/

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.

My Photo
Name:
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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Update

I try to keep you all informed about the down-and-dirty end of law enforcement.

Here's a street-vocabulary update:- the fine old English word 'Grass', beloved of many generations of scallywags is on the way out. In comes the American 'Snitch', presumably imported by rappers with their slavish adherence to American ghetto talk.

Here's a sample rap from Shepherd's Bush, where a run-of the-mill family house costs at least half-a-million but where some 'lively' young men stalk the streets:

Shepherd's Bush Rap

Lose-Lose tragedy

I saw my second ever case of Causing Death By Careless Driving the other day. We were easily persuaded to send it to the Crown Court to be dealt with, despite the fact that it was a run-of-the-mill driving error, that had devastating consequences. I can't say too much about it, but it came down to a moment of inattention on the part of a driver that resulted in a collision. Unfortunately the third party was a cyclist, who died a few hours later.

I will try to stay in touch with the eventual outcome of the case. Guidelines have softened the vengeful character of the original 'Sun' - inspired law, about which I have blogged several times, and I suspect that in the absence of aggravation such as mobile-phone use the driver will, as the 'Sun' would say, walk free from court, although he is bound to face a disqualification.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dignity

The recent atrocities in Norway, a country in which I have several friends, have been met with a quiet dignity and determination that does that small nation great credit.

Rather than ranting about revenge, the Norwegians have taken comfort from reasserting their belief in democracy and justice. That is what makes them, along with most decent British people, so special. It's called civilisation.

I am proud to be British, and I am proud to be a friend and admirer of Norway.

The values that our nations share are the best to be found on this planet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Keep An Eye Out For This One

As a Times reader I have noticed in the last little while a gentle whiff on the breeze, signifying that an idea is being floated. An article or two, and a number of letters to the editor suggest that someone is opening up the debate as to whether the police should have an officer corps, rather like the armed forces. Now there is a front-page report in today's Sunday Times to the same effect.

It's a big debate, but it is one that needs to take place, as the highest levels of our police forces are not presently held in very high esteem.

Ambitious and bright graduates from the best universities strive to get into medicine, the law, the media, business and the City, and firms put great effort into recruiting the brightest and best, but you rarely hear of highly talented young people who see their future in the police, despite the importance and the potential rewards of the service.

This could be interesting.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It Isn't Just Here

Apparently California suffers much the same bureaucratic restraints on emergency personnel that we sometimes see here:- Article

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't Cry For Me Acton.....

I posted this a few weeks ago.

Guess what?

Harrow now has to dread the rain - not that it's a court any more.

I have sat at both - I shall refrain from naming the others, for the obvious reason.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Question

At today's Murdoch hearing before a Parliamentary Committee, something happened.

No, I don't know either.

So if you were tasked with charging the alleged assailant, what would you go for?

Or might you be tempted towards Don Corleone's alternative solution?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Empathy Time

I have previously expressed reservations about the views of Inspector Gadget, and, being of a tolerant and understanding nature, I nevertheless empathise with the frustrations felt on the front line of policing, as found in the dark hours on the kind of rough estate that exists on my patch.

I do, however, take exception to his persistent misquoting of me when he claims that I described him or his troops as 'below stairs'. I can't find it on Google or Blogger, but no matter.

Where I do empathise with Gadget and his subordinates and colleagues is when I read about the allegations concerning the most senior officers in the land, who may (subject to judicial findings) have lived the high life at public expense, or at the expense of some very shady characters.

Front line coppers, as they buckle on their protective kit, are entitled to wonder just what is going on in the shiny offices of their masters. They may soon find out.

It's Been A Good Few Years For The Greeks (2)

Recent times have seen many examples of hubris and nemesis. The ongoing Murdoch saga is only the most recent, but if you cast your mind back a while, just look at the swaggering world leaders, or TV personalities, or sports stars in their pomp, inebriated with the exhilaration of their own success, fawned over, flattered, deferred to until even the toughest mind starts to believe that the adulation is justified.

Ceausescu couldn't believe it when a crowd turned against him; a few days later he was put against a wall and shot. The bombastic Chavez who arranged to rewrite Venezuela's constitution to allow him to stay in office indefinitely is now facing the reality of cancer, that may render the rewrite unnecessary. Across the Arab world the old certainties are crumbling, to the disbelief of many of the hitherto-entrenched leaders.

In business, media, politics, and even in the churches, today's exalted masters are only one or two steps away from disaster.

You don't have far to look to find hundreds more examples. Those Athenians knew a thing or two.

(later) From A-list party to an arrest in a few days - so Rebekah is helping police with enquiries.

