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 retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Out of Place

Much of the court's time is taken up with the unruly elements in society, be they drink or drug abusers, burglars or thieves. A glance into our waiting area is a peep into life at the bottom of the heap. Saddest sight of all is the teenage mother loyally supporting her feckless and dishonest boyfriend while being left, literally, holding the baby.

Here and there, though, we see a well dressed citizen, looking and feeling entirely out of place. For the respectable majority of society the inside of a court is an unknown environment, strange and threatening. Until, that is, they commit a traffic offence such as drink-driving, or they cross the fine line that separates legitimate business practices from crimes.

Most feel ashamed and demeaned. A few are cocky, feeling that the whole thing is rather beneath them.

Emotions are never far from the surface, as we saw when a man came in accused of driving without insurance. We see these offences every day, usually committed by young lads who get a nasty surprise when they buy an old car for £500 and discover that the insurance premium will be £2,000 for the year. This man, like many of us, runs two cars. He insures his, and names his wife as a driver. She does the mirror-image. She then decides to move her insurance to a cheap company that she has seen advertised on TV. The deal is done on the phone. When the documents arrive she files them away and thinks no more of it. He is stopped in a routine check, driving her car, and it transpires that she has omitted to include him on the policy. He is charged with driving without insurance. He was advised that he had no alternative to a plea of guilty.

When he came to court, he was clearly upset. He produced a thick wad of paper that included 25 years' worth of insurance certificates. He explained what had happened, stressing his belief in the law by waving the old certificates, and we believed him. I announced that we accepted his story, but I said that the law on insurance was strict and inflexible. To reflect our view, we would reduce the fine to a token £50 but we were obliged to endorse his licence with the (minimum) six points. I thought that he would be relieved. Instead he slumped to his seat and sobbed his eyes out. It is very trying to see a grown man with no previous convictions being so devastated, but we had no options.

Comparing that man with the insouciant youths who make up our daily list reminded us that enforcing the law means most to those who respect it in the first place.