussex Magistrates` Courts.  It seems that now the Crown Prosecution Service is trying to alter its public persona by publishing its own reports of court proceedings.  I find this a disturbing development.  It seems that by doing this it is attempting to nudge its public image in a direction of its choosing owing to the fact that it is extremely likely that only cases which suit its objectives will be published. Nobody can doubt that the CPS has been subject to adverse criticism recently with its chief officer taking some flak from media and this blogger and others. However this is a sinister approach to improving its performance and I would hope that many in the justice system will indicate their disapproval. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

MORE COURT CLOSURES/MORE GOVT. LIES

This government`s determination to close more magistrates` courts continues.  The belief in Whitehall that video courts can deliver equal justice for all and reduce costs has become as much as a totem for the MOJ as a free at point of use NHS has become for the Health Department. Outside metropolitan areas in particular the MOJ is still providing vastly inaccurate figures for travel times on public transport for those who will be required to spend up to two hours in making their way to a courtroom for a 9.30am start including time for consultation with lawyer. 

To quote from the Northern Echo; " The Ministry of Justice is proposing to close Northallerton Magistrates Court – but its analysis states it is quicker for some people living near the town to reach Middlesbrough.The proposal to close Northallerton Magistrates Court involves transferring its work between magistrates courts at York, Harrogate, Skipton and Middlesbrough.It is currently running a consultation over the proposal.But a table which compares estimated travel times from local towns which currently use the court, appears to show it takes people one hour and 48 minutes to travel the 19 miles from Richmond to Northallerton. It also estimates it takes just under three hours by public transport, at two hours 52 minutes."

 The report continues; "Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said: “This government is investing over £1billion to reform and modernise the justice system – making it more convenient, easier to use, and providing better value for the taxpayer.
“As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for Court buildings and assess whether some are still necessary to provide effective access to justice.
"Where physical courts are to close, every penny raised will be put back into funding changes which will make justice easier to access for all at the same time as offering protections for the most vulnerable.” 

Let me overlook the misuse of the word "investing". The correct term is "spending". "More convenient and easier to use"; that is nothing short of a lie.  The sale of court buildings, often at giveaway prices, is what is funding the so called digital revolution in our courts. Video courts are valuable under defined limited circumstances eg when prisoners have to appear in court. Video representation for them, usually with a lawyer in court overseeing the situation, is an efficient way to to proceed when resources are limited but for Joe Blogs encouraged at every stage to plead guilty to appear on a screen to answer a charge will lead to injustices to numerous to be collated. This is a one way development to remove citizens` rights.  It is to be deplored. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

MORE ON EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP

“The reasons for exceptional hardship are proven because you will lose your employment and a roof over your head.” This is an extract from a statement made recently by a bench chairman at Manchester Magistrates` Court. Last week I posted on exceptional hardship.  Unfortunately for motoring law and the principle of deterrence as exemplified by the totting legislation of "12 points means disqualification", the law IMHO has failed in this example. The Magistrates Association has published guidance on this matter; para 4) v is of particular interest.  A newsworthy appeal against exceptional hardship being rejected was heard in Glasgow in 2012.  The website Counsel Direct has valuable opinion on the subject. 

Exceptional hardship cases are heard almost daily in many courts nationwide.  At no time during my tenure was any official guidance given. Indeed my own notes were welcomed by many colleagues to assist them in their finding their way through sometimes lengthy appeals by advocates for the offenders. It is about time that magistrates understood all the factors which should be considered in such cases. 


Tuesday, 16 January 2018

CRUISE CONTROL WITH A DIFFERENCE

Car enthusiasts........now there`s a term that the green lobby would have bracketed in a similar group to litter louts or football hooligans.  I`m not at all ashamed to admit that a couple of decades ago I bought a bright red Triumph TR6 convertible; a classic British sportscar with an engine so simple to fiddle with that I with two left hands even managed to change injectors.  Belonging to the TR Club occasionally I joined with fellow enthusiasts to drive in convoy along some narrow country roads to an olde English pub where half a pint of cider was made to last a couple of hours whilst oily knowledge and experience was exchanged between geeks, anoraks or call us what you will. In fact there are dozens if not hundreds of similar groups and clubs nationwide doing exactly the same.

It seems that such activity has been banned in what is termed the Black Country for quite some time.  According to Halesowen News " A High Court decision to extend a ground-breaking injunction banning car cruising in the Black Country for a further three years has been welcomed".Apparently this prohibition includes "driving in convoy". 

I wonder if opposition from car club members has been voiced. When police nationwide are forever excusing their failures to protect people or property to have such additional tasks forced upon them seems nonsense.  But of course there`s another point of view: give police a choice between undertaking old fashioned police duties such as preventing disorder or an easy collar..............you see where I`m going so I`ll put on the handbrake now.

