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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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Unconscionable Time A-Dying


The ridiculous 'Respect' agenda is pretty much dead, but its corpse still carries on twitching, rather like Olivier's Richard III in the eponymous film. The appalling Louise Casey (above) is still flogging her 'community justice' agenda despite most of its proposals having been howled down by those who actually understand how the system works. The Blair régime was star-struck by the New York Red Hook project and put a version of it in North Liverpool. The 'Community Justice Centre' had shedloads of cash thrown at it, and unsurprisingly started to achieve some respectable results. It hasn't been and won't be replicated because it is far too expensive to operate across the country. We were promised 'Community Courts' in the church hall with 'community representatives' - i.e. the usual bores and obsessives to tell us how to sentence. Cost and security issues killed that one. I nearly hurled my eggy soldier across the kitchen this morning when I read in The Times that the 'Public will get chance to choose judges' and have a say in how crimes are prosecuted. We are going to get 'community prosecutors' and more. The full horror story is here.
In the whole mishmash of Civil Service gobbledegook, about the only sensible idea is putting the outcome of convicted cases online. One of my main motives in starting this blog was to throw light on the processes in the lower courts, and more information about real sentences can only aid reasoned debate.
Fortunately this bunch of clowns have another year at most to carry on tinkering with the system, and even more fortunately whoever follows them won't have the cash to throw away on whizzy new schemes. Surely the Civil Service can find something constructive for Ms. Casey to do?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Law For The Rich?

This report is a classic tabloid piece, conforming to the 'how dare they?' school of journalism.
The story speaks for itself.
Is it so awful that when imposing a community penalty the bench should strive to avoid putting the defendant out of a job?
It comes as a surprise and a relief when we discover that the wretch before us has a job, and since a job plays such a huge part in preventing reoffending we bend over backwards to ensure that our sentence should not interfere with it.
So on your bike, Mail journo - the bloke's employer may be a toff, but isn't it worth cutting the guy a bit of slack to keep him working, paying tax, and doing his community punishment?
There are worse things than being the butler to a Countess, after all. He could be a Daily Mail hack, and how much respect would that earn him?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Answer

The question (posed by Anonimouse) that I posted yesterday has attracted a lot of replies, and those replies cover a wide range of views.
So here's what I think (said he, exercising blogger's privilege) :-

ASBOs have their place in the judicial armoury, and when they have been sensibly made there is a good case for them. The order was partly discredited in the early days when some were made that were downright silly - I don't need to list examples.

In crowded modern day England noise is one of the nastiest forms of pollution, and I am not talking about motorways and jumbo jets, but inconsiderate neighbours. I have seen many such cases in court, and it is no exaggeration to say that being stuck with noisy neighbours (a problem that is worse for poor people because they lack the option to move away) can ruin people's lives. There are a thousand ways in which the inconsiderate or downright cussed neighbour can inflict hell on the folks next door.

A local council or an individual can apply to magistrates for an order to abate noise, and if the court is satisfied on the civil standard of proof the order will be made. If the nuisance continues, then breach of the order may become a criminal offence, and magistrates will again have to decide what to do.

If, and this case seems to be one, the offenders are determined to carry on with their obnoxious behaviour then an ASBO might fit the bill. Some people (eg here) will defy the ASBO, and that pushes matters way up-tariff; the offence of breaching an ASBO is either-way and can attract a five year sentence in the Crown Court.

For alcoholics and the mentally ill an ASBO is in my view too draconian and almost certain to be breached. In this case the breaches appear to be wilful, even petulant, so I am comfortable with the breach being the subject of a charge.

This defendant has elected jury trial, unwisely in my view, because the only matter for the jury will be whether the ASBO was breached.

As for bail, regulars here will know that bail is one of the things I post about most often, because it is so little understood outside of the courts and the legal profession.

This lady has repeatedly ignored court orders, and threatened to carry on doing so. The Bail Act focuses on three issues - fail to appear, interfere with witnesses, or commit further offences. Since this lady has more or less promised to do the latter, the court had no choice but to refuse bail. She is not in custody for the original offence, but for promising to carry on doing it. And of course a remand in custody is not a punishment, nor is bail a let-off. It's a means to manage an offender before the trial that will eventually decide his guilt or innocence.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Question

This was posted as a comment but is worth pushing up the agenda:-

Who thinks that this is an appropriate use of an ASBO?


