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.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Even More from the LCJ

Following the announcement of the creation of a Ministry of Justice, Lord Phillips issued this statement:-
The announcement raises important issues of principle. The two most important are:

Structures are required which will prevent the additional responsibilities taken on by the new ministry interfering with or damaging the independent administration and proper funding of the court service.
The continuing problems of prison overcrowding and the availability of resources to provide the sentences imposed by the courts necessitate public debate. The judiciary are of the view that any changes to the present arrangements will, in due course, require legislation. Without this debate there is a risk that the new Ministry will be faced with a situation of recurrent crisis, or judges will be placed under pressure to impose sentences that they do not believe are appropriate.
The senior judges have already made it plain that structural safeguards must be put in place to protect the due and independent administration of justice. These concerns must be addressed. Provided that they are, there would be no objection in principle to the creation of a new Ministry with responsibility for both offender management and the court service.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers,
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales

As ever, Lord Phillips picks his words with great care, but what a contrast there is between this and the ever-changing tabloid-led rhetoric of politicians.

As a very junior member of the judiciary that Lord Phillips leads, I know which side I am on.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Here's a Pretty Kettle of Fish

Thanks to Nik Thomas for sending this link my way. We shouldn't say too much, because she's gone Not Guilty, and the magistrates have sent it up to the Crown Court, which means that it's sub judice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oh Goody! A Fresh Look at Justice!

Today's Bright Ideas (no. 477 of a series)

The BBC reports on the Government's latest thoughts (thoughts?) on the justice system.
Here's a quick guide to the announcement:-

However, the restructuring of forces - a plan abandoned when John Reid became home secretary - is not on the agenda.
- too expensive. Treasury says no.

He also said the plan was not to send less people to prison, but to have a "proportionate" criminal justice system
The plan is to send fewer people to prison because the Treasury says no. This will make room for all the 75 year-olds who must, we are told, stay incarcerated until the Daily Mail says they can come out.

If you are dangerous and convicted, you should stay in prison for as long as you pose a danger," Lord Falconer said.
Or even longer if we won't provide the people who can decide whether or not you are still dangerous.

Some people will be reduced in their re-offending by a community penalty, which is tough
- and cheaper than building prisons.

Rather than hitting the taxpayer twice by saying we're sending everybody to prison, you've got to spend another £40,000 to maintain all offenders in bed and breakfasts, we're saying you should pay back to the community if you're a non-serious offenders by doing unpaid work in the community," he said.
means there is no room in the prisons (see above).

Another idea in the policy document is for special units to house mentally-ill prisoners, where drug treatment would be available.
We are thinking of calling them mental hospitals. Why didn't anyone think of that before?

"Career criminals" could be prevented from mixing with former associates when they are freed from prison.
Could be. Won't be. It's impractical and probably illegal.

Other steps being considered include removing non-cash assets and driving licences, more rehabilitation in jails, keeping prisoners in contact with their children, more therapy and less reliance on drugs to treat mentally ill offenders
Motherhood and apple pie will take a little longer. Taking away driving licences for a non-driving offence may have legal problems and may prevent released prisoners earning a living. Non-cash assets (houses? cars?) may be part-owned by someone else. The ARA fiasco isn't promising is it?
By the way - Every year there is a promise to make community penalties tough, like I mean really tough, all right? Some years there are two promises. It won't happen. No money you see. As it is some of those sentenced to community orders are still waiting for courses or work weeks and months after the order is made.

I am sorry to repeat myself from a previous post, but the only word for this is 'bollocks'.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Down On The Pharm

I am quite accustomed to granting search warrants to investigate the burgeoning home-grown cannabis industry, in which professional operators can cram hundreds of plants into a suburban semi. The biggest that I have seen was a 5000 square foot industrial unit that was betrayed by its consumption of water and electricity. We saw something on a smaller scale the other week, a bedroom adapted with hydroponic systems to produce fifteen or so plants. The discovery was made by chance, as police visited the owner on another matter and stumbled across the drugs. The laboratory report was interesting, as it analysed just three of the plants to give an average yield of ready-to-roll dope. The amateur horticulturalist claimed that he had found street cannabis a little expensive, so he decided to cut out the middle man and grow his own. He didn't save anything, as we forfeited the plants and the equipment and fined him a fair bit of money.

