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The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a team, who may or may not be JPs, but all of whom are interested in the Magistrates' Courts.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bunking Off Again

I blogged some time ago about the difficult task of sentencing a parent (almost invariably a woman) for her child's failure to attend school. The posts are here and here.

The local Council has provided my court with an aide-memoire that details the steps that lead to prosecution, but also includes the following:-
Erratic or non-school attenders are two-thirds more likely to commit crime or become the victims of crime. This includes very young children where attendance patterns are set for the remainder of their compulsory education.
Erratic or non-school attenders have less than a ten per cent chance of achieving five good (grades A-C) GCSEs

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In Camera

This weekend the prints are full of allegations that a member of the Royal Family has been the subject of attempted blackmail. Quite properly the victim's identity has been protected by the court, but unusually the first hearing was held behind closed doors. The alleged blackmailers have been remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey.
This has raised a number of issues, and it remains to be seen how the Old Bailey trial is arranged. Just as it would be with any victim he or she will be allowed to give evidence while screened from the public (probably using CCTV). The Judge will forbid any identification of the victim.
However. We live in a world in which news travels fast, and in which the media have a ferocious appetite for any news item that will sell a few more papers. Our tabloid press confess without shame that they bribe police officers for information and will pay what they need to pay to anyone who has the news they crave.
The two alleged blackmailers are in custody. Some of their prison officers and perhaps some of their fellow inmates know who they are. At this moment many journalists have been despatched to check their contacts, and if necessary, to buy information from just-released prisoners, off-duty prison staff - anyone.
And even if editors quail before the wrath of the judges, there is nothing to stop the facts leaking onto the Web, free of any threat from the British courts.
I give it a week, tops.

Signs Of The Times

The Legal Advisers who work in my court are a cheerful lot. Every one of them is either a solicitor or a barrister. They have their own room in the courthouse, in which there is a small sink, which they use to wash up the crockery they use during their breaks.
Above the sink is a large yellow sticker, adorned with heavy black stripes, bearing the legend:

CAUTION - HOT WATER

Doesn't show much confidence in the ability of qualified legal professionals to work out the bleedin' obvious, does it?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Poppy Day

The first eleven days of November are days on which poppies should be worn (or so I understand Debrett's to rule).
I have always worn a poppy in court at the appropriate time, as do many of my colleagues and most of the court staff.
Does anyone think this inappropriate?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Picky

This magistrate has found his religious principles to conflict with his duty as a member of the Family Panel (that decides on matters involving children, adoption and suchlike). It is strange that the report refers to his 'employers' - I don't think I am employed by anyone except perhaps the Queen. I think I agree with the official spokesman's view. Parliament is sovereign, and in a free and secular society we have to accept that.

New From Enid Blyton - Five Go Adjudicating

This beggars belief and I entirely agree with the Mags' Association's condemnation. It reinforces the point that some politicians just don't seem to get it where crime is involved.

Further and Better Particulars Required

There has been a lot of media comment about this case, that was sentenced the other day. On the face of it a community sentence of three years' supervision (that's what used to be called probation) is way below the scale for what I presume was a Section 20 GBH, which carries a maximum of 5 years' imprisonment in the Crown Court, where this case was dealt with. Presumably the magistrates who decided on venue thought that this would be beyond their powers and sent it upstairs (unless of course the defendant elected jury trial).
But there must be more to it than this. The judge will have had a pre-sentence report in front of him, and will have had reasons for sentencing as he did. This looks like a case where the judge's sentencing remarks should be published, to explain the reasoning and to make the debate an informed one.

Later:- Here is the Telegraph's report. And here it is in The Times, which tells us that the man is a paranoid schizophrenic and that the Community Order includes a requirement for mental health treatment. I suspected that some such issue would be present.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Doctor's Order

It is not necessary to agree with Theodore Dalrymple (aka Dr. Anthony Daniels) on every issue to admire the quality and the thought provoking nature of his writing.
Here is a good example of his oeuvre.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Official Stats

These are the latest official crime figures. I haven't yet had time to read the document, but I will soon. Some of you may find it interesting.

