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 If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

MUSINGS ON WEDNESDAY

The case of the black cab rapist today took another turn insofar as the Parole Board has been criticised for its earlier decision to grant him early release under license.  The details are available in many media for those few who are unaware.  My point, however, is that the Board was accused of being secretive by the High Court which overturned the original decision.  It said that justice must be "open".  Perhaps the same criterion will be applied to the lower courts where if HMCTS has its way increasing numbers of cases will be tried by video and where single justices in a closed courtroom or office will hear bundles of seemingly "simple" cases; eg failure to pay council tax or TV license.  Some motoring cases will also be tried in similar fashion. Somehow I doubt it.

To my recollection in all the years I was an active JP I can recall only two cases of "theft by keeping". This report in the Mirror offers a simple explanation. 

Virtually everyone who drives regularly will have had the experience of receiving a ticket for parking on a yellow line.  It seems if one is in Suffolk such a transgression is likely to go unpunished

Friday, 23 March 2018

A JUDGE`S PARALLEL UNIVERSE

When a convicted offender cannot be sentenced without a pre sentence report from the probation service and the offence is so serious that s/he is warned that all options are open including custody the court must decide whether s/he can be remanded on bail until the date set for sentencing. In such a situation the court must do all it can to ensure the offender will return on that date.  In the case of a non British citizen surrender of a passport might be required. Indeed such an order might be applied to a British citizen whom, for whatever reasons, the bench considered to be a flight risk. An offender might be tagged or be required to report daily to a police station.  The court, in short, has wide powers to do its utmost so that justice will be done.  In the case of a serious sex offender to be sentenced at crown court to allow him to enjoy a pre booked holiday seems over generous.  To release him on non conditional bail is IMHO a disgraceful failing by a judge who seems to be living in a parallel universe.  For her sake I hope the offender appears when he is due. A report in MailOnLine is available here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN


Some of us recognise inefficiencies without their having had any personal effects on our personal lives; some don`t.  Some of us are responsible for these inefficiencies; some are not.  Some of us endeavour to put right these inefficiencies; some do not.  My biggest grouch is reserved for those who can rectify inefficiencies but choose not to do so either through indolence, disinterest or fear.  As can be noted from all the political clap-trap of late all major parties are placing the reduction or removal of inefficiencies within government in its broadest sense as a prime requirement to reduce the deficit caused by the government`s failure itself to control ineffectiveness in various financial supervisory bodies.

I could comment on the Ministry of Justice in general in this regard but not today. But I can comment on the courts` system in particular. Whether or not  these comments are typical of a general malaise I can only refer to my previous blogs on the Crown Prosecution Service where many ex colleagues and I were well aware of its being unfit for purpose  long before the official inspections proved us correct.

A few years ago a friend approached me for advice.  He had been summonsed as a witness to a neighbouring court.  I inspected the summons which stated clearly the time and date at which he was to be available at the named court.  Indeed the court was named but there was no mention of its address or telephone number.  I wrote a letter and made a couple of calls receiving an unapologetic reply that the matter would be looked into.  As is often the case my friend duly turned up to do his duty but the case was adjourned because on the morning the interpreter who had been booked did not turn up.  When, a few weeks later, my friend received another summons the court`s address and telephone number were on the summons.  I took four  points from that. How long had the previous design been in use, what individual or more likely  what committee had approved the design,  how much had it cost to re-print  and how many witnesses failed to appear as a result?

Within the Magistrates` Courts system there are many varied activities; some courts are very busy and some less so.  In a major city court building where perhaps six or more courts are sitting simultaneously  in the remand courtroom there are invariably listed more cases than can be dealt with and the excess cases will be decanted to another courtroom where for one reason or another there is spare capacity. In a small court in a suburb or in the shires where the building has not yet been closed under the Ministry`s drive for "efficiency" ie reduce costs if eg a trial does not proceed JPs can be left sitting around with nothing to do; an activity which the Ministry is not too concerned about because JPs are unpaid volunteers. But when that inactivity is due solely to CPS inefficiencies which should and could have been sorted by a ten year old child one really does despair.

