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, February 28, 2008

Assault on Police

A couple of people have asked me to comment on this report from the Telegraph. I wasn't there, and I didn't see the evidence, so I can only talk about the general principles involved.
The Bench will have looked at the Guidelines - you will find Assault Police on page 15. New Guidelines come in to force next week, and can be found here, but they will not have applied to this reported case.
The entry point is custody for a first-time offender pleading not guilty. I do not know if this man had previous, but I assume that he pleaded guilty, although the article is not clear. The court did impose a custodial sentence, having found that the offence passed the custody threshold. They found themselves able to suspend the sentence, with a requirement to pay compensation, and from the Chairman's remarks it looks like the court took account of the defendant's family circumstances. We are always careful in the use of custody, and some of us are especially so where the defendant is working, as a steady job is one of the best ways to discourage reoffending. If this was a guilty plea, that may have pushed the sentence just far enough down-tariff to allow it to be suspended. It is fair to assume that the officer's injuries were relatively minor, as he was only given £60 compensation, but I stress that this is pure supposition on my part.
One final thought: this offence is summary-only, and once the Act now before Parliament becomes law there will be no power to impose a suspended sentence. I wonder which way the bench would have gone if that were the case here?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sun Awry

The unlovely Sun newspaper tells us, in a full-front-page splash, that 99 -point-something percent of its readers have voted for the reintroduction of capital punishment. No surprise there, then.
Oh look! the phone-in number starts '090' - a premium-rate line. So in eliciting thick-ear mob 'justice' from its readers the Sun is charging them a premium rate for their worthless and bigoted opinions.
Editor's note:- Rupert Murdoch is a born-again Christian. If he is this nasty after being born again, how much of a bastard was he the first time?

The Ring of Truth

PC Bloggs has an amusing piece about the customary scramble among police officers to get their hands on a new bit of kit.
I am on drinking terms with an old-school retired Met. Sergeant, and he told me many years ago about the Met's propensity to destroy expensive equipment. When London's finest received their first proper helicopters (great big Bell 222s) one of them was soon involved in an 'incident', to the surprise of no-one. My pal told me a canteen story about an academic who was making a study of psychology, and conducted an experiment in which he gave two large steel spheres to a teacher, an artist, and a Metropolitan Policeman, with instructions to put them to good use and report back in a week.
The teacher reported that he had used his spheres to teach basic physics, encouraging his pupils to roll the spheres on a flat surface and to record what happened when they struck each other. "Excellent" said the professor. The artist had lined a large bowl with paper and dipped the spheres in inks of different colours before rolling them around. The paper was then flattened out to reveal fascinating patterns of colour. "First rate" said the prof. He turned expectantly to the policeman. "Well, I lost one of them, and the other one's broke" was the reply.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Canned Martyr

David Jones has asked some direct questions in the comments,and I have inserted my direct answers, viz:-
Question for you Bystander.

(link to Council Tax refusenik story)

Question 1. Would you have sent this man to jail? For how long?
Yes. For the minimum period possible - perhaps 14 days.
Question 2. Would you have had a conscience about seeing this man, an OAP, led from your court in handcuffs - a man that has fought for your freedom in WW2?
Not at all. He fought for freedom under the law. He has chosen to break that law and must take the consequences.
Question 3. Would you have sought to find an alternative means - you have the power to write the debt off or order his pension to be attached etc.
Alternative means would already have been looked at. This man seemed determined on martyrdom by refusing to pay.
Question 4. Or would you have felt that you must enforce the law to the letter and that you are absolved from any conscience because the law says you must jail?
Absolutely. I have taken an oath to enforce the law as it is, not as I would like it to be. As it happens the law was properly applied here.
Question 5. What are your thoughts about the well paid council officials who brought this case forward and who MUST have their pound of flesh?
They have acted quite properly, and should sleep soundly tonight.

