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, May 21, 2006

A Question of Identity

Many trials have at their core the identification of the accused by one or more witnesses. There is a lot of law about identification and you won't spend long on the bench before hearing about the Turnbull guidelines.

I became convinced of the perils of identification a few years ago, when I popped into the pub after court to meet a colleague, and the barmaid, who had been talking to a customer at the bar, said as she was serving us:- "Paul here was just telling me that he was in your court yesterday". It turned out that Paul was a CID officer, and we established that he had appeared in my courthouse the previous day to give evidence in a trial. "Which courtroom were you in?" I asked. "Court Two" he replied. "That's strange" I said "I was the chairman in Court Two yesterday. What was the case about?" "Firearms" he said. That's when the penny dropped. He was the officer in the case in a two hour trial, had given evidence in front of me for about 45 minutes of that time, and 24 hours later neither of us recognised the other at a range of five feet. We were both fooled by the totally different environments, probably exacerbated by the fact that I was sitting two feet higher than him in the court, but nevertheless we were both surprised.

Sometimes ID evidence is not difficult to shake. We had a (proper, police) traffic warden in the box, and a young man who was pleading not guilty. To speed things along we asked for the parking ticket to be handed up to the bench, and for once the warden had filled in the brief ID section on the back. The illicit parker was apparently an IC1 (white) male, of about five foot four. We glanced from the ticket, to the warden, to the six-foot plus dreadlocked Rastafarian who was in the dock, and decided that we had heard enough. The warden at least had the decency to look surprised.