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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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

No Show

This morning's scheduled trial didn't happen, because the defendant was in prison. On another matter. 250 miles away in the North of England. Nobody had arranged for him to be brought to court. Brilliant. The lawyers and the witnesses trudged away.
After wasting a couple of hours we dealt with a bit of business from another courtroom. It was freezing, as the heating in our courtroom doesn't work, and the only man who knew how to coax it into life has been paid off on early retirement as part of the cuts. There was a crappy little fan heater in the well of the court, but it wasn't working. When the usher found another, and pulled out the plug of the first one, the plug crumbled to pieces in her hand. The replacement had no discernible effect on the temperature.
By lunchtime all but two courts had packed up and gone home as they had nothing to do. We were left with a matter scheduled for 2 pm. We started it at 3.45, and finished late. Not, on the whole, a brilliant day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Schadenfreude - latest!

It has been a good few days for those people (and heaven forfend that I should be counted among their number) who have been treated to the sight of irritating and smug people and institutions coming to grief one after another. Some hedge funds, understood by few of us, seem to have walked into a sucker punch over Volkswagen shares. A Prime Minister who proclaimed the end of boom and bust now wishes that he had not. Leaders such as those of Russia and Venezuela who had developed a swagger based on $140 oil are contemplating the taste of humble pie (it's good for you - I know, I've been there).
Finally there is the Ross/Brand business that has humbled a couple of men who had begun to believe that they were bigger than the BBC.
Just two points about that:- As one who enforces TV licence payment against mostly poor people, I am affronted by the fees paid to these and similar performers; and I am just relieved, in view of what happened, that neither of them was on drink or drugs at the time. That would be too awful to contemplate, surely.

Toad In A Hole

I often refer to the speed-at-all-costs petrolhead lobby as Mr. Toads, so you can imagine how I felt last weekend when I was crossing the Derbyshire Dales and came across a car which had its number plate adjusted so as to read 'TOAD', using a numeral 4 as a substitute for the letter A. It was ten yards off the road, down a bank, its bodywork firmly embedded in a dry-stone wall. The driver, mercifully unhurt, was talking to a police officer, presumably explaining how a high-quality German performance car could fly off into the ditch on a road subject to a 50 mph speed limit.
The Peak District now has speed limits on most of its main roads, backed up by fixed and mobile cameras and a visible police presence. This has come about because of the dreadful accident rate among motorcyclists who enjoy the high moorland roads with their challenging curves by pushing their bikes to, and beyond, their limits. I believe that the Yorkshire Dales have the same problem.

High Profile Bail Cases

Joshua Rozenberg has returned to the issue of bail, that hit the headlines earlier this year, in this piece. For the background, have a look at Rozenberg's earlier article. I shall be relieved if cool heads prevail here, because of the Government's unlovely track record in pandering to tabloid indignation, and because these hard cases really would make bad law.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sharp End

This piece from First Post gives an interesting Joe Public view of two unrelated crimes and the way that the people concerned were handled by the police. What happened reflects credit on the officers involved, and that's as it should be.
I see that one officer expressed dissatisfaction at 'the penalties available to the courts' and anyone who reads police blogs will be familiar with that point of view. Where that opinion differs from the more strident police bloggers is that it recognises that Parliament makes laws and courts enforce them. It is simply absurd to imply that 'soft' courts and the 'liberal elite' make laws. Parliament does that, and it is to Parliament that those wanting to see more draconian laws should address themselves.
Crime figures are, as I have frequently blogged, notoriously unreliable, and the factors that drive crime and anti-social behaviour are immensely complex and dependent on many external factors over which courts and Parliament sometimes have little or no control. Experienced police officers, especially those with a bit of rank, have no business propagating black-and-white simplistic slogans that they must know to be untrue and unfair.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Really Tough Decision

In a murder trial currently taking place, a witness has refused to give evidence. Here is the BBC report.
This case is sub judice, so I shall keep my remarks general, and I shall be merciless with any comments that even approach the particular.
Way down on the lower rungs of the judicial ladder there are many of us who are familiar with the reluctant witness (most often in Domestic Violence cases) who declines, for whatever reason, to testify, even when , as happened to colleagues of mine this week, they have been compelled to attend by a witness summons, and are actually in the witness suite in the court. If the witness remains adamant, then there is nothing the court can realistically do - after all it would be monstrous to punish a victim of assault for refusal to talk about it, thus making her (and it usually is a her) a victim twice over.
There are scores of reasons why someone refuses to give evidence, from loyalty to family or friends all the way up to the terror of becoming branded as a grass, or even real fear of violent retribution.
So I sympathise with the trial judge in the current case, and I am quietly relieved that it is he not I who has to deal with a refusenik witness.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