(Asked by anonimouse)

Friday, April 24, 2009

A True Sign Of The Times

I understand that the mysterious process of feeding information to magistrates has come up with the news that, unlike in former years, there is no longer any expectation that a magistrate who is involved, either personally or as a company director, in administration or bankruptcy should resign, although he is obliged to tell his clerk or bench chairman about it.
Presumably someone has calculated that in the present economic holocaust too many JPs might have been for the chop.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Further and Better Particulars

I posted a few days ago about a Judge's scathing remarks to and about some solicitor advocates. Crime Line has now reported that the solicitors' firms involved are not taking the criticism lying down. The response is here

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Update

The Times

Road Rage

The Government is trailing plans to cut speed limits and bring in other measures to improve road safety. The Times runs one of its annoying graphics that use blobs to indicate relative figures, and these seem to show than the UK, while having very much safer roads that Greece, the USA, Italy and France, we have dropped behind Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Malta.
Just a minute - the first three are often covered in snow, and have large areas that are uninhabitable. Malta is a amall island. Their figures cannot possibly bear comparison with the UK, the South-East of which is one of the most crowded places in Europe, with heavily overloaded roads and a high density of people and of vehicles.
Others will come up with their own take on the proposals, but there is no mention of my favoured measure, which would be to impose mandatory speed limiters on vans in the 3.5 tonne range. Many of these are very powerful with top speeds in excesss of 110mph. In the nature of things, a lot of white van men use all of it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Creaking Tom

We saw a lady in her late forties the other day. She has more than 200 previous convictions, most of them for prostitution. Sadly, time and her lifestyle have taken their toll, and I suspect that business will be dropping off from here on in.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Other Side Of The Coin

The BBC reports the death of a police officer who died on duty. It would not be proper to comment, under the sub judice rule, as people have been charged in connection with the incident.
This is a dreadful time for the officer's family, and must be traumatic for his friends and colleagues.
The officer put himself in harm's way to protect the public, and we should be grateful for that. At a time when the police are under huge pressure, this was an example of a man who died on duty in a worthy cause.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Me Too


Shami Chakrabarti, the director of 'Liberty' has had a good couple of years, and she has played her hand well over the recent concatenation of events that has forced policing and civil liberties to the forefront of the public agenda. Today's Times has a piece about her, and it includes this:

Asked last year what her agenda for the justice system would be, she replied: “Ensure that the Home Secretary is not allowed to legislate for five years and concentrate on actually achieving positive outputs other than by legislation.”

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Apocrypha (28)

Sometimes defendants, especially those with a grievance about being arrested, lose sight of their own interests. A man charged with an offence worth three months at most finally came to trial after many wasted weeks. We sentenced him to prison, but our sentence, after early release at the halfway point, came to less than he had aleady served. His barrister had earlier told our clerk that she had advised him a few weeks ago to change his plea, since he could then have been released on the spot.
But he wanted his day in court, and that's what he got, along with a few extra weeks in the slammer that cost the rest of us many thousands of pounds.

Apocrypha (27)

Defendant (in taped interview): "I never understood the order because I've got learning difficulties"
Detective: "What do you mean by that?"
Defendant: "When I left school I couldn't read and write or tell the time. (pause) I could speak Latin though"
Detective: "Sorry? What did you say?"
Defendant: "It was a Catholic school".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Shot Across The Bows

Criminal defence solicitors are under pressure. Changes to Legal Aid over recent years have severely cut the income of many firms, and one response has been for more solicitors to qualify for Higher Rights of Audience, permitting them to appear in the Crown Court. This obviates the need to brief Counsel and keeps the available fees in-house (and has the side effect of making life very difficult for the junior Bar).
It's not all plain sailing though, as this judge makes clear.
(Thanks to the excellent Crime Line for the link)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Spring Is Sprung...........