Appeal Court Rules Against Mr. Toad

In a recent judgment (for which thanks to Criminal Solicitor Dot Net) the Administrative Court has dismissed an appeal based on a technical challenge to a Gatso camera. The key bit of the judgment appears to be:-
We do not accept that the use of this approved device is fundamentally unfair and consequently a breach of a defendant's right to a fair trial. The device makes use of two completely independent types of technology. The primary speed check uses radar and is dependent on the 'Doppler' effect. The device emits a high frequency radio beam along the road. A vehicle approaching the device will reflect some of the signal back to the device. The frequency of the returned signal will be different from that of the transmitted signal and the difference between the two is a function of the speed of the approaching vehicle. The device is able to calculate the speed from the difference in frequency. Thus the primary speed check is wholly independent of the correct working of the clock inside the device. The secondary check is dependent on the clock. Only if the secondary check tallies with the primary check will there be a prosecution. It seems to us that it is not unfair to require the defence to take on trust the correct functioning of the camera at an interval of half a second because, if the camera timing were not correct, it would be an extraordinary coincidence that the result of the two checks, independently carried out, should turn out to be the same.

Elsewhere in the report the driver claims that he did not realise that he was doing 81 mph in a 50 limit (in a van) and that his van wouldn't do 80 anyway. The judges gave his argument the credence that it deserved.
The full judgment is here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More From The Lord Chief

The latest speech by Lord Phillips, delivered last week, is to be found here. Skip the rather technical first part and start at the section headed Challenges. I make no apology for linking to long and closely argued speeches such as this, because you will never get that depth of information from a newspaper

Saturday, March 24, 2007

He May Be Right

This week I had to tell a young man that he was going inside on his first custodial sentence. The main offence was a nasty violent one, and there were further ones that made our decision inevitable.
He had arrived at court on bail, so he was in the open dock. In these cases we have a well-rehearsed routine - once the bench decides that it is to be custody we call the clerk out into the retiring room and run it past him or her to check that we have got the law right. A phone call is then made to the cells, asking for an escort to come up. The officers stand outside court until sentence is pronounced, at which point they are given a discreet signal from the clerk and they enter while the chairman is still speaking, but after the defendant has realised that he is going inside. Once the pronouncement is finished the officers discreetly slip a cuff onto one wrist, and take their man down the steel staircase.
This chap was a young man who had been given every possible non-custodial disposal and had failed them all. You name it, he's got it - drugs, drink, family problems, illiteracy, the lot. As he was taken down he called out "I'll get worse". He could have a point.

Friday, March 23, 2007


My experienced and trusted legal adviser was guiding me through a busy list today, when he looked up at a defendant who had just been brought into the secure dock, glanced at his papers, and appeared to lose the power of speech. He handed the file to the defence brief, then to the prosecutor, each of whom glanced at it, looked down and tried to avoid my gaze. "Well?" was my question. With an effort of will the lawyers got the case going, and we dealt with the regular customer who faced us on the customary drink-related charge.
Once he had gone, I had to ask. "Come on then, what was all that?" Without a word the clerk handed up the charge sheet that had been completed in the police station. It was in standard format, except that in the biographical details section the custody officer had completed the box headed 'Occupation' with a single word:


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mini Motorbike, Maxi Trouble

Man occasionally rides a mini-motorbike on waste land near his house. The bike is unregistered, and probably not street-legal. When he has had enough he starts to push the bike home - he lives about 50 yards away from the gateway to the land. A passing PC enquires if motorbike man has had a drink. He has. He fails a breath test, complaining loudly that he wasn't riding the bike, but only pushing it. He is arrested and blows 52 in the police station. At court he tells his tale of woe to the duty solicitor, who sadly explains that in law to push the bike is to drive it, and that it counts as a motor vehicle. He therefore has no defence to the charge. Guilty plea.
We kept the fine as low as decently possible, but we still had to ban him from driving for 12 months.
There is, I believe, case law that even a vehicle whose engine is in pieces on a bench can be 'driven'. So be careful. There is some sound advice here.

Floating Away

I was looking through the London 'Evening Standard' the other day and my eye was caught by a report of a case from Wycombe Youth Court. Two youths TWOCced a milk float, and a lengthy if stately chase ensued across rural Buckinghamshire, the dairyman's conveyance pursued by no fewer than four police cars. After 40 minutes a Stinger device was used to puncture the float's tyres and bring it to a halt in Burnham. After all that one of the youths got away, and his 17 year-old accomplice was given a Referral Order. I am sure that the Court's chairman, Mr. Tony Pearson, handled matters with due solemnity - some of us might have struggled to keep a straight face.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I am grateful to one of our respected professional contributors for sending me the Coffill judgment. I have edited it, but if anyone wants the full version just email me.