There Is Such a Thing As a Free Lunch

Some years ago I was invited to a squad annual lunch at Scotland Yard. I went along with a Detective Sergeant friend, and we had a very decent meal in the Yard's dining room. As we went in we passed paintings of formidable-looking former Met Commissioners, most of them of high military rank, since that's how the Met used to be led. As a guest I was seated next to the Superintendent who was in charge of the squad, and a good time was had by all. We exchanged a bit of gossip and a bit of banter, wine was drunk, and a couple of brief speeches concluded matters. My friend and I then retired with the more junior coppers present to the pub round the corner, where we all went on to pints and passed a jolly hour or two. My abiding memory is of the young coppers' surprise at the fact that a magistrate liked a pint, had a repertoire of slightly off-colour jokes, and even used the odd naughty word.
The point of this story is that because today's policemen spend next-to-no time in court now that the CPS do all the prosecuting, and because JPs were handed down an edict some time ago that we were not to accept invitations to view police work or to help with training young officers because it might compromise our independence, many officers will lose confidence in the judiciary because they are so remote from it, and many JPs will know little about basic policing other than what they can glean from the scores of police reality shows on TV. That's a shame, and I think it's wrong. I know for sure that at least one Lord Justice of Appeal agrees with me, and I hope that something can be done.
If things stay as they are more and more coppers will buy into the myth of the remote and out-of-touch 'liberal elite' that conspires to hamper the police and go softly on criminals. It isn't true, but if we aren't careful it will embed itself in police culture - if it hasn't done so already.
For myself I shall continue to stay discreetly in touch with my local front-line coppers, and I shall live in hope that I can go back to sitting in a mock court with young PCs giving evidence and being cross examined on it, while their puppy-walkers and colleagues watch them sweat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beyond Our Ken

Sir Ken Macdonald QC, Director of Public Prosecutions has made an important valedictory speech as he prepares to go back to the Bar. It's well worth a read, as Peter Hargreaves points out in his comment on the phone thread below. Ken Macdonald was a surprise appointment, since his background was largely as defence counsel. Those who believe, like Inspector Gadget, in the myth a 'liberal elite' were also suspicious of his connection with Matrix Chambers, but he has impressed a lot of people as DPP. I heard him speak a while ago and it was good to hear a coherent strategy, despite my misgivings about the police and the CPS cosying up as the 'Prosecution Team' and taking on decision making that properly belongs in open court.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crossed Lines


I thought that I was beyond surprise at this Government's harebrained schemes, most of which share the characteristics of being illiberal and unworkable. The latest is a real cracker though :- mobile phones are all to be registered and tracked.
This plan, that shows an almost North Korean lust for control, is to register the user of each of the 72 million (or more, or fewer - nobody knows) mobile phones. There are more phones than people in the UK. Most of us have two or three old ones tucked away at the back of a drawer; and these control-obsessed idiots reckon they can all be made traceable. If 90% of the public is bullied and intimidated into cooperating that will still leave 7.2 million phones unaccounted for. That ought to be enough to avoid inconveniencing drug dealers and terrorists too much.

Afterthought:-

If you have unwanted mobile phones in whatever condition, any Oxfam shop will be pleased to take them. Usable ones are passed on for re-use, and the others are recycled. Apparently Oxfam made over £200,000 from phones last year. They have had all of my old ones, except the spare I keep as a backup.

Well, What Would You Do?

If you had to sentence this tragic case.

In Case You Were Wondering

The BBC carries a report this morning that a pilot has been arrested on suspicion of being over the alcohol limit. (Story here). He has been bailed to return to the police station in January. The reason for the delay is that the Intoximeter in the police station is not calibrated for the very low limit allowed for aviation, namely 9ug/100 as opposed to 35ug/100 for driving a car, so there will have to have been a blood test, and its results will be analysed in the laboratory.
It will be an unpleasant wait for the pilot. Previous cases have attracted shortish prison sentences in the 6-12 month range, but on top of that is the loss of a prestigious job that pays a very high salary.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1,506,023

Is the number of page hits recorded by SiteMeter since the beginning of 2005 when I started this blog. I'm quite pleased about that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Plug

Lincoln Magistrates Court is holding an open day on the 25th October 2008. All are welcome.

This is a good opportunity for local people to have a look at how their court works, and is ideal for anyone thinking of applying to become a JP.

