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.

My Photo
Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Things are about to go quiet here for a week or two. I shall be away for a few days' R & R with my family, and then we will have the decorators in. That means unplugging what looks like a hundred yards of cable and putting the (desktop) computer somewhere until the men have finished. I have just counted seventeen three-pin plugs in this smallish room. That's crazy, and it has to be a laptop next time.

Keep the comments coming, but please, no fighting among yourselves. Back in early July, if all goes to plan.

Massive Drop In Crime Imminent!

The BBC reports that credit card fraud is no longer routinely to be recorded by the police. That may well be acknowledging the reality of the situation, but it will lead to a big drop in the crime figures.
This reinforces my point that there are no truly reliable crime statistics, in the UK or anywhere else, and that anyone who tries to use the published figures to prove a point - any point - should be howled down and tossed into the nearest muddy pond.
But don't tell anyone it was my idea, will you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who Are The Prisoners?

These are interesting figures.

Told You So (no 27 of a series)

Prison overcrowding is all over the papers at the moment, and the BBC has just announced that the headline figure has topped 81,000. The Government has finally and irrevocably run out of excuses. Prison governors are in open revolt for the first time in their history, having been ordered to supervise police and court-cell detainees in accommodation that is designed to hold prisoners for a few hours, and lacks even the most basic amenities. This leaves the governors, in their opinion, in danger of breaching their professional duties, so they have had enough.
Every corner has been cut, every avenue explored, and now Charlie Falconer is going to have to stand up and announce the early release of possibly 2000 prisoners. The tabloids and the Conservatives will make hay with this - today's headlines are full of
burglars, drug dealers and fraudsters
(Mail) which makes better copy than drunk drivers alcoholics and shoplifters I suppose. David Davis is talking about danger to the public, which is frankly nonsense. If someone is going to re-offend when he gets out what difference will it make whether he is released today or in two weeks' time?
The government's problems are entirely self-inflicted and should have been foreseen years ago. Act after Act has increased the number and length of prison sentences (none more so than the new Indeterminate sentences that are increasing at an alarming rate) and new prison capacity will not be on stream for years yet. If the figures had simply been wrong, the government might be at least partly excused but the whole scenario has been driven by the Blair government's obsession with pandering to the tabloid mob, and their constant refrain that only prison is a punishment and anything else is a let-off. At the same time no serious effort has been made to do anything about finding an alternative to prison for the mentally ill and the hopelessly addicted.
I shall probably wince at the press and political reaction to Charlie's announcement, because it is bound to be tendentious and unfair and will coarsen the debate yet further, but of one thing I shall be sure - he and his government deserve every bit of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Afterthoughts on R v Richards LJ (2)

Tim Workman has been made CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, as has Dame Edna Everage's alter ego Barry Humphries.

I wonder what they will talk about as they wait in the anteroom for their investiture?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Almost a Judge

I'm not allowed to wear a wig in court. Suit and tie is the best I can do, and I wonder how long the tie will last. But here's an item of judicial garb that I can wear to court any day I choose:-

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Afterthoughts on R v Richards LJ

1) Sir Stephen's DNA is and will remain on file indefinitely.

2) The court's reasons for acquittal were impeccably expressed but are still unlikely to placate the 'it's a fix' brigade.

3) A senior lawyer who knows all three parties on the bench as well as Sir Stephen says that this will set an irresistible precedent for DJs to sit with lay colleagues in the future.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A One-Off

This is an unusual but sensible decision. It's a sensitive case, and the public need to see it as being fairly heard. A jury is not an option, so Tim Workman will sit with two lay colleagues. Good.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What would you do?

The Guantanamo/rendition argument has been well rehearsed. The Guardian runs a story today that will surprise none of us.
Take the (unlikely) case that one of the CIA's aircraft has to make an emergency landing at a small airfield that happens to be in your jurisdiction. Take the (even more unlikely) case that the people who are taken from the by-now burning aeroplane find themselves in the hands of the local police. Some of them appear to be prisoners, and are in chains. By chance, a determined local solicitor is in the police station and he immediately takes legal steps to bring them before magistrates with a view to their release. We won't get into the law here, nor into probabilities (which, in reality, are likely to involve vans with blacked-out windows). So imagine that these men, who have never appeared before a proper court and against whom no charges have ever been laid appeal to you for their freedom. "I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the man must be discharged" is prayed in aid as an ancient judgment, as is that which declares the air of England to a substance than no slave may breathe.
What, as a member of the judiciary, would you do?

