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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.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, 27 February 2018

VIDEO COURTS;TAKE IT OR TAKE IT

The Ministry of Justice and its offspring Her Majesty`s Court and Tribunal Service are trying to convince legal practitioners, judges, and to a lesser extent magistrates and the public that the way forward in improving justice and courts` efficiency is not to have any courts and to "simplify" the basic concept of justice.  O.K..........That might be thought by some to be too Kafkaesque a description but certainly the disposal of hundreds of court buildings, the reduction and near elimination of legal aid in the lower court, the outsourcing of many court related functions,  the instigation of single J.P. jurisdiction for so called minor mass offending and perhaps most controversially of all the increasing use of video courts leads some way to a justification for the opinion.  When I was active video courts were being used in bail hearings.  Apart from prison officials not co-operating in a sensible fashion much of the time the actual operation was simple and certainly not unfair to the person on remand who of course always had a lawyer in court to safeguard the process.  But the idea of wholesale justice by video link is a wholly different ball game especially in crown court.  The old adage of the accused facing his/her  accuser is being disregarded in the face of what we are told is efficiency.  For "efficiency" read economy.  The MOJ is overloaded with a huge expense in so called consultants [£30 million] and a gargantuan press office  the numbers within being apparently unavailable to Mr Google although I seem to remember in a long forgotten post I finally discovered that there were well in excess of 60 people employed. Judging by the diarrhoea like output of the MOJ I have no reason to think they have reduced the spending of that part of the ministry. Economy seems, for the MOJ, to be in the eye of the beholder. However doing some simple research into the manner in which HMCTS records or doesn`t record aspects of its functions the following parliamentary question and answer provides an interesting summing up of this process of video courts.  At least one crown court judge has spoken out.  Would that more did.


Ministry of Justice

Courts: Video Conferencing


To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what proportion of people who have appeared in court for their (a) first appearance, (b) remand hearing, (c) bail hearing, (d) case management and (e) sentencing have done so by video link in the last 12 months.



A
Answered by: Dominic Raab
Answered on: 08 January 2018


Information is not collected centrally on the proportion of court appearances by video link irrespective of the reason for the court appearance.

Information collected centrally in respect of hearings is published quarterly on:

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/criminal-court-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2017

Today the following has been published:-



Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Between 1 June 2012 and 30 September 2017 HMCTS recorded 372,941 defendants appearing via video link from prison (181,688 in Crown Courts and 191,253 in Magistrates’ Courts) and 48,024 via video link from police stations into Magistrates Courts. The information on a breakdown of the demographics of the defendants involved can only be available at a disproportionate cost.

Friday, 23 February 2018

SEX, AGE AND DIVERSITY

All you need to know about magistrates` ages, diversity and sex.












Thursday, 22 February 2018

THE DEA(R)TH OF COMMON SENSE

Amongst the qualities required for appointment as a magistrate when I applied was common sense. Those two words were actually written in the application form. That quality is not indicated at all in the current application form or notes which include the following:-

Personal qualities

You need to show you’ve got the right personal qualities, for example that you are:
  • aware of social issues
  • mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness
  • reliable and committed to serving the community
You also need to be able to:
  • understand documents, follow evidence and communicate effectively
  • think logically, weigh up arguments and reach a fair decision
When I made an official inquiry many years ago as to why this personal quality was omitted I was told that what might be "common" to some people might not be common to others who were immigrants or unfamiliar with the mores of this country and would therefore be at a disadvantage.  British citizenship is not a requirement to sit as a J.P.; a rule with which I profoundly disagree. 

"Common"...........usual, ordinary, customary, habitual, familiar, regular, frequent, repeated, recurrent, routine, everyday, daily, day-to-day, quotidian, standard, typical

It seems, however, that the good J.P. folk of Dorset don`t know their own rules. Rachel Small , a recently appointed magistrate interviewed by the Daily Echo with regard to magistrate recruitment, is quoted as saying inter alia, "They can come from all backgrounds, but must have "common sense and personal integrity".  Her full interview is available here

From my years on the bench and nine years of seeking out various goings on at magistrates` courts for this blog the lack of common sense amongst recently appointed benches  in recent years seems to be a logical conclusion for some strange or very unusual decisions. 

The magistracy is far from being the only organisation where common sense is noted for its absence. I don`t know the qualities essential to being an Inspector in Surrey Constabulary but a brief reading of the case of an officer cleared of a misconduct charge of stealing colleagues` biscuits  leads me to think that perhaps some training in such is called for there. 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

BLACK HATTED POLICE CHIEF

According to the folklore of Hollywood and of Western  movies prior to the mid fifties native Americans often described the black hatted white villain as speaking with forked tongue and of course the reference was to snakes.  Today we would describe the activity as saying one thing and acting in a totally opposite fashion i.e. being an out and out liar.  Now to accuse a Chief Constable who is head of professional standards for the National Police Chiefs Council of terminological inexactitude might perhaps be going a little too far but contrast two statements in the public domain made by this man.  On the website of the NPCC amongst other things the above mentioned Chief Constable Martin Jelley wrote in 2016, 

"We will not tolerate corrupt officers or staff and it is vital that we respond swiftly and robustly to incidences of sexual misconduct.
“After reviews by Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2012, police chiefs committed to doing more to root out abusers from the service. Since then, police leaders have emphasised that this behaviour has no place in policing, made changes to vetting and supervision processes, and encouraged reporting - the majority of force investigations into abuse of powers are started in response to concerns raised by officers and staff."


