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.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Speaking For Yourself

To instruct a solicitor to appear in court on your behalf can be an expensive business. Legal Aid is not usually granted for simple cases where there are no complex legal issues and no danger of the accused losing his liberty. Thus we often see unrepresented people defending themselves. Most magistrates would rather see a lawyer do the job, as matters can get to the point a lot more quickly than they would when a layman brings in all sorts of stuff that is simply irrelevant.

Mr. Parkins pleaded Not Guilty to drink-driving, and conducted his own defence. His wife sat at the back, paying rapt attention while two police officers gave evidence of stopping him, carrying out the roadside test, arresting him and taking him to the Police Station for the Intoximeter test. The reading was 43 in breath, which is at the lower end of the scale but over the limit nevertheless. As the reading was below 55 the driver had the right to be offered a blood test, which he accepted. We were told that the blood test gave a reading of 88, the limit being 80. He cross-examined the officers in great detail, querying whether the blue lights were used on the police car, what side of the road he had been stopped on, and all sorts of other details that contained no germ of a defence. He had to be told to stop walking about, as he was trying to do a US-style job on an imaginary jury. His wife provided a muttered commentary with vigorous nods and shakes of the head, and she had to be told to sit still and keep quiet. After about an hour we had finished with the officers' evidence and the three of us were a long way from being convinced of his innocence. "That, Sir, is the case for the Crown." said the prosecutor, and he sat down. There was a silent pause, and one of my colleagues said : "can we go outside for a minute?" I knew what was on her mind, and we trooped out to the retiring room. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Two nods.

When the defendant took the blood test the result of the analysis superseded the reading on the Intoximeter because the blood test is slightly more accurate. Unfortunately for the prosecution they had failed to bring any evidence of the blood reading. This is normally in the form of an agreed ('Section 9') statement that is read to the court, but there wasn't one. We rapidly agreed that the prosecution case was defective. We called the clerk out to check, and she agreed that a key element of the case just wasn't there.

We went back in, and Mr. Parkins had keyed himself up for his big moment, giving evidence from the witness box. He was holding sheaves of notes and a couple of plastic bags containing heaven knows what.

"Mr. Parkins. You are not represented by a solicitor today. If you were, we believe that he would now be making a submission to us on a point of law. We have therefore considered the matter as if he had made a submission, and we find that there is no case to answer. The case is dismissed."

Mrs. P burst noisily into tears, and as her husband rushed to the back of the court, she leapt up, and they embraced fulsomely. Mr. P then burst into tears too. It took a few minutes to convince them that it was all over and they could go, while the prosecutor sat pondering his papers, presumably wondering how to explain the d├ębacle to his boss.

To the end of his days Mr. Parkins will tell his friends and family that he fought a drink-drive case without a lawyer, and won. He will never know that it was only an elementary procedural cock-up by the CPS that saved him. I wish I knew what lottery numbers he uses, for he is a very lucky man.