Mitigation

Every magistrate will have heard a lot of mitigation, as lawyers attempt, with varying degrees of conviction, to persuade the court that their client's offence was, you know, not all that bad really. The good ones are pretty good. The bad ones can be embarrassing. The commonest by far is that the illness and/or death of a parent/sibling/granny/pet/fellow druggy has so devastated their client that they were compelled to steal a car/drive on a ban/go back to drugs/beat up a stranger/whatever.
The latest, delivered with a straight face, was that Mr. Defendant is in the pub having a quiet beer or three when his wife calls to say that someone is in their garden breaking things. Mr. D. leaps into his car and rushes home, arriving at the same time as the police - who nick him for drink drive. Would we be so kind as to find special reasons not to ban him?
So if his wife had not had these problems, how was he planning to get home?

CJSSS Update

Magistrates (including me) are currently being trained in the operation of the CJSSS initiative. I will write about that when I have a bit of experience of its working. I am currently scratching my head over one of the training videos, which shows various staged courtroom scenes (some of which caused great hilarity among the watching magistrates because of the fact that everything went so smoothly and the lawyers seemed to be both competent and co-operative).
Inspector Gadget has had the same training but from a different side of the fence.
My trainer today assured me that cooperation between police CPS and the courts would ensure that the whole system will work. Ask me in two months.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh Dear

A BBC grand fromage called Sir Michael is being interviewed by Paxman as I type this. He says, as he has said in earlier interviews, that there will be "less programmes" in the future.

Truly, the vandals are at the gates.

Shadows of War

We are increasingly seeing cases into which issues arising from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have intruded. One case in the last year or so involved a young soldier who was due to start pre-Iraq training in a week's time. It was a case where a driving disqualification was discretionary, and we were asked to consider not imposing a ban to allow him to drive home from camp to see his girlfriend in the eight weeks he had left in the UK. In another an NCO was abroad training for a specialist role and the defence applied to defer his trial for a month, when he would be back in the UK. We were shown a letter from his Commanding Officer stating that the role for which the NCO was being trained was an important operational one. The CPS opposed the application and said that he case should go ahead like any other. In yet another case, (and one of a type that I expect to see more of) a serviceman of long service and good character had driven while way over the drink limit; medical and other reports suggested that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder might be present following a strenuous tour in Iraq during which he was in a constant state of fear, and saw some horrible events.
We treated each case on its merits - not always an easy decision though. We can't just have carte blanche for anyone who has served in the war zone to behave as they like. On the other hand those who have served their country are entitled to have their cases considered carefully. As I said, I fear that we have not seen the last of these.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bad Loser

Someone pointed me toward one of the pro-speeding sites the other day, where I found this:-
ECHR Abandons Justice
The European Court of Human Rights as shown itself to be a worthless government lacky (sic) by ignoring fundamental principles of 'justice'.
The court ruled that the human rights of drivers were not breached by UK law forcing them to incriminate themselves if charged with exceeding a speed limit.
This reminded me of the old legal aphorism:-
The Magistrates were corrupt/freemasons/stupid = I lost my case
The whole system is corrupt = I lost my appeal
British Justice stinks = I have just had my lawyers' bill
The other thing that came to mind was the 'Citizen Kane' scene in which Kane goes into his own newspaper's office when it is clear that he has lost the election. His editor holds up the front page proof :- "KANE WINS. Heads are shaken. The alternative front page is held up:- "FRAUD AT POLLS".

Would You Do Me A Favour?

This document on the Prison Reform Trust's website is heartfelt, closely argued, supplied with statistics and, I am afraid, quite long. It tells, better than I have been able to, about the chaos caused by IPP sentences.
The PRT also have harsh words, all of them deserved, about the slapdash way in which these laws, like so many others, were railroaded through with an eye on the tabloids and none at all on the practical realities.
So would those of you who are not just passing through the blog on your way to buy Viagra or to view improbable acts of debauchery, take a few minutes to read the PRT's document carefully?
The people responsible for this fiasco should be, and will not be, ashamed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New Judge

Tudor Owen, a well-known barrister (unsurprisingly, he is of Welsh extraction) has been appointed to the Circuit bench, and allocated to Snaresbrook Crown Court. He is a long way from the judicial stereotype, being a qualified pilot of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and an expert aviation lawyer. He has regularly come out on top in courtroom tussles with the Civil Aviation Authority. Last time I heard, he had a part share in a WW2 aeroplane and a Gazelle helicopter, but if he has to live on his salary, they may have to go! He is also a devotee of fast cars and fast driving - the latter may also have to go. He is a member of the Garrick, so he will always be able to wash the dust of Snaresbrook from his judicial throat with a glass of the Club's claret.
Good luck, your Honour.