It's Been A Good Few Years For The Greeks

Not your modern Greeks, oh no - lumbered as they are with the overhang of an unaffordable spending spree with other people's money - but their ancient forbears, whose analysis of the human condition has been proved right over thousands of years.

Hubris, Nemesis and Catharsis underlie Greek tragedy, and the tragedy of humanity is that every generation has to learn all over again, the hard way, that the Greeks had it spot on.

Take as a forinstance the newly-incarcerated Charlie Gilmour. A scion of the rock aristocracy, a pretty boy who had tried his hand at modelling, a beneficiary of his dad's U-turn on whether 'we don't need no edukayshun' to the extent that he attended Lancing and Cambridge. He is (was?) reading history, but it looks as if he missed the ancient Greek bit that might have helped warn him of the dangers ahead.

He will have been an undergraduate A-lister, with the money the looks and the contacts to lead a massively privileged life; invited to the best parties, fawned over by the prettiest and most accommodating girls. He must have felt like a young master of the universe - until the sky fell in.

He went to the big London student demo, his not-specially-coherent political views supercharged by the usual chemical enhancers, and he must have been exhilarated by the heady atmosphere of the day as he yelled his secondhand agitprop slogans. The Cenotaph flag business was a big mistake, but he won't have realised that until the cold light of morning. A half-hearted attempt to set light to the Supreme Court with scrunched-up newspaper was thwarted by a policeman's Size Nines, and then came the ruckus around Prince Charles' limo, with its police escort.

So there was hubris all right, and nemesis arrived this week in the shape of a prison sentence. It was a tricky one for the judge to balance, but I think he got it about right. I hope that young Gilmour's brief experience of prison will teach him some useful things about life end his fellow man, as la jeunesse dorée meets the underclass. Call it catharsis if you like.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Hundred Years Ago....

I posted this.

Doesn't read quite so well now, does it?

What Is The Point Of This?

In a moment of carelessness a driver caused a massive accident that killed her aged parents.

She was charged with Causing Death By Careless Driving, a Blair-era offence that was enacted at the behest of The Sun's lust to Cage The Killer Drivers.

What on earth is the point of imposing a community penalty with unpaid work? The offence carries up to 5 years inside (for, be it said, what can be a simple human error). Humans make mistakes; this woman has paid the appalling price of knowing that she has killed her own parents, in addition to injuring herself seriously.

Does anyone, even at Wapping, seriously believe that this is likely to inspire other drivers to take more care tomorrow? Will it save a single life? If you follow the Sun's logic, the driver should now be behind bars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Little Off-Topic Philosphy

I am a regular user of the M40 into London; as you approach Denham there is a long fence on the left that has carried a range of graffiti over the years.I don't know if the landowner is of a philosophical bent or whether he has nocturnal visitors wielding paintbrushes (this is not your spray-can sort of stuff). For a long time a hundred-foot stretch of fence carried the haunting question "WHY DO I DO THIS EVERY DAY?" which must have struck a chord with many commuters. Today I noticed that the question has been replaced with "SHALL WE CHANGE DIRECTION?" which is another good question so long as you do not apply it to your driving at that particular point.

A bridge on the A40 approaching Oxford carried the legend "PANAVIA TORNADO" for a long time, but I never did understand why. Later the legend "PLANK IS GOD" appeared on the same bridge for a similarly unfathomable reason.

But the prize has to go to the long concrete parapet on a roundabout near Harrow on the Hill station. Somebody must have spent ages painstakingly painting, in foot-high letters, "NICHOLAS PARSONS IS THE NEO-OPIATE OF THE PEOPLE"

No, I can't guess either.

Heavyweight Appointment

Sir Brian Leveson

Sir Brian, the Chairman of the Sentencing Council, has been named as the judge to head the News International enquiry. I met him a few times when he was Senior Presiding Judge, and I have heard him speak at a couple of meetings.

He is a hard-headed and tough minded judge, who has already stamped his mark on the Sentencing Council. Nevertheless, for all his ability, I suspect that someone will have to mind the store at the Sentencing Council while the judge is otherwise occupied.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rethink - Part One Of A Potentially Long Series

The seismic events of this week have naturally dominated the news agenda. There is, we are told, much more to come.

Until the tsunami burst on to Fleet Street there were signs of a growing campaign to sort out the judges, probably inspired by the entirely misconceived furore over the Bellfield/Dowler trial. A headline in the Times' Law section read:
'Citizens need to be confident that judges reflect the full diversity of modern Britain'

But do they? Do they really?
Judges are among the top tier of professionals. They need to have considerable training and experience. They need to have earned the confidence and trust of their peers over time. They need to pass a rigorous selection procedure that has moved far beyond the casual old-boy tap on the shoulder of the old days.