Looking back over the last few weeks, I am sorry to see that I have been a bit of an old grump. In my defence, I might suggest that even Pollyanna, had she been a JP, might have found 2009 Britain a bit challenging, but let that pass.
It's nice and warm today, to the west of London. The trees are budding, the birds are nesting (especially the wood pigeons, who seem even more randy than ever this year - I can't imagine how they find time to build a nest). The recession is, as expected, nasty for quite a few people, including a few of my friends, but an encouraging number of those who have lost their jobs have found something else, even if the new post is less exalted than they were used to. At least they can pay the mortgage.
Many locals have the builders in, which is good news for the shovel-and-bucket merchants. Quite a few shops in the town are empty, but to be fair, most of those were pretty hopeless anyway, selling stuff of dubious attractiveness at improbable prices. Easter in the local park was wonderful, with hundreds of children on the newly-re-equipped playground and all of our High Street coffee shops packed. My local pub seemed quiet when I got there on Monday until I looked in the garden and saw dozens of families out in the sunshine.
So begone dull care! I'm going to cheer up, whether you like it or not. I have one sitting to come this week, so I shall attempt to adjudicate in my most avuncular manner. Let's just hope that the CPS, or HMCS, or any of my other Betes Noires don't spoil it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bad Week? Make That A Bad Fortnight

It isn't getting better is it?
Now we have the anti-terrorist operation in the North West apparently drawing a blank, and the arrest and release on bail of 114 potential environmental protesters in the East Midlands (on suspicion of conspiracy, which is a far more serious matter than the substantive offence). Whatever happens, the investigation of over a hundred alleged conspirators is not going to be simple, and is going to soak up a huge amount of police resources, not to mention legal aid and court costs - if any of it ever gets to court that is. Now this evening we discover that, oops, yes, there is a bit more CCTV of the G20 protest available, and a clip has turned up that appears to show an officer, his numbers concealed in breach of regulations, assaulting a woman.
Somebody needs to get a grip. Where's the Home Secretary? Isn't that her job?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

They Really Don't Get It

With the papers full of reaction to the G20 policing issue and various other embarrassing foul-ups, some cretin in the Home Office has decided to throw away many thousands of our pounds on putting a half-page ad for this in my Sunday paper.
The 'pledge' is meaningless PR nonsense, the cost unjustifiable, and the timing rotten.
Good job lads.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Bad Week

The Police Service has had a truly terrible week.
The policing of the G20 protests last week, and the death, from whatever cause, of an innocent man on his way home from work has led the entire Press, in an unprecedented display of unity, to question the management of the police operation and the behaviour of some officers. To make things worse, misleading and disingenuous statements were made to the press; statements that had to be reconsidered as video evidence started to emerge. Then the IPCC's initial response, asking City of London police to, in effect, investigate themselves, was flawed, and has now been put right. The public and political mood means that the investigation will not, and should not, stop at the events of April 1st, but must look at the wider issue of police management and training.
This morning the Yard's senior anti-terrorist police officer has fallen on his sword after making an error that an 18 year-old work experience kid might have committed by walking into no. 10 with a secret document facing the cameras and able to be photographed. That wasn't wicked, but it was careless and incompetent, and however unfairly it will affect the public's respect for senior coppers - respect that took a severe hammering from the farcical shenenigans at the top of the Met last year.
Then yesterday, we had a police driver remanded in custody having killed a young pedestrian while driving at up to 94 mph in an urban area without any lights or sirens. The officer will pay the penalty for his errors, but the case also raises issues of management and training. The risks he took were not justified by the offence he was trying to deal with, and there should have been a structure in place to make him aware of that in the heat of the moment.
There is no pleasure or satisfaction to be gained from all this, even to the hardened anti-police commentators. The police are everyone's police, there to protect and to serve the public - that's all of us. They need our support and our understanding. But they also need and deserve some better management. Soon.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Send It Up?