Crown copyright©

1. On 1st July 2005 the victim, Daniel Coffill, who was an off duty police officer, went to a nightclub in Bromley and met three friends. They decided to go to another club and in order to do so went across the road to the car of one of the friends, a Miss Claire Dicker. As they got into the car the appellant, Turner, approached them and asked them for a light. Mr Coffill, who was in the front passenger seat, said he did not have a light. Turner then asked Claire Dicker, the driver, and she said she did not have a light. Turner called her "a liar" and Mr Coffill "a wanker". The appellant, Samuels, was standing a short distance away. Words were exchanged and as the car drove away Mr Samuels spat at them, hitting the car. Mr Coffill said he was not going to tolderate it. He got out of the vehicle, which had only moved a short way down the road in order to remonstrate. Miss Dicker tried to stop him.
2. The women there did not see the actual assault. One of them saw Mr Coffill go up to the appellants and saw that they closed in on him. The next thing the women saw was Mr Coffill on the ground and the two appellants running off. There was blood all around his head. Miss Pagonis, one of the friends, then telephoned for an ambulance and a tape of that call was played to the jury.
3. Mr Coffill was taken to hospital with severe head injuries and moved to Intensive Care. He had sustained significant injury to his skull and brain and at the time of the trial was in a vegetative state, requiring 24-hour care with little hope of recovery.
4. CCTV caught the two appellants as they ran from the scene. The appellants caught a bus nearby, and CCTV from the bus itself showed the appellants to be animated and happy.
5. The bus driver described the appellants as being out of breath and smelling of cannabis. They approached a youth in the bus and the bus driver watched them in the mirror. He heard Mr Turner say that he had asked a man for a light and they had beaten him up. He saw Mr Turner punch his fist into his hand and heard him say: "I hit him and then he went down." He also heard Mr Samuels say that he had hurt his foot when he kicked the man and words to the effect that his foot was "fucked". As the bus turned into Widmore Road where this incident took place, the driver saw both appellants duck down and heard Mr Turner say that the man was still down.
6. A passenger also recalled the appellants boarding the bus and he described them as loud and jumping about. One of them had remarked about the way the man had fallen and how funny it was.
7. In interview Mr Turner said he met Mr Samuels at 11.15. They had begged a cigarette and asked for a light. He said that Mr Coffill appeared to be drunk and got out of the car saying: "I'm not having that." He ran towards Mr Samuels and Mr Turner had thrown a punch feeling intimidated. The man fell down and struck his head and they went off and boarded a bus. He denied Mr Samuels had assaulted Mr Coffill either.
8. Mr Samuels was interviewed and he said that Mr Turner had approached the man and the three women asking for a light. The man said he had a light but refused to give it. Mr Samuels had told Mr Turner to spit at the man, but had not done so. Mr Samuels then spat at the car as it drove off. The man had got out and gone to run towards him. As he approached it was Mr Turner who punched the man once, causing him to fall to the ground. They run off. He denied kicking the man or saying that he had done so.
9. He was cross-examined and accepted that Mr Coffill's blood alcohol level would have meant that his reflexes would not have been effective and he would have fallen backwards and hit his head on the ground forcibly. But he repeated that at least two further blows to the head were required to cause the head injuries in addition to those caused by the initial punch and the falling to the ground. Both of these blows would have been whilst Mr Coffill was on the ground. They were consistent with hard or forceful kicks at least one, more likely two.
10. Dealing with the antecedents of these two young men, Mr Turner was born on 24th April 1989 and he was 17. He has a few findings of guilt against him but none for violence. Mr Samuels was born on 19th August 1988. He is 18. He had previous findings of guilt, including one of possession of an offensive weapon for which he received a community punishment and rehabilitation order. Neither appellant had been in custody previously.

