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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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.