Mode of Trial is a decision that every magistrate will be familiar with. Many offences (drink-drive, drunk in the street, common assault and suchlike) can only be dealt with by magistrates and there is no option of a jury trial. Heavyweight crimes such as murder, rape and so on can only be dealt with in the higher court, and nowadays these are swiftly passed upstairs under the so-called 'section 51' procedure that leaves the Crown Court to sort out all the case management issues.
Mode of Trial arises in the large group of offences in the middle, known as 'either-way' which means that they may be tried in either the Mags' or the Crown Court. These include theft, ABH, drug dealing, and many others. The Bench will hear the prosecution version of the facts, and the prosecutor will add his view as to the correct venue, as will the defence (at which point his client might decide to elect jury trial anyway, of which more later). Many decisions almost make themselves. Theft can involve a chocolate bar or a Ferrari and the guideline cut-off for 'high value' of £10,000 gives a steer to the court. All factors have to be considered though, so something like a vulnerable victim, planned action over time, or professional hallmarks may push a case over the line and on its way to the chap in a wig and a purple dressing gown even if the value is relatively modest.
Assuming that the defendant doesn't elect, the bench has to ask itself whether the offence is likely to be worth, on conviction, more than the JPs' maximum sentence. For two either-way offences that maximum is 12 months after trial, or 8 months after credit for a plea. For a single offence it it half that, although it's possible to give the full six months for a plea, the credit being reflected by the fact that the case is not being sent to the Crown Court.
This Times piece points out that a substantial number of cases sent up by magistrates are sentenced within the lower court's powers. Sending the case upstairs causes delay, sometimes stretching to months, and greatly increases costs. Sometimes the CPS ask for a case to go up when there is little or no chance of a sentence in excess of JPs' powers (eg a 2-handed theft from employer valued at £400) and sometimes they invite us to accept a case that we think is far too serious for us, so up it goes. My personal inclination is to accept a case if we can, even if it's borderline. The resident Judge at our local Crown Court is in favour of that, which I find pretty persuasive.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What Should We Make Of This? - Part 2

Here and elsewhere this video and various eyewitness accounts have sparked a debate that encompasses a wide range of opinions. Since this is, after all, a blog about judicial matters, may I suggest that we approach this as if we were considering evidence.
What are the agreed facts? Put those aside as they need not detain us.
What are the disputed facts? Was the police action necessary and proportionate? Were the members of the public involved breaking the law? If so how? Were they threatening or violent to police or anyone else?
What is the evidence? What we have are eyewitness accounts (let's take them all at face value) and some video. Look at the facts that we have before us, as we would in court (albeit without cross-examination). Discount absolutely all preconceptions and concentrate on the evidence alone. What did the video or the witness accounts show?
What do you make of it?

Friday, April 03, 2009

What Should We Make Of This?

The by no means extreme Charon QC asks us to have a look at this bit of video.
What does it look like to you?

Nice to Know

I have just renewed my car insurance; after the usual internet search I finished up with the people who have that annoying dog in their ads. Nevertheless the cover was what I wanted, and the premium way less than I paid ten years ago for a bigger car. Being a cautious type I wrote a 'for the avoidance of doubt' letter to confirm that use for court business and for the bit of voluntary work I do is covered by the Social Domestic and Pleasure category. I got a letter back to confirm that voluntary work is covered so long as it is unpaid, and that claiming mileage is okay. In addition they cover the voluntary organisations for any liability they might incur by my driving on their business. I think that's pretty okay, as I know of colleagues who have been told that even occasional sittings at a different courthouse require commuting cover to be added. Nice one, doggy.

This Is My Friend McKenzie

The 'McKenzie Friend' is a character whom we sometimes see in court, being a lay person who sits with an unrepresented defendant, and helps them with procedure, possibly suggesting questions but without the right to address the court - that is reserved for the professionally qualified. In practice, in the lower courts, we often welcome all the help we can get, and where a lay person, perhaps a friend, or a social worker or even an employer can give us useful information we will listen to what they say. I have personally sat in a fines enforcement court where the open and honest help of a young man's employer, a small builder, played a large part in keeping the employee out of prison. In the small claims court the judge will often allow a McKenzie Friend to address him directly, as this is within the spirit of the quick and simple small claims procedure.
As Legal Aid becomes harder and harder to get we may see more and more of these unofficial representatives. A contributor to this month's 'Magistrate' magazine suggests that this might be a useful thing for senior JPs who are approaching retirement to take on, since they are familiar with court procedures and can save court time as well as reducing stress on people who may never have been inside a court before.

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