11. Pre-sentence reports were in front of the court. Mr Turner was assessed as presenting a low risk of physical harm to the public but a medium risk of re-offending. Mr Samuels was assessed as presenting a medium to high risk of re-offending and a high risk to members of the public.
12. Dealing with sentence the judge noted that nothing could change what had happened as a result of the appellant's actions, not even remorse. From what the judge had seen in the trial, he doubted that much remorse had been shown by these two young men.
13. So far as distinguishing between two defendants, he noted that Turner had been responsible for both the initial contact with the other group and the inception of violence and thus he distinguished his role on that basis. The only mitigation, in the judge's view, was their youth. He made the assessment that there was a significant risk to the public of death or serious injury from the commission of further specified offences such as to justify an extended sentence.
14. The grounds of appeal against conviction in the application of Turner are threefold but two have now been abandoned. Originally there were three grounds, i) the judge should not have had the 999 tape played and ii) that he should have acceded to a submission of "no case" on count 2. Those two have now been abandoned and the one ground in front of us now is the contention that the summing-up was inaccurate with regard to the evidence of Dr Rouse.
15. In relation to the sentence of Turner it is said that there was an insufficient basis for concluding that the appellant was a dangerous offender for the purposes of imposing an extended sentence, and secondly, that there was unfair disparity between two sentences that of Mr Turner and that of his co-accused, and thirdly, that the custodial element of the sentence was too long. In the case of Samuels, the same arguments are advanced in relation to the extended sentence, and secondly, in relation to the length of the custodial element.
16. The test for an extended sentence or imprisonment for public protection is well-known and has been rehearsed in a number of cases subsequent to the case of Lang [2006] 2 Cr App R(S) 3. The Court has to look at all factors in the case, including the seriousness of the instant offences, the offender's history of offending, including the kind of offence and circumstances of the offence, any patterns that they reveal and other social and relevant factors. Information will come more readily from the antecedents and the pre-sentence and any other reports.
17. Turner, in this case, was assessed in the report as a low risk of physical harm to the public and a medium risk of re-offending. The reports from the youth offenders institute at which he is currently detained show he has been a good detainee and is following a number of courses. There is nothing therefore apart from the offence itself to satisfy the criteria in Lang. Taking all those matters into account, we take the view that the extended sentence was inappropriate in the circumstances.
18. We turn to the custodial period, namely 9 years. We remind ourselves this was a young man of 16 at the time, now 17, with no history of violence and also that this was his first taste of custody. That having been said, this was a vicious and unprovoked attack, although short-lived.
19. We are mindful of the devastating impact that this incident has had both on the victim and his family. It cannot be gainsaid that this was a nasty, vicious attack. But set against that we have to look at the very short period of time that was involved, the spontaneous nature of the incident, and particularly the youth of this young man, the fact that he has not been in custody before. Looking at all those matters and the other matters that were advanced before us by counsel, we do take the view that a sentence of 9 years was too high. We propose therefore to quash the sentence on count 2 and substitute a sentence of 7 years' detention under section 91 less the 92 days spent in custody.
20. Dealing with count 2, it turns out, in any event, that that sentence was unlawful. The maximum sentence for section 20 offence is 5 years and a sentence under section 91 only being for offences which carry a higher sentence. We propose therefore, in relation to count 1, to make no separate penalty. We make perfectly clear that this is not to undermine in any way the seriousness of the actions in relation to count 1 which was the blow by Mr Turner, which brought Mr Coffill to the ground but it is for technical reasons because of the effect of the law and the different regime that pertains. The overall criminality of Mr Turner's actions has been reflected in the sentence of 7 years.
21. That brings us to the question of the issue of disparity. Taking into account, as we have just said, the overall criminality of Mr Turner, the findings of the judge that it was Mr Turner who was the instigator of the incident and the instigator of the violence and thereafter involved in the joint enterprise, we take the view that there is no merit in the disparity point. The sentence, therefore, is one of 7 years' detention, less 92 days in custody and to that extent this appeal against sentence is allowed.
22. We now turn to the case of Samuels: in relation to the extended sentence, the same points are raised namely that Samuels is a young man who has no history of violence, although he does have one conviction for possessing an offensive weapon. His pre-sentence report differs from that of Turner, although it points out that he does not have a history of or show a pattern of aggression. He was assessed as medium to high risk of re-offending and the risk to the public of such offences being high, but the report does not find the assessment to risk of violent offences, nor does it indicate that the risk to the public of serious harm. We have a prison report before us which is not an ideal prison report from Mr Samuels' point of view, showing he has not adopted well to his time in custody. That having been said, it does not assist in the assessment of the criteria as set out in Lang, and therefore we take the view it was inappropriate to impose the extended period. We turn to the length of sentence, that is of 8 years' imprisonment. For the reasons that we have given in the case of Turner, we do take the view that the sentence in his case was also too high. We therefore propose to quash the sentence of 8 years and substitute a sentence of 6 years' detention under section 91. The 74 days spent on remand will count towards that sentence. To that extent his appeal against sentence is allowed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Noble Cause Indignation