Numbers Game

As Jack Straw looks desperately for a way out of the prison crisis (one that is mostly of the Government's making) there is talk of extending the early release scheme to free a few more spaces. So here are the numbers as they stand today:
Maximum sentence available to magistrates: 6 months. Let's call that 180 days. Defendant pleads guilty (most do) so one-third reduction. That's 120 days. That is automatically reduced by half, leaving 60 days. Current early release is 18 days, leaving 42 days to serve. That's six weeks. Prisons don't release at weekends or on bank holidays, so those with sentences expiring then are released the previous Friday, possibly knocking 2 more days off the sentence. If, as suggested in the press, early release is extended to 30 days, then the most that magistrates can hand down will be effectively 28 to 30 days - roughly four weeks. Hardly Judge Jeffreys is it?

Friday, February 22, 2008


I have just finished looking through the local paper, and it contains a full-page advertisement announcing that Londoners on Income Support can get a card to allow travel on London buses and trams for half price. At the bottom of the page are the proud logos of Mayor of London, Transport for London, and, incongruously, the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela.
I presume that this is the fruit of Hugo Chavez' visit to London, when he cosied up to Mayor Ken, and offered cheap oil to the people of London.
As it happens I have been to Caracas. The drive from the airport to the city takes you through festering slums that cling to the hillsides. The inhabitants of the Barrios are far poorer than even bottom-of-the-pile Londoners, yet their Presidente is throwing their money at residents of one of the world's richest cities. Yuk.

Prisons Again (2)

A few days ago I wrote that the prison crisis had returned, and bang on cue Jack Straw has today appealed to magistrates to lock up fewer people.
My hunch is that the recent panic over bail and the vilification heaped on judges and magistrates who grant bail that goes wrong will have just tipped the decision towards custody in enough cases to push the numbers past the previous record.

Here's the Lord Chief Justice's response:-
Message from the Lord Chief Justice to the Magistrates' Association (22 February 2008)

Prisons and Sentencing story in the Guardian
"I have read the report in the Guardian of the message sent to you by the Lord Chancellor. I can well understand his anxiety, having regard to the severe pressure on prison places, to emphasise the importance of not imposing a custodial sentence in circumstances where the nature and context of the offence permit an alternative disposal. This is, of course, no more than the law requires.

I have spoken to the Lord Chancellor and can confirm that it was not his intention to suggest that custodial sentences should not be imposed if the circumstances of the offence are so serious that a fine or community disposal cannot be justified. As the Lord Chancellor and I have always made clear, it is not for him or me to give directions as to how Judges and Magistrates should exercise their sentencing discretion. "

Phillips CJ

Here is the Guardian piece

If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

That'll Learn Them

A couple have been jailed for four months and banned from keeping pets for life after cramming 34 cats and seven dogs into a 7ft by 12ft caravan.

William Cannon, 47, and 50-year-old Angela Edwards, both now homeless, were themselves living in a tent at Todmorden Cricket Club when they were arrested for 15 animal cruelty offences of causing unnecessary suffering and failing to meet the needs of the animals.

The pair, who admitted neglect, were each jailed for 16 weeks and banned from owning or keeping any animal for life by Calderdale magistrates. Most of the animals were kept in the caravan, with one of the dogs being kept outside in a small cage.

Douglas Brill, chairman of the bench, said the animals lived in "appalling conditions".

So did the owners. Isn't this too a case for the social services, rather than cluttering up the prisons? Of course I have not seen the facts that the bench did, but just how 'normal' are a couple who live in a tent or a caravan, and surround themselves with animals?

Big Cat Small Mouse

This BBC report is about a typically heavy-handed response to the breach of an ASBO that should never have been made in the first place. I have dealt with many similar cases, where addicted or confused people inconvenience others in an airport, or a shopping centre, or a railway station, are given an ASBO, and proceed to breach it time after time. Normal people wouldn't do that, knowing as normal people would that ASBO breach can carry up to five years inside, but alcoholics and mentally ill people don't really understand the situation, and stumble blindly back into the maw of the courts.
In a typical case (and I am thinking of one a few weeks ago) the solicitor tells us that he has been representing his client for two dozen years, that the man is an alcoholic, and that he will not change, whatever we do. We are more or less invited to get on with locking him up, because the guidelines have an entry point of custody. In the case I am thinking of we went way outside the guidelines and handed down the shortest possible prison sentence, that he had served on remand over the weekend, allowing his immediate release. In other cases I have seen pathetic wrecks of men given their third and fourth six-month sentence, to be served in our crammed prisons while hard core offenders are transferred to open jails to make room for the new inmates. Almost all of them barely rise above the category of nuisances, while the politicians try to work out ways of preventing us from imprisoning serious criminals.
ASBOs were never meant to deal with this sort of thing, and in these circumstances they are not just unjust and unfair, they are wasteful and ineffective too.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nicely Judged

