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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No Quarter

As one does, I sat on some appeals in the Crown Court a few weeks ago with a fellow JP, along with a Circuit Judge whom I know well. It is always an educational experience to sit as a member of the Crown Court, and one that I recommend to all JPs. We are on an equal footing with the Judge as regards findings of fact that go to establish guilt or innocence, and on seriousness that goes to sentence, but the Judge has, quite rightly, the last word on the law.
The fun bit is when we watch the Judge manage the case and control the lawyers before him. I like to flatter myself that I run a tight ship when I chair a case, but as a layman I always feel obliged to allow the professionals enough room to do their jobs, even when some of them push it a bit far. Hizonner is under no such constraints, and briskly cuts short irrelevant stuff, challenging Counsel on points of law and showing proper impatience at delay.
When Counsel are struggling a bit, as happens when the Judge tells them to justify their submissions on a perhaps unexpected legal basis, we see pregnant pauses, quick references to the law books (and they have to be quick, too) and when appropriate, gracious surrender.
If you trawl the many police and lawyer blogs out there you will find a recurrent theme that professional judges are more efficient and less tolerant of errors than lay benches. They probably are (although like JPs they can rarely do any more than grumble) but it is inevitable that they become case-hardened to a greater or lesser extent. And there's the rub.