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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Serious Contribution To The Debate

This article in the Sunday Times should be compulsory reading for every journalist. It won't be though.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Telling It Like It Is

Richard Miller is a solicitor who is well-known on the Web, in particular down on the often-unruly Usenet groups. I spotted him being interviewed on last night's BBC TV news. Spot on Richard - the sensible tendency need to keep hammering away at their case.

(Later) Here is a piece from the ever-thoughtful Marcel Berlins. (thanks to Peter Smith for the link)

And here is a letter from a Professor of Law.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oddly Familiar

This morning's list consisted of a trial, estimated at a half day, with a couple of reports (sentencing) cases down for 2 p.m.
The trial could not start on time, for reasons we could not blame on the parties. So we filled in with a few odds and ends from other courts; nothing special there, except the unedifying sight of a scraggy young man kicking off in court when I told him that he had been refused bail. He is one of those unprepossessing but ultimately sad characters who has found out the hard way that however much defiance he has chosen to show to authority in his youth he will finally come up against someone who will say 'no' and mean it. Today that someone was me (agreed by my colleagues of course). The custody staff dealt with him firmly and professionally, and down the steel stairs he went.
The trial itself finally came on at such a late hour that we clearly had to accept its going part-heard (on the whole, a Bad Thing) or putting it all off to another day.
That sorted, we dealt with business from the other courts, before breaking for lunch.
The sentencing was as straightforward as it could be, with a few tweaks that I can't mention.
The twist in the tail was a complex (and unplanned) bit of case management, enlivened by a defence solicitor with a style that might do well in a TV talent show. Again, I can't say a lot, but I did emerge with my loathing of sloppily-drafted ASBOs confirmed.
And so to the pub.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Bet A Few MPs Know What This Is About Now

Nessun maggior dolore,
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
Nella miseria

is about the only bit of Dante that I can remember from my A-levels.

It ought to be put up on the wall of the Commons tea-room.


Following today's sentencing of those involved in the Baby Peter case, the BBC reports that:

Andrew Flanagan, NSPCC Chief Executive,said:-

"We are disappointed that the minimum tariff was so low. It raises the question of how bad the abuse has to be before offenders get a longer minimum time in prison.

"Baby Peter suffered sustained abuse leaving him with horrendous injuries. Two of his abusers could walk free at a time when Peter should be a schoolboy with a new world in front of him. Despicable cruelty has denied him that opportunity.

"These three caused or allowed the torture and death of a defenceless baby."

Just a moment, Mr. Flanagan. The 'P' in NSPCC stands for 'prevention', not 'punishment'. Your statement has nothing to do with child protection - rather it smacks of revenge. The sentencing judge is highly trained and fully aware of the guidelines set by Parliament and the higher courts. You have no business being 'disappointed' with the sentences, any more that you would have had if you had been 'delighted' by, presumably, the addition of many years to the (nb) indeterminate sentences imposed today.

I am as revolted as anyone at what happened to little Peter, but that is a personal matter. Your opinion should likewise be a personal one and you should not misuse the name of the NSPCC to express those emotional but legally meaningless views.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Horrible Boys

It is a truism that much of the crime and disorder that troubles society is caused by disaffected young men. It was ever thus, as Shakespeare pointed out
I would there were no age between sixteen and
three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the
rest; for there is nothing in the between but
getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry,
stealing, fighting.

We feel exasperation and sometimes fear at the behaviour of lads on the street, and when they are caught misbehaving we in the courts have to deal with them.
This thoughtful article should make us all think. Young men have certain hard-wired characteristics, and we have failed in recent years to set up systems, in the family, the school and the workplace that will channel their natural energies in a positive way. As a teenager I worked part-time among men, as did most of my friends. We earned a bit of money, but above all we absorbed the culture of men at work, and felt part of it.
I don't think that we will achieve anything by raising the school leaving age to 18, forcing young men into activity that they can neither understand nor relate to. There is a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Come Back Lads - All Is Forgiven!

I am prepared to put up with Mr. Speaker Martin, moats, taxis, kitchens, bookcases, the whole shebang, rather than see Esther Rantzen in Parliament. Dammit, I'll stand against her myself. Where do I sign?