Over on Inspector Gadget's blog there has been a great volume of posts about the horrible case of PC Coffill, a Met officer who was attacked by two young men while off duty, and who suffered catastrophic injuries from which he will never fully recover. You can read the details for yourself, but what triggered an explosion of righteous anger was the fact that the Court of Appeal reduced the young men's sentences. I deliberately refrained from commenting until I could read the Appeal judges' reasons, but I have drawn a blank, and I cannot find their sentencing remarks anywhere, despite having cut a few corners to gain access to the major legal databases. So I have no idea why the sentences were reduced, but I do start from the premise that Appeal Court judges are neither stupid nor malicious, and that their rulings arise from careful adherence to the law. Anything that I say about the case is the merest speculation, and the only firm idea that I have about it is that their relative youth may have something to do with the decision.
The many comments and follow-ups to Gadget's posts are, I am afraid to say, frequently disturbing. Quite rightly police officers are loyal to each other, just like soldiers, firefighters, and others who put themselves into danger to help and protect civilians. Nevertheless these are all disciplined services, and that is why I am concerned at the intemperate and vituperative nature of some of the posts that purport to come from serving officers. It is particularly unfortunate that Gadget leads off with a link to a photograph of Mrs. Justice Dobbs, who was only one of a bench of judges, but who just happens to be black and a woman. Make of that what you will. There is a much-trailed 'revelation' from someone claiming to be a juror on the original trial alleging bad behaviour from the defendants' supporters, but it can't have made much difference since they were convicted.
We all know that people say things from behind a keyboard that they would not say in public. We know that police officers have a fierce, almost tribal loyalty. Some of what appears on Gadget's blog does the Met no credit, and there is no disrespect to PC Coffill in my saying that.
I shall send a cheque to the fund for the officer's family, and I hope that others will too. Gadget's blog is here.

In the meantime, a little information would be welcome. What were they charged with? Section 20, Section 18, or what? What were the original sentences (I think it was at Croydon) and what were they reduced to? Has anyone got a copy of the CoA judgment, or at least the sentencing remarks? There has been enough heat in this debate, and I would welcome a little light.

Gadget is to be applauded for taking down much of the comment on this issue. I am sure that the feelings expressed were sincere and heartfelt, but they did not always cast a flattering light on their authors.

Exploiting Grief

This is a prime example of all that is wrong with the reporting of criminal cases in this country, and of the corrosive effect this is having on public understanding of, and thus confidence in, the justice system.
Of course the victim's families are bereaved and distraught. As a father and a grandfather, my heart goes out to them, but surely anyone can see that they are the very last people who can say anything meaningful about a sentence. To them, no sentence will ever be severe enough. That's human nature.
The poor father quoted in the report parrots the tabloid mantra that the family is serving life (and I do not blame him). He says that they will 'be appealing' against it - which they cannot. In grief and rage another says 'The judge is supposed to represent justice'.
Well actually, he does. His job is to consider the case carefully, having heard the evidence and having had the jury decide on it, to take account of case law and guidelines, then to place the crime on the scale of man's inhumanity to man, and determine sentence.
It shows how far we have come that a 20-year minimum sentence on a man of 20 can be denounced as inadequate. The crime and its consequences were awesome. So was the sentence.

Later - The Judge said this.

CRB Checks

In these trust-nobody days Criminal Records Bureau checks are routinely required - sometimes when they are an obvious precaution, such as with teachers and youth workers, but also, much of the time as an arse-covering exercise. I play a very small part in a small charity that provides help to young adults with learning difficulties. I do not deal with clients face to face, but I nevertheless had a CRB check (the fact that I have been a JP for two decades does not apparently count). I now do the interviews and form filling for the charity's CRB checks (even for a half-day-a-week volunteer who is the mother of one of our clients). We have so far paid between £1500 and £2000 out of slender resources for these checks and all that we have come up with is a drink-drive on a craft instructor, and a 10 year-old shoplifting on a catering trainer.
It is only recently that magistrates who present Magistrates in the Community roadshows in schools have been told that they no longer need individual CRB checks, since the Lord Chancellor checks us routinely and these roadshows only ever take place with two or more presenters.
Nobody wants to see another Ian Huntley (although the cock-ups in his case meant that checks were done, but the database was inadequate) but is all of this a good use of scarce resources?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Return of Preventive Detention

I am grateful to Croslandite for this link to a piece about the new IPP sentences. It's a sobering thought that a lot of people are going to be locked up for a long time for fear of what they might do, and that the tools for assessing the risk they present are relatively untried.