Friday, 12 January 2018

EXCEPTIONAL HARDSHIP:APPLYING GOOD JUDGEMENT AND DISCRIMINATION

Exceptional hardship is a subject that can arouse deep differences within a bench during retiring room deliberations.Indeed it has been the subject of a few posts here over the last few years. Four years ago there was this one and in June the following year I posted this

Generally my opinion has been that those offenders who moan the most, namely professional drivers, are deserving of the least sympathy followed by obviously wealthy individuals who could easily afford to hire a driver for six months.  However the finding of exceptional hardship is one of those remaining considerations which are entirely within the bench`s discretion.  Where some difficulty might arise in the decision making is when the offender has proven worth to the community and/or perhaps a history of good deeds or valour in the case of active or former servicemen.  There is certainly a fine line to be drawn when eg a hospital doctor applies for exceptional hardship purely on the basis of his/her occupation and a carpet fitter.  

A case earlier this week at Flintshire Magistrates` Court is a perfect example of a bench coming to what I agree was the correct decision in allowing the application to succeed.  This offender`s recent history certainly was a sound basis for allowing him to continue driving.  The problem is that I read too many reports and have experience of situations where sympathy by a bench overrides good judgement and discrimination. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

WHEN A JUDGE SWEARS

On 12th August 2016 I commented on the judge who threw verbal caution to the wind and swore back at an offender who had used his basic knowledge of olde English to vent his feelings at her.  Not surprisingly the matter reached the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which yesterday cleared her of misconduct.  Truth be told I`m a little surprised but not disappointed. Like the rest of us judges are human and have fallibilities. What did enter my mind was the recollection of apparently heavy treatment dished out to Justices of the Peace for a lot less. I suppose some are still more equal than others.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

NO NONSENSE AT LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT IN 2017

All too often blogger and public reaction to crown court sentencing is less than enthusiastic.  In an interesting and sometimes amusing report in the Liverpool Echo sentencing comments from the city`s crown court judges in 2017 are worth a few minutes reading time IMHO of course. Access the page here.

Monday, 8 January 2018

DRIVING JUSTICE WITH HANDBRAKE ON

An apparently simple case last week at Teesside Magistrates Court has left me thinking. It involved the defendant being found guilty for the second time of carrying a weapon and receiving a suspended custodial sentence.  What set what`s left of my little grey cells firing off in all directions was the conclusion reached by the bench that the knife in question was accepted as being for trade purposes; namely for decorating but also an "offensive weapon". Whilst I was active such a defence (for trade) was an acceptable defence against the charge. Has that changed?  The magistrates seem to be in two minds on this matter and have effectively driven the judicial vehicle with the hand brake applied. There is no mention in the report if his advocate was considering an appeal. Make up your mind after you read all about it here.

Friday, 5 January 2018

AND THEN THERE WERE CUTS

A new year and amid an overdue recognition by senior legal eagles on both sides of the bench that the quality of British justice is in freefall from which it might never recover it is curious to read the last 2017 edition of the Scunthorpe Telegraph copied below  highlighting what I too recollect at my own court was happening around two decades ago.  It all seems so petty now with not an inkling of the savage financial cuts which began in 2010. Kenneth Clarke who is merrily trying to usurp the decision of the British public and have the Leave decision overturned didn`t just turn a blind eye to imposed cuts as Justice Secretary in 2010; he thoroughly encouraged them with a 23% reduction in funding that year and was proud to proclaim he was the first Cabinet Minister to satisfy the Treasury of having done its wishes.  

"One piece of news hitting the headlines in Scunthorpe 20 years ago was the decision to stop the supply of free biscuits to magistrates. John Towndrow, vice-chairman of the Humberside Magistrates’ Courts Committee, revealed it cost £400 a year to provide the local justices with biscuits to dunk in their coffee and tea. He said the committee had been faced with making savings of £145,000 that year and needed to cut the annual budget by three per cent over the next three years. The cuts had led to the closure of courts in Barton, Brigg and Epworth, job losses and under-funding for ushers, with clerks on occasions having to take over their duties.

“I am bitterly disappointed that my fellow magistrates have lost the only perk they had, namely the free biscuits with their tea or coffee,” Mr Towndrow said.
“However, the search for savings in every department has led to swingeing cuts. I am sure the local justices will appreciate the reasons for the withdrawal of their biscuits.”
The cutbacks also saw filter coffee-making machines in Scunthorpe removed and replaced by jars of instant coffee, tea bags and flasks of hot water. Mr Towndrow said previously the coffee had cost 20p a cup, but now the expense had been reduced to only 4p.However, one justice of the peace, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Telegraph: “This really takes the biscuit! It will only save pennies over the year.”"