For any number of reasons many Magistrates` Courts are listing trials three or four months ahead.  Justice delayed is justice stayed.  Many magistrates enjoy the experience of sitting away from their home courts perhaps to examine their own competence with new colleagues and legal advisers whose procedures might provide a learning experience and/or the need for some additional thought to what as in many skilled professional jobs can become somewhat routine activities.  Such was the case with a former colleague. A neighbouring court in the county required additional chairmen JPs to help clear a backlog of trials. She volunteered to attend. Although all parties, CPS prosecutor, defence counsel, defendant, interpreter, police witnesses for the prosecution and a witness for the defence were all in attendance the prosecutor`s case file had not reached the court  and had gone missing.  The story of this missing file is an example of such gross incompetence and lack  of interest in procedures by those concerned that I tell it here as she relayed it to me.

The file was held at local CPS office to be sent to "her" court, one of three courts in that CPS area. The Government Mail Department is responsible for the delivery of all such files. Complaints by the bench to a very senior person at the CPS elicited the information that it had been left at the CPS in a sealed envelope addressed to the court. No information on whether the procedure of collection required a signature or time stamp on some log. The courier service confirmed that all files that morning had been collected and delivered. My ex colleague enquired about procedures usually employed at the court for acceptance of such files.  She was told by a court official that the files are left in an office by the courier; they are not checked on receipt or signed for.  Her conclusion was that the missing file must have been delivered in error to another court building in the county and if all other courts operate such non procedure procedures it probably would have remained there until some curious individual looked inside.

The senior CPS person promised to provide a full written explanation in due course.  The upshot of this tale of woe is that the three magistrates who had apparently all come from their home courts for the morning sitting had nothing else to do as in that particular local small  court building there was only one other courtroom  functioning and the list was not unduly overburdensome for its bench.

Any  number of people involved could and should have been alerted to the inherent inefficiency that was in operation.  Meantime a complete CPS case file containing highly sensitive information went missing. If this weren`t a Justice of the Peace blog I`d say this waste of public time and money was criminal.........but since it is such a blog I`ll content myself as describing those involved whoever they might have been as highly culpable. 

Now I am a passive observer of and no longer an active participant in court affairs.  From observations and accounts heard and read from various sources it would appear that today  HMCTS and CPS in combination are presiding over a much more inefficient courts system than I ever experienced.  I`m very pleased to be where I am; sitting on the outside looking in.


Monday, 19 March 2018

THOUGHTFUL

News from magistrates` courts and stories about magistrates have been thin on the ground of late but two articles have caught my attention: a very interesting piece about "victims" was printed in the The National last week and Family Law Week published a very thoughtful essay by David Bedingfield, barrister. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

JUDICIAL BLINKERS

Members of the judiciary including those on the very lowest level i.e. magistrates, face the prospect of a rap across the knuckles or worse if they fall foul of what the superbeaks at the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office deem to be appropriate behaviour.  There are few who would not argue that magistrates are far more likely to be contenders for judicial castigation than their senior professional well remunerated colleagues. Indeed a cursory glance at the reasons why three J.P.s this year have been already sanctioned for what some might say are merely minor behavioural infringements adds weight to that impression of unduly robust censure for  magistrates.  

A recent Appeal Court ruling on a Deputy District Judge`s behaviour will almost certainly sustain the belief of the professional judiciary`s near immunity from public sanction except when the matter reaches and is concerned with a wider audience.  Spend a few minutes reading the Law Society Gazette report and the accompanying comments and come to your own conclusions on whether or not judicial blinkers are in use depending upon the situation. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

JUSTICE DOWN THE PAN

Anyone vaguely connected with the justice system is aware of the reduced level of service at all levels as a result of the unadmitted and shameful reduction in financial support for these services.  Indeed in 2010 when he was Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke MP, he of the REMAINER till I die persuasion, was proud to announce that he had slashed his budget by over 23% before the then Chancellor had broken the news. Now it`s official and public knowledge that Justice has taken the biggest hit of all government departments since then. What an indictment of Coalition and Tory attitude to this indispensable safeguard for our democracy and system of government. For them it was and is justice down the pan.