By chance I recently met a member of the Parole Board, and this subject came up. He was very unhappy about it, saying that before an IPP prisoner can be considered for release at the end of the minimum term he will need to be assessed and that the resources to carry out these assessments simply do not exist in many prisons. He was adamant that almost no prisoner will just serve the minimum, and that many will stay inside for years simply for lack of anyone to carry out the necessary procedures.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Told You So

The man who killed and disposed of unwanted greyhounds has been sentenced today.
As I predicted at the time, he has been sentenced well within the magistrates' powers.
I always try (and our local Crown Court Resident Judge agrees) to deal with cases right up to the limit of our powers, to save the cost and delay of sending cases up for sentence. A surprisingly high proportion of committed cases end up being sentenced within the lower court's powers.

Dramatis Personae (2)

The best thing about working in the courts is of course the people. I tend to focus on the stream of defendants who pass through the courtroom, but there are just as many odd 'uns among the supporting cast of lawyers court staff and magistrates - such as:-

Desperate Prosecutor This lady arrives in court burdened with a two-foot-thick pile of files, few of which she has read. She is late, as usual, and as she tries to put her files into some sort of order, panic in her eyes, a steady stream of defence briefs arrive to talk to her about their cases. After going through the motions of grumbling, we retire to let her sort herself out. If we are lucky we will get started at a quarter to eleven.

Percy Pinstripe is a barrister, and doesn't he want us to know it. An immaculate chalk-striped suit sits on his elegant frame, his Mont Blanc pen is poised above his Counsel's Notebook, and he shows elaborate courtesy to the bench, drawled out in his public school tones.
He is only here because a local solicitor has a golfing date, and Percy is on a fee of £75. He pays his fares out of that.

No-Bail Norman has been a magistrate for 29 years and has been Bench Chairman in his time. He doesn't really approve of bail, and tends to write out his reasons for a remand in custody before so much as glancing at his wingers. Today's wingers are a lot less deferential than they were in his day, and he is frequently dragged outside by his recently trained colleagues so that they can explain the Bail Act to him.

Mr.Shabby the Solicitor has been coming in for 30 years, man and boy, and has seen it all. He is a decently educated middle-class man, and his manner, as he excuses the latest transgressions of his surly and attitudinally-challenged client betrays his distaste for the whole business. His suit was smart once, but time has taken its toll, although his shoes still gleam.

Cecilia the Usher resplendent in her gown and wielding her clipboard is one of the two or three people who actually know what is going on. She is polite and helpful to defendants, their relatives, lawyers, police and magistrates. So long, that is, as they don't give her a lot of attitude. If you want to see what a court looks like at 5.15 p.m., just try pissing off the usher. One or two of our ushers are ex-forces senior NCOs, and they are brilliant. They exude a natural authority, and are effective with distressed or with difficult court users, having a lifetime experience of when to be sympathetic and when to be firm. They are also a great help when a tired or careless chairman makes a mistake in procedure, covering up anything from mis-naming some one in court to, on one occasion involving me, warning me that my flies were undone just as I was about to have a chat with our (female) District Judge.

Downtrodden Girlfriend is often called Donna. She is 21 but looks 40, thanks to too many late nights, too many vodka shots, and three small children, two of them still in nappies. Her hair is scragged back in the Council House Facelift style, and her eyes need no mascara to be surrounded with dark circles. She sits numbly in the gallery behind the armoured glass, raising a smile and a wave as her paramour is brought up from the cells. She calls "Love You Babe" as he is taken back down, having been remanded in custody as a prelude to a stretch of a couple of years.

There are more. I shall come back to them when the mood calls.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Respect

I was called 'Your Majesty' again this week, putting me in mind of this.
A couple of weeks ago, I was greeted with "Nice one. Thanks, Guv" from a young man we had just acquitted.
This District Judge (whom I have met) has no bother with informal modes of address.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Inside Stories

This is an interesting set of snapshot views of prison.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oh Good - Here's Another Bright Idea

The BBC reports on a new and exciting criminal justice initiative from the Downing Street sofa - a fifteen quid surcharge on all fines to benefit victims. No surcharge on fixed penalties though, the government is terrified enough of the driving lobby as it is.

Unfortunately, the court has an overriding duty, enshrined in law, to make financial penalties reasonably payable having regard to the defendant's means. So what we will have to do is to reduce the fine by £15, before sticking this ridiculous imposition on top.

Has any of these politicians even seen the inside of a magistrates' court?