(later still):- Retford will be having one as usual on May Day (4th May) - Just guided tours, but it's always packed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's My Party, And I'll Wander Off-Topic If I Want To.......

There is currently a financial crisis that has cost many people (including me) a large chunk of their life savings.
But I am one of the lucky-sod generation, born just after the war. I have had to cope with economic ups-and-downs, but I went to a grammar school, thanks to the 1944 Education Act, and thence to a university that was flush with funds, and at which I received £360 per annum grant. There were no tuition fees to pay, and a handsome room with full board cost me £6 per week. In the student bar beer was (in new-fangled money) 9p per pint.
My father, an intelligent man from an impecunious family, left school at 14, became an apprentice, then a tradesman, and at the age of 23 married my mother. The gathering clouds in 1938 were not economic ones, and in 1940, after less than two years of marriage my father was conscripted and shipped off to the Middle East. He was shot at, mercifully without result. He did not see my mother again until the end of 1945. In the interim she had no idea where he was, what he was doing, or if he was even alive. When he came home they must have been virtual strangers, as were many thousands of other couples.
So it could be a lot worse, could it not?

Monday, October 13, 2008

As The Shoe Starts To Pinch

The respected Crime Line is offering training to solicitors that will equip them to handle traffic law cases effectively. They preface their offer with this:
Due to means testing and the general willingness of people to pay to save their driving licences, road traffic law is big business. A few firms are capitalising on this hitherto neglected area and raking it in with private fees, leaving the rest of us to scrape by on legal aid. Legal aid lawyers can no longer afford to ignore this important revenue stream - make it your New Year resolution to kick-start your road traffic law department.

Private client fees are very much higher that anything to be obtained on Legal Aid and nobody can blame High Street law firms (especially the smaller ones) for looking around for new sources of business. Legal Aid is still firmly in the Government's sights, despite the present failure to reach agreement with the Bar over high cost cases, and many firms with only a few partners will be forced to merge in the coming couple of years. This may not be a good time to be a solicitor, with the housing market at a standstill, and the big City firms nervously looking at the meltdown in the financial markets. The pessimists mourn the loss of fees from writing abstruse derivatives contracts, while the more sanguine are comforting themselves with the thought that there will be a lot of disputes over who gets to pay for sorting out this mess, and that litigators will be needed in large numbers. Time will tell. Lawyers employed by the Government don't get the fancy money seen in the City firms but quite a few of them are quietly happy to contemplate their bombproof pensions and keep their heads down. A few years ago a job with the CPS was strictly for second-rankers. Nowadays they are deluged with applications for traineeships, and some experienced advocates are running for the shelter of the Civil Service too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Old Father Time Needs to Watch His Step


The Telegraph reports the case of a gardener who finished up at the Crown Court for carrying a scythe, prompting a cross response from the judge - (Article)
I don't suppose he will ever get his prints and DNA off the database, either.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cop-out

I have had my differences of opinion with Inspector Gadget in the past(all very civilised, of course) but this post is, while unsurprising, a real eye-opener. It confirms the utterly bogus nature of official statistics about detected crime, and reinforces the case for root-and-branch reform of the police management structure.

Motoring News - Mr. Toad Should Look Away Now

The Times has had a look at the new average speed cameras. The paper seems to approve. Mr. Toad and his pals may not.
The piece is here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Some People Never Learn

I wrote this about three years ago. Last week I had to go down to the cells area, and there, chalked on the board by a cell door, was our man's name again. In the interim he has spent many months in and out of prison, always for various offences connected with his tempestuous and drink-sodden relationship with his paramour. I have no idea what to do with him, but his continued arrests and incarcerations must have cost a small fortune - I wish there were a better way.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fame?

Radio 4's 'Law in Action' carried a discussion today between Clive Coleman, the presenter, David Copperfield, of the Policeman's Blog, and me. It's available on the BBC's Listen Again feature. We are in the final ten minutes of the half-hour programme.
Nightjack gets a plug too, but preferred not to speak on mike, perhaps wisely.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Oops!

Any advocate will be aware of the golden rule - never ask a question in court unless you already know the answer. Here's an example from the other day:-

Barrister to police officer:- "Officer, are you familiar with car engines, and how they warm up and cool down?"
PC: "Yes, Ma'am. Before my present post I was a traffic officer for six years." (30-love)
Barrister: "Does that make you a technical expert?"
PC: "Not completely, but I did serve seven years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, where I was a motor vehicle specialist". (Game, set, and match)
Barrister: "Right. Let's move on".

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