Thursday, 8 March 2018

THE OLDEST VIRUS

I have never previously copied a complete news report of a case preferring readers to access the link if they so wished. However the issue of anti-semitism, the oldest virus, is appearing in much of the media of all kinds to an extent never experienced in my lifetime. It has even infected the upper regions of the Labour Party and publications like the New Statesman.  Anti-semitism is unlike most other forms of racism insofar as it has appeared throughout history and in areas where there has been public insecurity and dissatisfaction with the political process. England has had its fair share. In the late 12th century, members of the Jewish community in Lincoln settled in York. However, there was growing hostility towards the Jewish population in England. This was in part due to public disagreements in theology between Jewish scholars and Christian churchmen. In the mid-12th century several vicious stories were spread accusing Jews of murdering Christian children. Such slanders, now known as the ‘Blood Libel’, strengthened anti-Semitic sentiment in England and in 1190 all the Jewish population of York was trapped by a mob in Clifford`s Tower.  One of the mob’s ringleaders, Richard Malebisse, had offered safe passage to any Jews who agreed to convert and leave the tower. A few took this option, only to be murdered as soon as they came out from the burning building. Afterwards, the rioters destroyed the records of debts to the Jews, which had been placed in safe-keeping at York Minster.The triggers for the massacre were many. The calls to crusade in the Holy Land made many Christians sensitive to the presence of non-Christians in England. These feelings may have been heightened by the approaching celebrations for Easter, when the Church preached that the Jews had connived at the death of Jesus. Some rioters also saw the possibility of clearing themselves of debts to the Jews. All remaining Jews were soon after expelled. Only in 1656 Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews once again to enter England.

Anti-semitism is often described as anti-Zionism by its proponents. Nobody would deny freedom to criticise the State of Israel, its policies, its politicians or aspects of its society as would be the case with any country but all too often these critics reveal themselves  to be blatantly critical of Jews being Jews whether in Israel or anywhere. And so to the report copied below from Jewish News.


The performer Alison Chabloz, on trial this week at Westminster Magistrates’ Court over three songs alleged to be antisemitic, was repeatedly denounced as a Holocaust denier by the Crown Prosecution Service barrister Karen Robinson. But Ms Chabloz, giving lengthy evidence on her own behalf in a delayed second day in court, insisted that her songs were “satire”, that she was “an artist”, and that freedom of speech meant she was entitled to her opinions. Ms Chabloz is facing five charges of sending, or causing to be sent for viewing on social media, several videos of her playing three songs, two of which were performed in front of an audience of the London Forum in September 2016. She is said to have embedded a link to one of the performances on a WordPress page she runs, called “Tell Me More Lies,” and posted a separate performance on YouTube. But in nearly two hours of testimony, Ms Chabloz insisted that “many Jewish people find my songs funny”, and claimed that there was no “official” evidence that gas chambers had been used as a murder weapon to kill Jews during the Holocaust. Defending the lyrics of her songs, which include the description of Auschwitz as a “theme park”, Ms Chabloz referred repeatedly to “the so-called Holocaust” which she said was “a fiction” designed to facilitate “the criminal Jewish state” in Palestine. She complained about the “official narrative” of the deaths of six million Jews and deplored the practice of sending schoolchildren to visit Auschwitz, which she said was”allowing the so-called Holocaust to be used as a manipulative weapon to prevent nationalist feelings among Europeans”. It was used, she said, to “persecute Holocaust dissidents in democratic countries.” The Holocaust, she declared, was “used for Machiavellian ends”, and claimed that “there are plenty of Holocaust revisionists who are Jewish.” She described herself as a Holocaust revisionist rather than a Holocaust denier, but said that there had never been “an official investigation” into many of the claims made about what happened during the Second World War. Prosecutor Karen Robinson asked the defendant over and over again to explain the lyrics of her songs, which she said had been deliberately set to well-known Jewish melodies such as Hava Nagila in order to cause maximum offence. But Ms Chabloz denied this, and said she had no hostility to Jewish people. She had the right to express her views, she said, and disagreed vehemently with Ms Robinson who said that such views as expressed in the disputed songs were “racist”. “Some may say that”, Ms Chabloz said, smiling broadly. She said that her very presence in court was “proof” of an external control of the media, society, the banks and even the justice system. There were “a disproportionate number of Jews in the media, the Houses of Parliament”. And, she added: “I strongly disagree that [my lyrics are] racist. The love of a people for its country is not racist and could equally be applied to Israel and Jews”. No-one, she said, was forced to listen to her songs and she did not accept that they were grossly offensive, instead insisting that they were “funny” and that those who were offended “were offended at being laughed at”. Ms Chabloz said her attacks were aimed at “Zionist Jews” and that “Orthodox Jews don’t want a state of Israel”. When Ms Robinson said that her songs “targeted Jews because they are Jews”, the defendant responded: “There are plenty of Jews who find my songs funny”. One of the three contested songs, (((Survivors))), using the “echo” brackets said to identify Jews on line, focuses on the experiences of three survivors, Irene Zysblat, Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank. Ms Chabloz said stories of all three had been debunked, and that she had chosen to write about them “because their tales are dubious”. A written submission to the court was provided by Ms Chabloz’s friend Peter Rushton, described as a writer, who had researched documents in the British Library designed to support the defendant’s assertions. Among the books he cited on her behalf, it was said, had been Norman Finkelstein’s controversial book “The Holocaust Industry”. District Judge John Zani said he would take written and final oral submissions from Ms Robinson and Ms Chabloz’s defending barrister, Adrian Davies, before announcing a verdict on May 25.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