It's A Bit Different In Russia Too

Says The Times.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

And Another Thing

Speaking of Americans being different....

Have a look at the single comment on this post. Now that's what I call off-topic.

They Do Things Differently In America - Part 142

Next time Mr. Toad starts banging on about speed cameras I am going to show him this.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nota Bene

Someone has commented on another thread about note taking in court; a query that often arises. I am not an expert, but it works something like this:-
Individual magistrates make notes as they see fit. Some take detailed notes, others summarise what they see as key points. The legal adviser takes a longhand note, but this is not verbatim, and is used where there is a dispute over just what was said. Quite often, in a trial, the three magistrates and the clerk will all look up their notes to settle a point. As an aside, advocates ought to know that when all three justices have stopped taking notes they have probably been speaking for long enough!
In the higher courts the proceedings are taped or recorded by an official stenographer or writer. In addition there is usually a clerk from those instructing them sitting behind each Counsel taking notes. The Judge's notebook is a red square bound book with numbered pages. I have no idea if there is a standard practice for note taking, but I have seen different judges using varying combinations of writing instruments - the standard Bic, pencils, fountain pens, highlighters and different coloured pens of all kinds. Most judges seem to carry a schoolboy-type pencil case. The notebooks are important records and the judge will keep them filed. I have in mind one circuit judge with whom I sometimes sit whose room has one wall completely taken up by shelves of red notebooks.
The official reporters who appear on most judgments are Smith Bernal, and transcripts are available from them, but these are costly because of the work involved in producing them.
If anyone who works in the higher courts wants to correct any of this, feel free.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

NOMS In The News

The Independent has an interesting take on the NOMS debacle, with which I mostly agree. The prison crisis has come back with a vengeance and tampering with early release and sentencing guidelines will not solve the problems.
The Government can hardly say they weren't warned this was coming.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Uneasy

The criminal justice system is essential to the smooth running of society; if I didn't believe that I wouldn't be a part of it. In the same way the ancient office of Coroner is a vital safeguard against inconvenient people being quietly bumped off by those with a reason to want them out of the way.
And yet, and yet.....
There are two major legal events going on in London at the moment, one the trial of the Metropolitan Police for 'health and safety' failures over the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes, and the other the Diana inquest.
These proceedings will cost many millions of pounds and will divert the attention of people who have more important things to be getting on with. What will be their effect? For one thing, whatever verdict is reached in each case there will be those who dismiss it and continue to wallow in conspiracy theories. If the Menezes case results in a conviction a judge (paid from the public purse) will fine the Met (ditto) a vast amount of money that will reduce the effectiveness of the way the Met does its job. This should have been dealt with by a grade-A bollocking delivered by the Home Secretary to a Commissioner standing to attention with his hat on, with an instruction to see that it never happens again.
The Diana inquest will achieve nothing whatever except headlines because the conspiracy vs accident theorists are entrenched in their positions, beyond the reach of reason.
What a vast and pointless waste of time and money these two freakshows represent. Still, it will at least stave off penury for the legions of lawyers and bag-carriers involved.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dark and Ugly

In the last few months I have seen some of the dark and ugly side of human behaviour. Since I was dealing only with remands, the early stages of cases, I must say that any of the people I saw might be innocent, and that the decision as to their guilt will not me taken by me.
In deciding bail we must take the prosecution's case at its highest, so we hear a summary of the case as well as background information, and have sight of the defendant's previous record. In one case we saw a man accused of battering his pregnant wife in the street, the assault including a kick to the stomach - she, inevitably, has attempted to withdraw her statement, and was sitting sobbing at the back of the court. The prosecutor told us that the victim had told a neighbour that the attacks had been going on for some time, but that this was the first involvement of the police.
Another time we saw a young man whom I recognised as a regular customer. He has always had a surly and difficult attitude, but this time he was charged with a nasty sexual assault on a young woman. He seemed pretty proud of himself, and had made grossly obscene sexual remarks to female officers on arrest and at the police station. From the five minutes that I saw him I suspect that he may well fall into the dangerousness criteria of the 2003 CJA and end up with an . IPP. As you know, I have reservations about IPPs, but in his case I suspect that the streets will be safer for women while he is inside.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Coincidence

The Five Live current affairs programme last Sunday morning featured, in the second half, a brief contribution from a magistrate who chose to remain anonymous for some reason. Small world.

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