It Must be True - I Read It in The Times

Yesterday's 'Times' Travel section has a piece about the big Rungis food market that serves Paris. A picture caption claims that the market supplies '1.7 million tonnes of products every day'. Paris has a population of 11 million, more or less, and I am sure that people from the whole Ile de France travel to Rungis to choose from its superb selection of fresh produce. Nevertheless, that's over 100kg per person per day on a generous estimate. I do hope the Parisians don't start getting fat.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I Don't Mind Fridays

Not a bad day today. A nice little trial listed for 10 a.m. got off to a slow start because the defendants were a bit late, but we were soon under way. They had been refused Legal Aid, so everything had to be explained s-l-o-w-ly but the case was straightforward and we got to verdict and sentence before the lunch break. I had lunch with a delightful colleague whom I see all too infrequently, so the gossip flowed freely, then back to help out the other courts. A nice gentle afternoon started with the CPS throwing their hand in on a case where they had lost just about all of the paperwork (no evidence offered, case dismissed, costs to defendant from central funds) then we sentenced a couple of reports cases, and adjourned another, the defendant having failed to turn up for interview. He left court having had a serious warning that we would use our power to remand him in custody if anything went wrong with the next appointment. Then a cup of tea, a chat with the clerk, and off home via the pub.
Like I said, not bad.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

That's a Bit Steep

From today's 'news':-
Newark Conservative Association chairwoman Sheelagh Hamilton said she was "extremely angry" Mr Mercer's comments had been taken "out of context".
"David Cameron has behaved precipitously," she said.

When I was in short trousers the Conservatives were the ones who spoke English.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A New Take On Granny's Pot Plant

A lady of 68 who the press persist in calling a granny (I am a granddad, but no journo has ever referred to the fact) has been convicted of offences involving cannabis and given community service. By all accounts she is something of a willing martyr and appears to have been leading with her chin for some time.
So what community work shall we give her? A bit of supervised crochet? Baking scones to give to the elderly? (whoops, that won't do) Certainly no gardening in the local OAPs'home, for fear of what she might grow.
Tricky. I am sure that some of you can do better than I.

Clumsy and Thoughtless

Vic B-W, a regular commenter, has sent me this link to the story of a very senior magistrate who has made a bit of a fool of himself. Some of us think he was lucky not to be out on his ear, but in all the circumstances, with his length of service and the fact that he must soon retire (when he is 70) a lenient view was taken.
Every judge and magistrate is allowed his own opinions of course, but the cardinal rule is not to say anything in public that could give the appearance of bias. It may have been all right to refer to ethnic minorities as foreigners when my colleague was sworn in, but these days we realise that we have to be more sensitive as well as more accurate, since many of the people he was referring to hold British passports.
Some will inevitably cry 'Political Correctness' - an intellectually lazy and near-meaningless gibe. To me it's just good manners.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Done Up

A family lived in a prosperous part of our patch, in a big comfy between-the-wars semi. Father an accountant, mother a teacher, two teenage daughters. Next door, separated by a tall hedge, was a similar house, lived in by a family with three burly sons aged from about 18 to 22. These lads were car-mad and had filled the drive of the house with cars that they were, as they say round our way, 'doing up'. For much of the weekend there would be banging, the scream of power tools, and the smell of paint being sprayed. In addition there was always a radio going full blast with the thump-thump of that bass-heavy music that appeals to the young and infuriates the mature.
There had been many requests for the young men to turn down the noise, requests that had been ignored at best and greeted with foul mouthed abuse at worst. One summer Sunday the accountant, whose wife was ill in bed, stormed next door demanding that the noise stop. He was roundly told to fuck off, and threatened with unspecified violence if he did not. He went back to his house and took a baseball bat from the hall cupboard, and returned to the neighbouring driveway, where he proceeded to smash the headlamps and some of the windows of the cars he found there. The three young men emerged, and advanced upon their neighbour, whereupon he set about them with the bat. One received a four-inch laceration to his scalp, his brother got a broken finger, and the third one beat a hasty retreat and called the police.
So in a few mad moments the victim had become the aggressor. Worse, he had gone to get a weapon with which to commit Criminal Damage and ABH. It was the considered decision to go back indoors and arm himself that persuaded us to commit him to the Crown Court. I didn't find out what he got (we rarely do) but I was reminded again that an ordinary person can very quickly get himself into a whole heap of trouble if he lets his self control snap. Of course I felt sorry for him, we all did, but based on what he had done, off he went to the Judge.