Judges sometimes hold the future of a man or woman or a child in the palm of their hand. Medical consultants do the same with more immediately devastating consequences if they make a mistake. Airline pilots can kill hundreds of people with one relatively trivial human oversight.

When the man in the street boards a plane, or submits to an anaesthetic, or stands in the dock before a judge, his concern is not likely to be whether the professional in whom he places his trust is reflective of diversity, but rather whether he is the most highly trained and competent person available.

Who, submitting himself as we all have to, to the care of a trained professional, is likely to worry about whether the diversity boxes have been ticked? Not me, for sure. I want the very best for myself and my family. Of course diversity is important at the stage of selecting people for training or promotion, but it is nowhere near as important as competence.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Over There!

It seems that traffic cameras, in particular those set to monitor traffic lights, are pretty controversial in the States too.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Once More Into The Breach Court....

I dealt with a few Community Order breaches this week. Probation (or Serco, the tagged curfew contractors) present the facts, and the offender admits or (occasionally) denies them.

If the breach is admitted or proved, the court must deal with it, usually by adding conditions to make it more onerous, such as more hours of unpaid work or a longer curfew. Costs can be ordered. Sometimes Probation throw up their hands and say that the order is 'unworkable' so we are invited to revoke the order and re-sentence.

That can be a complex process, especially when our man has done some of the order, but failed on others. If resentencing it is only fair to make some allowance for what has been done, such as perhaps a third of unpaid work hours being completed (however grudgingly) or a part of a prescribed course attended.

One of our cases this week involved a man whose response to the constructive parts of his order (supervision and anger management) had been hopeless, but who had stuck to his curfew. His solicitor, a respected regular in our court, filled in some traumatic family background for his client.

My colleague and I agreed on a compassionate view, and imposed an immediate prison sentence, that we were able to offset against time he had spent in custody awaiting trial. He was in tears when I asked him to stand up, but he thanked us as the sentence sank in.

Both of us on the bench were convinced that he wasn't acting, and we live in hope (although we are not daft) that this might be his chance to get himself sorted out. We both wish him well.

If it all goes wrong we shall see him again, and he knows what to expect if we do.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Quite, M'lud

The Lord Chief Justice, who is, apart from The Queen, my judicial boss, thinks that too many out-of-court penalties are being dished out. For what it's worth, I agree with His Lordship.

Policing and adjudicating are very different arts, and it is right to keep them separate as far as possible.

Unfortunately, the relative cheapness of fixed penalties and the like means that there is next to no chance of any restriction on their use.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Experience

These words, posted by our commenter Italian Lawyer deserve greater prominence than the comments can give. I commend them to you:



"We have an adversarial system, the purpose of which is not to find out what happened, it is to see whether an offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt".
How I wish I could translate that, print it in very large blocks and paste it in our courtrooms where the judge must see it while sitting. We, too, have an adversarial system...in theory. But we do allow victims to sue for damages in the criminal trial, which puts the judge in an impossible position: he's supposed -to see whether an offence is proved beyond a reasonable doubt-, but he's also under pressure to see that victims have justice and that not in moral, but in very material terms. However can he reconcile the two, if the accused happens to be a likely suspect but the evidence is unsound? Something's got to give, and that is all too often the standard of proof and basic fairness in hearing evidence . Non to mention that in a system that does not allow the accused to testify, and would not allow either plaintiff or defendant to testify if it was a civil case, having the victim both ! ; witness for the prosecution and plaintiff is inherently unfair, and extremely unwise:perjury thrives, and do you wonder.
That of solacing victims through the criminal trial is a dangerous delusion which easily creates other victims. The way to hell, as the proverb goes, is paved with pious intentions. Stick to your own system , or you'll regret it.

By Way of Contrast

This lady is not a civil servant. She needs to watch the smoking though - it may spoil her looks.

Is This Better?

Here's a nice picture that involves no civil servants

Wade In The Balance And Found Wanting

Most of the press, with the obvious exception of the News International stable, is expressing disgust as more details of the phone-hacking scandal emerge. Tampering with the voicemail of the by-then-murdered Milly Dowler, raising false hopes in her family and clouding the picture for police investigators plumbed new depths of callousness and irresponsibility, but this, to me, is not the worst aspect of this complex scandal.

Some years ago Rebekah Wade as was (now Brooks) admitted to a Commons committee that her paper had paid police officers for information. Now extensive files on these payments have reportedly been handed over to Scotland Yard. What did senior police officers do at the time about this news - or was it not news to them but rather something greeted with a nod-and-a-wink? If this hacking scandal results in criminal charges, as it may, what is the likelihood of an investigating detective being one who has taken brown envelopes from Wapping in the past? What does that do for public confidence?

In the same way, it's a bit rich to hear David Cameron's expressed shock about the behaviour of the paper managed by his dining and riding companion - why didn't he ask her over the After Eights, or during a gentle hack in the countryside?