It is reported that after the second time that a mobile phone had rung in the public gallery the Judge put down his pen, and glared across at the flustered-looking owner of the phone. "If that happens again" said His Honour, "you may discover why they are known as cell phones".

Prisons Again

The prisons crisis has not gone away. Despite early releases and a scramble to transfer prisoners to open establishments (that are not quite as full as the closed variety) London prisons are now regularly putting up the House Full notices. One day this week the last three prisoners did not leave my court until nearly 9 pm, and then they were being transferred to the cells at another courthouse. At times our contractors have to ship them out to the Midlands or West - anywhere there are a few spaces.
Watch out for further panic measures soon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

No Comment

(image swiped from Rollonfriday.com)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Level Playing Field

For some time there has been a bit of resentment among magistrates at the fact that while we were required to report all convictions, including minor motoring ones, to our Clerk, professional judges operated under a more relaxed regime. That has all changed now, and JPs are subject to the same rules as judges. This is the official line:-
It was agreed.....that the position of magistrates and other judicial office holders be brought into line. The Judges Council subsequently proposed that the requirements for magistrates be relaxed to bring them into line with other judicial office holders......
The reporting requirements are now as follows:
Road Traffic offences need only be reported if on conviction:
Any period of disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence is imposed, or,
Six penalty points are ordered to be endorsed on the licence, or,
If a lesser number of points are ordered to be endorsed, the total points then endorsed on the licence exceeds six.
Speed awareness courses, penalty charge notices for parking etc and fixed penalty notices for matters such as littering need not be reported.
Penalty notices for disorder must be reported, given the public order element, as must cannabis warnings, given the involvement of drugs.
Anti Social Behaviour Orders must be reported, including those imposed in civil proceedings.
All forms of formal recorded caution (i.e. those given by the police on an admission of guilt of the offence being cautioned) must be reported.
Judicial office holders should judge out of court disposals and any new penalty alongside this framework in determining whether or not any other matter needs to be reported.

Pharming News

The Court of Appeal has laid down the going rate for sentencing the increasingly-prevalent crime of high-tech cannabis production in this country. Hundreds of these 'farms' are discovered each year, often because of the heat given off by the lamps used, or the pungent smell of mature plants. The ones that I have dealt with have varied from a school caretaker growing half a dozen plants in his shed (on school premises!) to full-on Vietnamese gang operations with 200 or so plants in one house. Usually the raid just captures a single peasant caretaker/gardener who is often an illegal immigrant, and has, of course, no idea who the organisers are. Sometimes the premises are full of cannabis. but otherwise deserted.
Commercial drug supply attracts enormous sentences these days, but that doesn't seem to have made a lot of difference on the street. A few years ago, the Big Two of heroin and cocaine traded, we were told for about £50,000 a kilo. Today the police and Customs estimate it at £40,000. If the price has dropped by 20% simple economics suggests that supply has increased or, much less likely, that demand has dropped.

(later) This is interesting. It shows how easy it is to get information on how to do it yourself. Video

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Slice of Salami

Well, it had to come...

