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.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Testing Times

It has been reported that driving tests are to become much harder, and more instruction will be required than hitherto. At present to take the test following professional tuition costs at least £1000. These proposed new measures will double that at the very least. Add on the insurance and it could easily require £3000 to become a licenced driver.
The cost will become out of reach for the great majority of young people, other than those with well-off parents. Does anyone think that will stop thousands of young people (especially car-mad boys) from driving all the same?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

To all of you, whoever and wherever you may be.

Here's a thought for the people at work safeguarding us over the holiday, for the prison staff and their charges, and for the families of prisoners, who often pay a heavy price for the crimes of their family member.

Here's to my 30,000 JP colleagues, only a few of whom will be called in to court today, and to our court staff who have endured yet another year of reorganisation and insecurity, much of it still unfinished business.

Here's to the wise and learned senior judiciary - I wish you well in your patient attempts to deflect Ministers from inflicting further injustice upon us.

Here's to the people in the print and broadcast media who take the humble blogger more and more seriously with each year that passes.

And here's to the quarter-million or so people who have had a look at this blog in the last year - I hope that I have shed as much light as I have generated heat.

I'm off to pop a cork.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Senior Judge's View

This article in The Times confirms much of what I have said here over recent months about the trend towards out-of-court disposals and the threat they pose to justice.
The full text of Lord Justice Leveson's speech is here.
The section headed 'Diversion' is particularly important.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sitting On The Crook of the (E)Bay

A couple of months ago I granted a search warrant for a CID Sergeant who came into court during the lunch hour. The Information said that a prominent local business had been systematically robbed by a member of staff, who had disposed of the loot on Ebay. The document specified the Ebay name of the alleged thief, so when I got home I could not resist looking it up.
As the officer had said in the Information,several of the products on sale were unique to the suspect's employer. Of course Ebay gives a history of satisfied customers, and that revealed over 400 previous transactions.
The warrant was executed, the suspect arrested and charged, and he has now been passed upstairs to the Crown Court, given the aggravating features of breach of trust and a systematic course of dishonesty, with a cumulative high value.
Yet again a petty criminal thought that he was on to a good thing, and had no idea that he had left a clear trail behind him.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This Could Be Interesting

A Minister has floated the idea of banning payment for sex.
Two things come to mind:-
Firstly, Ms Harman, have you ever read about King Canute?
Secondly, As a lawyer you will be aware that you belong to the world's second-oldest profession. What chance have you got of outlawing the oldest?

Of course we should be merciless in dealing with traffickers and pimps. Of course we should offer compassionate and supportive help to these poor young women when they emerge from their near-slavery.

But to ban payment for sex? The lawyers will have a field day on the definitions involved, and the courts will have some very interesting knots to untangle.

Sorry, Harriet (we have met, but you won't remember me) - have a nice Christmas, a decent drink, and a sober re-think.

Dangerous Nonsense

The press is full of reports such as this, declaring that mobile phone use will in future attract a prison sentence. This is largely nonsense, and the CPS (who have issued the press releases that started this story) know that it is.
The law has not changed. All that has changed is the CPS' guidance to its own staff as to the correct offence to charge when someone causes mayhem on the roads while distracted by using a telephone. In the worst cases (and they will be few) the CPS will charge Dangerous Driving (as they are free to do already) or its most serious version, Causing Death by Dangerous Driving, which for some years has carried up to (I think) 14 years inside. But it isn't up to the CPS to decide what's dangerous, as opposed to careless, it's up to a jury. And juries are notoriously ready to convict of the lower charge, perhaps because any jury will include people who have used a phone while driving. This applies even more so to Manslaughter - in fact it was the acquittal rate that led to the introduction of the offfence of causing Death by Dangerous Driving.
This is a spin exercise, part of the CPS strategy to raise its profile.
Mobile phone use is a problem but so is enforcement - if someone is driving in the dark on a motorway, who or what is going to detect his use of the phone? Technology may provide an answer one day, but it won't be soon and it won't be cheap.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Think Yourself Well Served

Charon QC blogs about a controversial payment of a few thousand pounds.
Why don't we Brits appreciate how lucky we are?
In almost any country an allegation of impropriety involving less than ten, or a hundred, grand of our Earth pounds would be greeted with a shrug.
I do not seek to excuse anyone, but we Brits almost certainly have the world's least corrupt politicians, judiciary, and public servants. And being Brits, we assume the opposite.

