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 19, 2009

So What Do We Actually Do, Then?

When my son nudged me into starting this blog four years ago, I didn't need a lot of persuasion, because I had been aware for a long time that there is widespread ignorance of what we do in the criminal courts, and why and how we do it. I wanted to shed a little light, which shocked a few people at first.
Every magistrate's workload is unique, because it is dependent on the court and on the individual. A court might be city-centre urban with the attendant problems (such as Haringey or Camberwell Green) suburban (such as Sutton) or predominantly rural (e.g. Hereford). Dover has the port (smuggling and immigration scams) Crawley has Gatwick (ditto). Courts in Suffolk know all about moving pigs without a licence, and those in Devon and Cornwall are pretty familiar with what tourists can get up to after an all day session on the beer. Swindon and Newport Pagnell (now Milton Keynes) justices know all anyone could need to know about motorway offences. Their Worships in Grimsby know about permissible fishing practices, and are used to dishing out eye-watering fines to those who abuse the rules. The individual magistrate is expected to take a fair share of all the work, but factors such as experience and membership of Youth or Family panels will affect the precise mix.
The work breaks down into remands (high-volume work, perhaps 40 or 50 cases a day, not a lot of decision making other than the vital issue of bail or whether to send the case up to a higher court) trials (can take anything from half an hour to several days, and often collapse for one reason or another) sentencing with the help of Pre Sentence Reports from Probation, non-CPS work such as local authority, bus or train operators, environmental and health and safety offences. Family and Youth magistrates have to be specially trained, and some magistrates spend a good proportion of their time on these sorts of cases. There are also a lot of miscellaneous but important jobs such as considering applications for warrants, or for confiscation of ill-gotten cash (POCA).
Someone in the comments asked what my acquittal rate was. Of course, I have no idea, because I only spend a minority of my time on trials, and verdicts are dependent not on my whim, or that of my colleagues, but on the efficiency of the prosecutors and the efficacy of the defence brief, if there is one, on throwing doubt on the evidence. I hope that my acquittal rate is zero when the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt, and 100% when it isn't.
When we are not on the bench (and there is inevitably a bit of hanging around) we drink coffee and grumble or gossip as the mood takes us. And that's about it, really, if you don't count the committees, the training, the community involvement, and the rest of it.
I wouldn't miss it for the world.