Unwarranted Search

The right of a Police officer to burst into your house is one that we have always tried to limit in this country, but over time more and more adjustments to the law have resulted in a great extension of police powers. One example (and I am not a lawyer so I shall generalise) was a judgment a few years ago in a case where an intoxicated driver had run indoors before being apprehended. The police broke in, and the final judgment was that the arrest was illegal, but that the subsequent breath test procedure was valid. Not every operational officer is fully up to speed on the latest legal decisions, and in a case a couple of years ago I saw this in action.
Police arrived at a local crossroads to find two damaged cars that had been hit in the rear while waiting to cross, and a third car with frontal damage, but no driver. Witnesses told of a young man running off from the scene. Police identified the keeper as living locally, and went round to his house, where there was no reply to their knocking at the door. They then kicked the door in, to find a young man. To cut a long story short there was a scuffle (resulting in an Assault Police charge) and a man was arrested and taken to the police station.
He pleaded not guilty to assault police, and the nub of his defence was that the officers had no right to enter his flat. The officers gave evidence that they had seen cracks to the windscreen of the damaged car suggesting that someone had hit his head; thus they had entered the flat in order to check whether anyone was injured. The defence pooh-pooed this assertion and said that the officers had cobbled the story together to excuse an unlawful entry. In all the circumstances we felt that the action was reasonable, and from that followed conviction. We then heard that our man had previously pleaded guilty to drunk driving and leaving the scene of the accident.
Later, the clerk put the whole thing in perspective by pointing out that the officers had been unaware of recent changes in the law that would have made a hot-pursuit entry into the house perfectly legal, saving the need for a full-day trial.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

News From Saudi Arabia

Prince Bandar "categorically" denied receiving any improper payments and BAE said it acted lawfully at all times.

Mandy Rice-Davies
said all there is to say over 40 years ago:-

He would, wouldn't he?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Crombie Straitjacket

Part of the incessant drive to reform courts' administration is to rationalise the number of Justices' Clerks. These office-holders are the rump of a fine cadre of professionals who used to act as court managers and as advisers to magistrates. After successive thinning-out exercises about 70-something JCs remain, and there are plans to reduce their number still further to just over 50. Unfortunately there is a Civil Service agreement called Crombie, named, I suspect, after the person who was unwise enough to sign it, that provides for enormous levels of compensation for JCs and their deputies who find their posts abolished. A judge described it to me as one of the most expensive mistakes ever made by a civil servant. Let's see how HM Courts' Service gets round that one.

Fame at Last!

While driving to the south of Oxford the other day I came across a pub called 'The Bystander'. Isn't that nice?

A Nasty Business

If it's going to be a heavyweight case, we can usually tell by the courtroom atmosphere. In this case there were three detectives sitting in the well of the court, a reporter had turned up from the local paper, and the gallery had a dozen or so people in. The defendant, a balding middle-aged man, came up in custody, and we heard an outline of the facts from a thick file held by a serious-looking prosecutor. The man had been seen performing a sexual act in the locality, seeking out places where young girls were present. A police operation had caught him fairly swiftly, and he had made full and frank admissions in interview, saying that it had been his hope that one of the girls would eventually touch him. He was glad to have been caught because he could not help himself. He did not apply for bail. His solicitor agreed with the prosecution's facts, and we swiftly sent the case to the Crown Court to be dealt with.
The courtroom relaxed noticeably after he and the police had gone, and when we discussed it over coffee we agreed that this looked like a case where an Indeterminate (IPP) sentence was highly likely. Because of the potential risk he poses, I can see him being kept inside for very many years. It's hard to see any alternative.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I Told You So

I take no pleasure whatever in passing on this report from The Guardian. The Government ploughed ahead with what it thought were crowd-pleasing measures to keep 'dangerous' offenders in prison and they have now run into the iron Law of Unintended Consequences.
It remains to be seen if a Brown government will be as eager as Blair was to pander to the tabloid mob. Something radical is going to have to be done, and soon. Let's see if anyone in Whitehall has the guts to face down the baying tabloid pack.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Innovations Catalogue

It is now an offence to trespass in Windsor Castle and Downing Street. Six months, it's worth. It's nonsense of course, but typical of the current craze for making laws that are mere gestures. Still, none of these places are on my turf, so why should I even bother to read about it?
And another thing - my Bench Chairman tells me that HM Courts' Service has no way at present to account separately for the victim surcharges that are being imposed, so they are setting aside a sum that they think is about right. So not only is not a penny going to victims, nobody can even be sure if it's the right amount of money going into the pot.
Lucky I'm not a cynic, isn't it?