In a recent  issue of Police Oracle behind a pay wall there is a front page report:-


Misconduct system 'too focused on punishment' says national lead. CC Martin Jelley. Head of professional standards for NPCC calls for 'revolution' in attitudes. Date - 15th February 2018. By - Ian Weinfass - Police Oracle. The police misconduct system must become more focused on learning and improvement and less on punishment.

Perhaps I am being pedantic but my simple understanding is that these two statements appear on the surface at least to be just a little contradictory.  Of course the first is specific and the other is a generality but my opinion is that this very senior officer is wearing that black hat beloved of early directors of the Western genre of movie making. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

THE NOT SO SIMPLE SACKING OF RICHARD PAGE EX J.P.

Ex magistrate Richard Page is continuing his protest at being sacked from office by suing the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.  This is a very interesting and important case because the outcome will be significant to all who hold what some would describe as intolerant religious beliefs. It is not unlikely that the many Muslim magistrates who statistically would hold similar beliefs are watching closely. A brief perusal of a much more detailed post of 18th March 2016 predicting such a development might assist some in understanding the origin of this situation.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

BEING FREE TO OFFEND

Being free to offend is a fundamental right for a democratic society in order for that society to continue being democratic. Until recently the law in this country was the antithesis to that concept. 1st February 2014 saw the end to s.5 (1) Public Order Act thus decriminalising insulting words or behaviour in the hearing or sight of someone likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. For "distress" read offend and many who would stifle debate have emerged as latter day Mary Whitehouses seeking to show that current fears of internet trolls are a direct result of such freedom. There is a coherent argument that the enormous increase in anti semitism disguised as anti Zionism can be attributed to that change in the law.  Nevertheless we are all better off  by facing down such arguments than prosecuting them.  I am a collector of political cartoons and for me an interesting example on this subject occurred recently in New Zealand. The original source document should be compulsory reading for all who have an opinion one way or another on whether there should be prohibition of what some would describe as offensive material and the right to publish such.

Monday, 12 February 2018

JUST ANOTHER COURT SITTING

Freemen of England: regular practitioners in the magistrates` courts will have enjoyed the appearance and ravings of those who have refused to recognise the court`s authority citing that they were members of a group as per the title at the beginning of this post.  I dealt with a few in my time. I particularly recollect a male about 50 years old who was dressed as if about to appear in a pantomime as Toad of Toad Hall. After being sent to the cells for an hour for contempt his manner on his re-appearance in the dock was just a little subdued and his bravado gave way to humble acceptance of his fate. Suffolk magistrates appear to have been a little less robust than I when dealing with a defendant who challenged the prosecution to trial by combat.  So much for CJSSS. 

Perhaps I have harped on rather a lot about the advantage of bringing back the workhouse updated for today`s offenders.  Yet every day in every court there is a poor misbegotten soul who demonstrates that the court process is for him/her a complete waste of time and money. Here`s today`s example from the court in Durham.

Friday, 9 February 2018

SECRECY AT MAGISTRATES` COURTS

Even those who had no knowledge or interest in the Parole Board a month ago will surely have learnt something new to their advantage.  Another veil on the face of the justice system has been allowed to drop revealing that since its inception this body of the "great and the good" has been more secretive than the Masons when it comes to public scrutiny although I was pleased to note yesterday that the latter is baring its chest to allow public view of its innards. The courts too are on the same ladder to allow public scrutiny to some limited extent. Scotland has allowed cameras in court although not "live" as in America.  The Supreme Court has gone further with its proceedings indeed "live".  The internal workings of a jury are still sacrosanct although IMHO it is long overdue that all aspects of that system from eligibility (jurors currently do not need to be British citizens or be examined in their comprehension of English language) to composition; it is nonsense that a jury comprises an even and not an odd number of members.  But the deliberations by magistrates in the retiring room are not so open to scrutiny.  When I was appointed there was no requirement for the chairman to explain how the bench reached its decision.  Many did give a brief summary but it was only when it was decreed that its reasons had to be made public and recorded in the court files that attention was paid by chairmen to the views of his/her colleagues and "I feel he`s guilty" remarks were rightly criticised and replaced by reasoned logical debate.  There is, however, a very large gap in the openness as we have it today: nobody outside the retiring room knows whether the bench reached a unanimous or majority decision. I have been of the opinion for many years that this is a situation which fails the "openness" test. Juries under direction can reach a publicly stated majority of 10:2. If convicted defendants in the lower court were aware that it was a 2:1 guilty verdict then they might feel it worthwhile appealing the verdict and/or the punishment. Indeed there is an argument, however tenuous, that such a verdict should allow an automatic appeal at crown court for those who wished and/or could afford to pursue the matter. 