FURTHER PROOF OF GRAYLING`S INCOMPETENCE


The arrogance and incompetence of former Lord Chancellor the unlamented Chris Grayling set in motion the destruction of the probation service.  Further proof of his and previous incumbents of his post`s mishandling of their duties can be seen from the reducing numbers of breaches of ASBOs and laterally CRASBOs.  

With the demise of ASBO and replacement with CRASBO the latest current numbers combined, 6248, compare very poorly with 13,659 ten years ago. This is a direct result of reducing resources and efficiencies of the probation services now carried out mainly by outsourcing companies.  The parliamentary answer from which this table has been copied is available here

Friday, 2 March 2018

OUR BODY POLITIC REQUIRES LEECHES.

Sentencing Guidelines were introduced during my days on the bench.  Initially they appeared to codify in relatively simple terms a ladder in which any bench could logically come to a sentence ranging from a fine to custody and repeat the exercise on most occasions irrespective of post code or composition of any bench in England or Wales. My well trained colleagues on my own bench had been following similar procedures for years using straightforward common sense and structured reasoning.  The latest offspring of those first Guidelines has recently been published: The Equal Treatment Bench Book, 422 pages of dos and don`ts for the judiciary.  How on earth do the civil servants at the MOJ think that those for whom it has been deemed necessary will react to being schooled like primary age children.  This is the society we have become.  We cannot walk, talk, tweet, write, flirt, discuss, remark or observe without fear of breaching somebody`s psychological, physiological, sociological, anatomical, rational or irrational, real or imaginary mental or physical boundary.  No wonder students are being accused of being snowflakes unable to host debates with speakers who voice differing opinions from their own self satisfying smug ignorant and ill formed views of the world and how they want to see it. Our very own legislators of all parties have themselves to blame for this insidious poison seeping into the veins of the world politic.  Who has the will to apply the leeches and the necessary transfusion of common sense and reality to our national being?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

DISQUALIFICATION FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW

I have observed over the months from skimming court reports that there are lay benches who are all too easily suckered into granting a plea of exceptional hardship to those with ample assets and/or income defended by sparky efficient advocates.  It is therefore refreshing to read of a wealthy high earning businessman failing in his efforts to avoid disqualification as a totter. Long might such examples continue: just deserts for the many not the few.