Talking of Fishing

It's difficult to disapprove of the fishing licence system, since the cash raised goes directly into maintaining fishing waters, and the licence costs less than 50p per week. When we see cases of unlicensed fishing we impose fines and costs that rub in the message that it's cheaper to get a licence.
I was surprised to learn recently that we now have the power to ban someone from holding or applying for a rod licence for up to five years. I simply had to ask the lawyers the penalty for Fishing While Disqualified, but none of them knew, and we had too much work on to take time to look it up.
I know that defiance of a court order is a terribly serious business, and that we should visit the wrath of the law on perpetrators, but I don't think that I could keep a straight face while dealing with one of these. Do we give him an endorsement? Make him take a new test? Is there a test?
While the Police and CPS continue to usurp the judicial functions of the courts in ever more serious cases, with conditional cautions and penalty notices, why is my list cluttered up with this kind of stuff that cries out to be dealt with by fixed penalty?

Spams and Scams

As I wearily click through my Inbox deleting the daily influx of spam that has slipped past my electronic sentinels I sometimes wonder if anyone out there can really be gullible enough to fall for the tired old Nigerian 419 scams, the magic penis pills and all the other come-ons. I blogged about a phisher who nearly got away with it here. Then last week we saw before us a man accused of operating the well-known 'you-have-won-the-lottery' scam, which is a variation on the advanced fee fraud theme. Someone had fallen for it and had been relieved of over £25,000 in upfront fees to get their huge winnings released. That's the last I shall see of it as the case is off to the Crown Court to be dealt with, but it does explain the persistence of the scammers - you can send a lot of emails for twenty five grand.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Secondary ID

Is one way to put it.

This is what is available now.

In five years' time?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Solid Principles

Stan Still, in a comment on another thread, refers to the Victorian Nine Principles of Policing.
They bear repetition, and seem as valid today as they were in 1829.

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Handle With Care

Dickinson Dees is the largest firm of solicitors in Newcastle. Their website has this brilliant Advent Calendar with a computer game behind each window.
Don't even think of looking at it unless you have a little time to spare!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Courts have made the BBC news twice today. Here is further evidence of the move away from court hearings in favour of so-called 'justice' dished out by police and prosecutors, and this reports on the continuing unfairness of the 'victim surcharge' that does not go directly to victims and applies only to fines - and even then only those imposed in the Magistrates' Court. John Humphrys interviewed a current Bench Chairman - I hope that nobody gets into trouble.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Without a Paddle

The newly-famous 'Canoe Man' couple are now in custody, he remanded by a court, she being interviewed by the police. The magistrates concerned did not have a difficult decision to take in the man's case, as the prosecutor will have opposed bail on the grounds that he would fail to surrender if bailed, quoting in support his obtaining and using false travel documents, and his previous attempt to disappear. In addition he faces, if convicted, a considerable prison sentence, providing a further incentive to abscond.
The case is not likely to come to trial for many months (unless they decide to plead guilty to get their one-third discount off sentence) but if (NB)they are convicted a hefty sentence is unavoidable. Just the passport offence is worth 18 months or more, and if press reports are true there will be plenty of aggravating features that you can find in the guidelines:- sophisticated planning, large sums involved, and so on.
The case has certainly awoken the public's interest and has driven Gordon Brown's travails off the front page.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Thought Provoking Stuff

