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.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Crown Court

Appeals from magistrates' courts are usually heard in the Crown Court (apart from those where a higher court is asked to rule on points of law) and the Judge sits with two magistrates, and without a jury. The judge has the final say on points of law, but otherwise it is one-man-one-vote when we come to decide. We may be sitting with a Circuit Judge or with a Recorder and the reason for having us there is that most judges and recorders have more or less lost touch with the lower echelons of crime and need our input. I sat with a Recorder a few months ago who cheerfully admitted that the last time he had dealt with motoring offences in a court was twenty years ago.

Appeals against sentence are straightforward, but can stretch out a bit when the defendant is unrepresented. Appeals against conviction and sentence are by way of a re-hearing with the witnesses giving their evidence afresh.

Recorders are barristers or, less usually, solicitors who sit in court for a few weeks each year. Some are building up their judicial experience prior to applying to become a full-time judge, but a significant number are those barristers who can't afford to go on the Bench full-time because they are doing very nicely indeed at the Bar. This was neatly pointed up the last time that I was at the Crown Court; I parked my car in the secure car park that is reserved for judges, and among the usual Golfs and Volvos was a gleaming new Jaguar XK8 parked with the hood down, giving a view of the creamy leather seats. "Recorder?" I asked the security man. "Yes, Mr. Recorder XXX QC. He's here for three weeks". Recorders can be identified by the fact that they wear the black barrister's gown with wig and bands rather than the Circuit Judge's purple robe and red sash. Some of the gowns robes and wigs that we see are remarkably scruffy and threadbare - I have no idea whether this is schoolboyish pride in having a uniform that shows your seniority or a reflection of the cost of buying a new outfit.

I am often surprised by the casual way in which some defendants treat their appearance in the Crown Court, and a few seem to go out of their way to give an unhelpful impression. One fellow who was charged with an assault turned up in a cutaway singlet that was calculated to show off his gym-honed muscles and his exotic tattoos. He further helped us decide what sort of man he was when he was accused of punching someone as he was struggling to his feet. "Never" he declared. "If I had punched him he wouldn't have got up again."

At one we lunch in the Judges' Dining Room, and there is an opportunity to catch up with a bit of criminal justice gossip, and to swap information about the cases that we regularly pass up to the higher court.

I enjoy these sittings, because on top of the work there is the human interest of watching the interplay of judges and counsel and comparing the different styles of the judges. The downside is that cases collapse just as often in the Crown Court as they do in the Mags' so a day's work may be over by half past eleven or we might still be there at ten to six in the evening.