Recently Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd the former Lord Chief Justice has been reported as saying, "The answer to most of these problems (referring to openness of Parole Board) is open justice."  Surely a similar argument, discounting expense or politics, applies to magistrates` courts?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

MISCONDUCT OF SENIOR POLICE OFFICERS

Police misconduct is rarely out of the news these days. Whether that`s because of more reports being available to the public or more actual misconduct is difficult to tell.  One thing is for sure and that is the enormous increase in the numbers of senior officers involved. Two years ago I commented at length on the situation.  We now know the scandal of the lies and cover up by those at the top of South Yorkshire Police at and following the Hillborough tragedy. Only today it has been reported that the senior detective who conducted interviews with "Nick" the informer in the Edward Heath paedophile case, Diane Tudway has been promoted to superintendent whilst she is under investigation for allegedly misleading a judge into granting search warrants to raid suspects` homes.  She is of course currently not guilty of the charge but it is disgraceful that with such a matter unconcluded she is given a promotion to such a senior rank.  Yesterday Police Scotland`s Chief Constable resigned under a cloud.  A couple of weeks ago the Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Constabulary Matthew Horne was found guilty of three counts of misconduct. At the end of last year the fourth most senior officer in Derbyshire Constabulary was suspended. Today the Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary was suspended pending a misconduct tribunal in April.  In September  Naveed Malik, assistant chief constable (ACC) at Cambridgeshire police admitted gross misconduct.  Former Wiltshire Chief Constable, involved in the "Nick" affair, and newly appointed as Cleveland Police’s new Chief Constable this week is being investigated for alleged misconduct. Very senior officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland are currently under investigation. 

These cases are from the last few months.  There have been many others of a similar nature historically but they are not available in a statistical form because the Home Office keeps the numbers of senior police officer misconduct cases under wraps; so much for freedom of information. There are numbers for the plods up to rank of Inspector but no more. The College of Policing can publish a 95 page report but statistics of those of high rank involved in misconduct.......NO!


This is a matter of great public concern or should be.  Already trust in the criminal justice system with regard to the courts` process for defendants is disturbing owing to actual failings within the Crown Prosecution Service and the lack of legal aid for a majority of defendants in the magistrates` courts. Police are at the coal face of that system and in an increasingly authoritarian and "safe space" society it is paramount that they are led by people of integrity.  It will be the misfortune for us all if standards are not raised for those paid small fortunes to do that job.  However the omens are not good.  The Home Office is unfit for purpose in this and in so many other aspects of its portfolio. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

BRITISH JUSTICE TODAY

Jails are at bursting point, probation service is overwhelmed and undermanned, police are turning blind eyes to "minor" criminality, CPS is failing in its prime duties, Justice Secretaries are playing musical chairs and the Parole Board must ask serial rapist if he consents to wearing an electronic tab were he to be released on license. I rest my case.

Monday, 5 February 2018

THE CPS SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

Two weeks ago I posted on the news that the Crown Prosecution Service was publishing its own court reports.  It seems that this is merely the beginning of a campaign by said organisation to control the news.  The finding of gross failures  in its procedures that have caused outrage in legal circles notwithstanding the personal traumas inflicted on innocent parties must have inspired its discredited DPP to accelerate the program.  With the decline in local court reporting by local media it is not unlikely that a case spun by the weasels of the CPS press office will be at best a PR moment or at worst a sign of government managed news eclipsing other sources.  Where has been the comment  of libertarians and those who value a truly free press? Justice is being assailed from many quarters.  The new CPS beta version website might not be PRAVDA but it is an unwelcome sign of things to come.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

GIVING "ADVICE" TO ERRANT JUDGES

So far this year the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office has issued various pieces of "advice" to three magistrates. These "investigations" in general are very often directed against those who do not perform the required number of sittings (perhaps c40% of total) or those whose behaviour or speech is considered inappropriate.  For obvious reasons where matters of sentencing by magistrates are concerned the appeal system at crown court prevails. But what happens when a judge`s sentencing decision is so out of kilter with accepted norms i.e. Sentencing Guidelines that the Appeal Court doubles the previous sentence?  My understanding is that such cases would be dealt with "informally".  This seems to fly in the face of procedures of a similar if different significance with other professions.  

In the current climate of mistrust and/or failing confidence in government in general, experts in particular and our criminal justice system above all such "in house" secretive "advice" to the bewigged should be in the public domain and the longer the wig the louder the sanction.