Peter Hitchens writes in a newspaper:-
I think prisons should be harsh, austere places where wrongdoers work hard to pay for their keep, to make restitution to their victims, and to save for their release.
If only we had such prisons, instead of the squalid, disorderly warehouses we do have, our streets would be calmer and safer, and many would never be tempted into crime.
That is why I also believe in proper justice, fair trials and the presumption of innocence. Nobody should go inside unless we are very sure he deserves it. And I think that the punishment in jail should be imposed by the authorities on our behalf, not by the prisoners.
It would be easy for me to join other commentators in laughing at the miseries inflicted in prison on those who are despised even by the 'normal' criminals, though quite why we should applaud the cruelty of heartless robbers and men of violence, I do not know.
I fear that a growing number of innocents are in jail because it is easier to convict them than it is to arrest, let alone to convict, violent brutes who can and do frighten witnesses into silence.
But I do not join in.
And even the guilty, including the very worst offenders, should be punished in an orderly, measured and limited fashion, according to law, not driven into suicidal misery by lawless persecution, with no hope of an end to it.
So please be kind enough to read what follows (though not while you are having breakfast) and ask yourselves if this is what you want happening in your name, least of all to an innocent person.
I am unconvinced that this man is guilty of the dreadful crime alleged against him – a rape supposedly inflicted on his own stepdaughter, mysteriously 'remembered' many years later after a bitter family row about her drug abuse, with no evidence but one person's word against another.
Two members of the jury were likewise unconvinced of his guilt which, in better days, would have been enough to prevent his conviction. His wife and his employer, also, think the charge a nonsense.
It makes no difference. He now faces seven years in segregated units, supposedly to save him from violent attacks.
His wife describes his life: 'Food is invariably contaminated and inedible – urine in mushy peas and mashed potatoes, semen in rice pudding and custard, bleach in boiled potatoes, dirt, filth and hair in rice, sputum and faeces in everything.
My husband is frightened that he may contract hepatitis or HIV...verbal abuse is constant... physical attack only a matter of time...help and advice non-existent...clothes, bed-linen and towels are again contaminated...there are piles of faeces in the communal showers.'
Yes, I know I'm supposed to be Right-wing. And, do you know something? I really am.
But that doesn't mean I can ignore this sort of thing, let alone laugh about it. It's evil, wrong and a scandal, however Right-wing you may be.

Well, Mr.H., I am not especially right-wing but I can't ignore it either.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Still Some Way To Go

My Bench Chairman tells me that a few weeks ago he spoke to a group of new people who have passed selection and are due to be sworn in shortly. He gave them the usual pep talk about not talking to the Press, and generally not making a fool of yourself in public, and he gave them the bad news that henceforth speed limits were for obeying, however cross that makes White Van Man in the mirror. Three points earn a letter from the Lord Chief, six earn a severe letter, and nine mean you are out. In some circumstances six points for one offence will see you shown the door, as happened to a colleague a couple of years ago. They all nodded sagely, but as they drove away after the session one of the new people was right behind the chairman, mobile phone clamped to her ear for a good five minutes. A few words of advice are on the cards here.

Good Heavens!

The front page of today's 'Daily Express', the soi-disant 'World's Greatest Newspaper' carries no reference to Diana or Madeleine. What's happening down at the D.Ex? Is Mr. Desmond off sick?
Still, at least it's got a house price scare.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Guidelines

The present Sentencing Guidelines were revised in 2003 and came into use in January 2004. A lot of legislative water has passed under the bridge since then, and the Sentencing Guidelines Council has begun consultation on a new edition. There is also a report on a new approach to setting fine levels, a subject that often evokes widely differing approaches from bench to bench and from area to area.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fail-To-Surrender Monkeys

New Sentencing Guidelines have just been issued for failing to surrender to bail. The full document is here.
This is one of the commonest offences that we see in court, and covers a wide spectrum of culpability. On one occasion a defendant did not answer when called at 10 o'clock, so at about 11 we issued a no-bail warrant for his arrest. He turned up just before lunch and was arrested at the front desk by our resident police officer. He was brought straight into court looking dreadful. He was sitting in the heroin crouch, the hunched position that many junkies adopt when their hit has worn off, he had various grazes and bandages on bits of his body as well as clearly visible sutures on his face and arms. It turned out that he had in fact been anxious to get to court, and in his haste had managed to step in front of a car while trying to catch his bus. He had spent a couple of hours being patched up in A & E, hence missing his trial. He knew the system, so he had a chit from the hospital to confirm his story. There was nothing we could do, since we had sent the witnesses away, so we put the case off to another day. When that happens, the court loses a day's work, the clerk and magistrates are frustrated, and the witnesses are inconvenienced. In this case we took no action but where there is no valid excuse we impose a penalty, that might be a fine (sometimes deemed served by a night or two in the cells if the chap was picked up at the wrong time) a curfew order or a short prison sentence.
Current thinking is to be firm with those who fail to turn up, but of course a hard core minority of our customers lead such chaotic lifestyles that they either lose the bail form, or can't read it, or are too drunk or stoned to care.