We are still waiting to hear an explanation as to why the police investigation into journalistic malpractice stalled in about 2006. Cynics might draw an unpleasant conclusion. As a rider, Cameron knows the importance of seeing that the stables are regularly cleaned out. There's some muck here that he might make a start on.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hard Casey Wants To Make Bad Law

Just to show that I care for my readers

Louise Casey, the so-called Victim's Commissioner is a lady for whom I have little respect and no liking. She is a throwback to the Blair/Brown era, having had the good fortune to be appointed to her present post in the dying days of the Brown régime.
Her interview in The Times (behind the paywall, I'm afraid) reveals that she has decided to join in the class war.

She claims that victims of crime "are being betrayed by a liberal intelligentsia that focuses on the rights of offenders rather than those they have attacked". This Liberal Elite rubbish is the stock in trade of the chippy Right, who would presumably prefer those in charge to be illiberal uneducated and above all, not intellectual - can't have too much thinking now can we?

She is quoted as saying that if doctors and lawyers were themselves the victims of serious crime, a campaign group similar to the human rights group Liberty would be set up to support them.

She tells The Times: “I see that a lot of victims are not wealthy. They don’t have brothers that are barristers, they don’t have friends that are journalists and they struggle to get their voice heard. I just don’t think that is morally right.”

Her report is to be published this week. According to her Times interview she also wants the families to be able to display a photograph of their loved one when statements on the impact of the crime are read before sentencing.

Even by her standards this is an appalling debasement of the solemnity of a serious criminal trial, reducing it to an occasion for emotional grandstanding. Trial and sentence are for the state to decide on guilt and impose punishment. The judge must sentence calmly and dispassionately. What is he supposed to do, faced with a gaggle of relatives waving a placard of their departed? He may not allow it to affect his sentence. Does Casey want him to appear on the courthouse steps to say that he 'feels the victims' pain?'

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Lucky Boy?

This chap may well be fortunate that his case was dealt with at the Crown Court. I imagine that most lay benches would have gone in a good deal harder.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tricky Tech

The criminal justice system is still pretty old-fashioned in its use of technology in the courtroom. Justices' legal advisers almost invariably use handwritten notes, and long running cases soon acquire files of paper several inches thick. The police justifiably complain about the reams of paper they have to complete, and the idea of switching to electronic files is overwhelmingly attractive on grounds of speed efficiency and cost.
But there's a however, of course. There is not the faintest chance of an integrated system to allow use of files by police, CPS, courts, prisons, probation, and the other agencies involved, at least in my judicial lifetime. There are so many horror stories of bungled and catastrophic computerisations in government and the NHS that no politician or civil servant with an eye to his career prospects would even think about another.
The latest problem is the routine omnipresence of very powerful web-enabled small personal gadgets. The trouble with jurors is well known - you simply cannot allow people to do their own research on the law or the defendants in a system that depends on the jury deciding purely on the facts presented in court.
Quite a few magistrates rarely look at their thick folder of guidelines, preferring to use an electronic copy. But there's a problem.
There is case law that forbids JPs to consult the Guidelines before the defendant is convicted. There was a successful appeal based on the defence lawyer's assertion that the sight of a Bench member leafing through his guidelines meant that he had already made up his mind. Perhaps he had, perhaps not, but the appeal was allowed. So when Mr. Winger is tapping away at his iPhone or iPad or netbook or whatever on the bench, how can the advocates know what he's looking at? Human nature being what it is, curiosity will inevitably cause a few people to go beyond just looking up the guidelines into doing a bit of impermissible research.

Here are words of guidance from a very big wig indeed:-

Guidance
Magistrates may use personal technology to access public and non-sensitive material in court. This includes documents such as Sentencing Council publications, protocols, guidance documents and the Judicial College Bench Books.
However, it is not permitted for magistrates to store or access sensitive material on their personal technology. This includes documents given a protective marking by administrators (such as “protect”, “restricted” or “confidential”), and any material containing details of a case or personal information. Magistrates may not make notes of cases on personal technology. Even if everything typed is subsequently deleted, the information is still accessible for some time and so presents a security risk.


It's not news that the high-ups are terrified of losing sensitive data, but this guidance still fails to address the issue that we must decide cases on the evidence before us, and we should follow our clerk's advice as to the law. If we do so, we cannot be criticised. But if the retiring room becomes like an internet cafe with JPs tapping away to do their own research on the law or, worse, finding out where they have heard of this or that defendant or witness before, it will damage justice.

We will hear much more of this issue before matters settle down - but given the speed of technical advance, perhaps they never will.

http://parkingattendant.blogspot.com/http://www.crimeline.info/