Jury not required.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Stupid and Counterproductive

There is an enquiry going on into alleged covert bugging of conversations between solicitors and their clients. If even some of the allegations are true there could be widespread consequences, up to and including the release of some very nasty criminals. I blogged about a similar case here.
What the hell was the matter with the people who set this up? They knew, or should have known, that such gross illegality as recording a legally privileged conversation between lawyer and client could only lead to the collapse of cases and the injustice of guilty and dangerous people being released, probably with a wodge of public money to help them along. Unbelievable.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


The comments on this blog give me an enormous amount of pleasure, varying as they do from the erudite to the flaky.
But top marks to this one, on the apple core thread:-
Seeing as it's an apple, or part thereof, and gravity may be involved, this could lead to an interesting Newton hearing.
Top marks, Inblognito.
(Those who don't get it (it's a bit technical) can do a search on the top of the blog for 'Newton Hearing')

Core Values

This lady is shortly to appear before a judge and jury at the Crown Court. On the face of it this seems a bit of a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut position (and it is) but that's what happens when you charge someone with an either-way offence and they exercise their right to elect jury trial. Somebody senior needs to have a look at this, with the word 'proportionate' firmly in mind.
If the prosecution (possibly not the CPS, maybe the local authority) go ahead the jury may well give a silly answer to a silly question.

At home we toss our apple cores on to the lawn for the birds - they are usually gone in 15 minutes.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ripples in The Pool

Gary Slapper, writing in The Times, says that judges can't be bribed, and I agree with him.
I can see where the Sheikh fellow got the idea from though. BAe Systems and Saudi Arabia ring a bell?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Facts and Figures

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has just published its report on the sentences that were handed down last year. In a quick scan of the figures the one thing that stands out is the massive increase in Suspended Sentence Orders. Once judges and magistrates realised the potential of these, with requirements such as unpaid work or drug treatment as well as suspended custody, they started to use them enthusiastically, me included.
Magistrates are shortly to lose the power to pass an SSO for a summary-only offence, so it will have to be immediate custody, a community penalty (for which probation have scant resources) or a fine (which is the Government's favoured option - surprise, surprise). Summary-only offences are not necessarily trivial; they include Common Assault, Drink-Driving, Driving While Disqualified, Harassment, Vehicle Taking, and many more. What are we supposed to do now, when someone is up for his third high-level drink-drive coupled with driving while disqualified? An SSO is the ideal response to this type of offence, but now it's going to be all or nothing.

Monday, February 04, 2008

There's a Funny Thing

Newspaper printing deadlines can sometimes trip writers up. It's a bit of bad luck for Ed Caesar, who had a centre-spread piece in yesterday's Sunday Times magazine about the rich kids who haunt pretentious and expensive night clubs, featuring a photograph of one Henry Conway, a 'promoter and fashion journalist' wearing a fur collar and a smug expression. The photo acquired a whole new context between the magazine going to press and its hitting the news stands, since we now know that Conway is a beneficiary of his MP father's plundering of public funds to keep his sons (and their friends) well supplied with champagne.
Do you think Henry would fancy coming down to my court on a day when benefit fraudsters are dealt with? I am afraid that he might feel a little frisson of disgust at the sort of people who appear before us, but they are, after all, on an identical moral footing to his father.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Inside View

Gavin has written about Appropriate Adults in Diary of a Criminal Solicitor. There is a comment from 'Caroline', who acts as a volunteer. (Appropriate Adults are brought in to police stations when the offender is young, or in the opinion of the Custody Sergeant is not necessarily capable of coping with proceedings. They can be social workers, family members, or volunteers. They do an essential job, in my view). This is what she says about the job:-

I have been a volunteer appropriate adult for 2 years. It is the saddest experience that I have ever had. I have spent hours sitting in custody suites chatting to detained juveniles.
The lives that they describe to me and that I hear described during interviews are devoid of all the things that children need in order to thrive and grow up to be happy, useful people. Often they live in financial poverty. Always they live in emotional and intellectual poverty. After all, nine times out of ten, the reason for my being their appropriate adult is because no-one in their family can be bothered to come to the police station. The lives they live are unbelievably dreadful. Sometimes when I leave the police station I sit in my car and weep.
I can hear some of you saying how pathetic it is to be crying over some hoodie. Given the lives that they are born into, it would be amazing if they were not juvenile offenders. Anger should be aimed at a society that makes these children what they are. The fact that the state provides them with a solicitor in the police station is the least that they deserve.