Sentencing Yet Again

Once again there is a lot of criticism of sentencing in the comments on the previous thread and elsehere on the blog. Inspector Gadget's blog in particular has dozens of furious and sometimes intemperate comments about an appeal from sentences for gravely injuring a policeman. I am not going to say anything about it until I have had a chance to read the Appeal Court's reasons, but to be getting on with this is the Bar council's guide to the basic rules of sentencing serious crimes.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Formerly Very Long Post

I couldn't link to this very thoughtful speech by the LCJ, because I could only find it on an official (passworded) website. So here it is for those of you who are interested in a reasoned explanation of what a senior judge thinks:-

Thanks to our friend Anon, here is the link

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Expensive Call

A week or so before the offence became endorseable a driver was seen by a police patrol to be using his mobile phone. They pulled him over, and he was apologetic, saying that he had put the phone down straight away, and he would never do it again. "Never mind that" said the PC. "I can smell alcohol on your breath. Have you had a drink?". The answer was yes, the reading was over 50, the fine was £400 and the ban was 12 months.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

They Do Things Differently In America (no 26 of a Series)

US court won't review 200-year child porn sentence
By James Vicini, Reuters | February 26, 2007

WASHINGTON --The Supreme Court Monday let stand a 200-year prison term for an Arizona man convicted of possessing 20 child pornography images, turning down his appeal arguing the sentence was excessive or cruel and unusual punishment.
Without any comment, the high court declined to hear the constitutional challenge to the sentence given to Morton Berger, who at the time of his arrest in 2002 was a married, 52-year-old high school teacher with no prior criminal record.
Berger's lawyers said his lengthy punishment was grossly disproportionate to his crime and exceeded the sentences regularly imposed in Arizona for violent crimes that result in serious injury to the victim.
They said the Arizona law, with its mandatory minimum sentence, is the toughest in the nation. Under federal law, Berger would have received a sentence of about five years in prison.In Arizona, conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor, including possession of images of children under the age of 15 engaged in sexual conduct, carries a sentence of 10 to 24 years in prison, without any possibility of probation, early release or parole. Possession of each image of child pornography is a separate offense and the law requires that consecutive sentences be imposed.
Evidence at trial established that Berger possessed numerous videos and photo images of different children, some younger than 10 years old, being subjected to sexual acts with adults and other children. The jury heard testimony that Berger had downloaded child pornography on his computer from 1996 to 2002. He was convicted on 20 separate counts. The trial judge gave him the required minimum sentence of 200 years in prison -- 10 years for each count -- and rejected the prosecutor's request for a 340-year sentence. After his sentence was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, Berger's lawyer appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. "If this court reviews Berger's entire punishment, instead of examining the sentence for a single count, it would find Berger's punishment excessive, cruel, unusual and unconstitutional," lawyer Laurie Herman wrote. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard opposed the appeal. He said Berger's challenge "is essentially a thinly disguised claim that he is constitutionally entitled to concurrent sentences for multiple crimes."

Ten Weeks For Tart - Caution for Punter

From The Times:
A cyclist who picked up a prostitute on a street corner could not be prosecuted for kerb crawling because he was not in a car, a court was told yesterday.
The 21-year-old man paid Lesley Cole £20 for sex after stopping his bicycle in a red-light area. He wheeled his push bike to the rear of a nearby electricity substation in Boscombe, Dorset, and Cole followed.
Soon afterwards, the pair were spotted in a compromising position by a policeman and both were arrested.
The cyclist was let off when the officers checked the law on kerb crawling and realised that it states that an offender has to be in a motor car. Although people on foot can be prosecuted for kerb crawling under the Sexual Offences Act 1985, it must be proved that they have done so “persistently”.
Cole’s client was therefore released with a caution for outraging public decency.
Cole, 25, was charged with the same offence and was jailed for ten weeks.
Bournemouth Crown Court was told that Cole was caught as part of a crackdown on prostitution codenamed Operation Planet on October 5 last year. Although she was jailed she was released immediately because she had already served 89 days behind bars.
Inspector Mark Kelly, of Boscombe police, said: “He was arrested at the time on suspicion of kerb crawling. But the law on kerb crawling states that it is a person in a motor vehicle, and a bike doesn’t count as a motor vehicle.
“There is another part of the Act whereby anybody can be guilty of kerb crawling with or without a car, but it has to be done persistently.
“Although in this case he solicited the woman for prostitution, he hadn’t done it persistently, and so received a caution.”