Marcel Berlins feels the same way.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Fairness is rather like an elephant - it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Small children know what is fair and what is not, even when their own behaviour is selfish. As a magistrate I find that many decisions are simple everyday ones where we work within the framework of our guidelines, but there are still many choices to be made every day where we do well to ask ourselves "is this fair?". Sometimes, although an offence had been admitted the surrounding circumstances lead us to impose an absolute or conditional discharge, or to assent to a bindover, because it is not fair to impose a penalty.
This recent judgment, ending the disgraceful practice of using tips from customers to top up staff wages in restaurants and clubs so that they reach the legal minimum wage level is manifestly fair (and isn't it particularly disgusting that an upper-crust nightclub, frequented by the rich and privileged should try to cheat low paid staff in this way?). Well done to the court, although I have a sneaking feeling that the case arose more from HMRC's fear of losing tax than any concern for the workers.
This on the other hand is grossly unfair. The antics of many private clamping firms amount to little more than legally-tolerated extortion, in which hundreds of pounds are taken from drivers, many of them elderly or distracted by a carload of kids, in a blatantly money-driven exercise. I have seen quite a few cases arising from this activity. It is so lucrative that in one or two local car parks the shaven-headed and burly clampers wait in a plain van in the corner of the site, ready to apply a clamp within a couple of minutes of a victim's arrival. Of course I have no quarrel with enforcing parking restrictions, as so many drivers are utterly selfish as to where they park,
but it is unjustifiable to charge £300 or so, with no independent appeal available - that's just unfair.
The Scottish judiciary sorted this out years ago. The fact that the scam flourishes in England and Wales shows that our legislators have no interest in proper enforceable regulation of the sector, despite the daily injustice visited on ordinary motorists. I suppose that MPs must have more important things to worry about.

Later - Here is another example.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

So Shut Up With The Sorry Already

I was already becoming sick of the current insistence that everyone who falls out of favour must apologise for their behaviour. Absurdly, some offenders are required to write a letter of apology to those they have wronged. Well I know what my late mother would have done on receipt of one such, and it would not have been a sigh of 'so that's all right then'.
I spent last Sunday with my lovely granddaughters, the elder of whom is 5. There was a spat involving the paddling pool and some water. My daughter stepped forward to insist that the offending child said sorry to her sister. There was stubbornness, eyes were cast downwards, and the little girl was threatened with an early visit to the naughty stair and the loss of some privileges. Eventually, eyes averted from her sister, she mumbled 'sorry', and two minutes later all was peace and harmony.
And isn't that just what happens with a court-ordered apology, or the current Parliamentary fiasco? Almost anyone will say an insincere 'sorry' when they hope it will avert the loss of liberty, or a bag of sweets, or even a seat in Parliament.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Very Interesting Question

In the recent Louise Casey thread this comment has just been posted:

At the risk of coming in very late on this one BS said "about the only sensible idea is putting the outcome of convicted cases online."

I'm one of the project team for this aspect and we really do want the feedback. There is one point especially and that is should we only publicise convictions or acquittals/discontinuences as well?
MoJ staffer

What do we think? I think it would be right and useful for convictions and sentences to be available online, but is is certainly arguable that someone who is acquitted can claim to be innocent, and so entitled to be excluded from the database. And yet - trials take place in public and the press are entitled to report them. Is it not right to allow the fact of an acquittal to remain available to the public and, importantly, the victims? How does that tie in with the principle of retaining the DNA of those arrested but not even charged? What about withdrawn and discontinued cases? Perhaps we can add our five penn'orth to the MoJ policymaking process.

Here's a poll:

What criminal court results should be online?
Convictions only (with sentence)
Convictions and Not Guilty verdicts
Convictions, Not Guilty and Withdrawn cases
None of them
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Good News At Last!

In the maelstrom of revelations about Parliamentary expenses, I have found a bright spot.
Lord (Andrew) Lloyd-Webber is shown to have claimed nothing at all in the latest accounting period. Nada, Napoo, Zilch.

On the other hand he only turned up four times, so that's probably what he was worth.

By the way - why is he a member of Parliament, empowered to vote on legislation that affects all of us, even the tone-deaf?

No Surprise There Then

The least surprising news of the week is that the chairman of the Police Federation has criticised the courts for going soft on crime. The Federation represents the lower-ranking front line officers and anyone who reads any of the multiplicity of police blogs will not be surprised at his view, especially as the fed conference is coming up. It is traditional at these functions to boo whichever unfortunate minister has been put up as a sacrificial lamb. I suppose that it is inevitable that in a hierarchical disciplined force the chance to be rude to your superiors is too good to miss, just as some who claim to be PCs like to be very rude about magistrates from behind the safety of a modem.
There are legitimate concerns about the management and supervision of some (but by no means all) community orders. We have all heard anecdotal evidence of slack supervision of some work projects, but in most cases offenders are swiftly returned to court after two unacceptable failures. The rules are tight, and sickness, for example, has to be backed up by a doctor's note.
It is of course nonsense that offenders can 'renegotiate' the terms of their orders. The quoted example of a woman who claims that she needs to wear high heels has been referred back to court, and the court has asked for medical evidence What's so awful about that? The other examples he quotes are not let-offs - all this suggests is that someone has spent too much time reading the tabloids without looking at the facts. Nobody can renegotiate an order, but any sensible system would allow a court to amend it when there is a good reason. Isn't that what courts are for?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dope Pedallers?

I have just had notification of the 2009 rates for JPs' expenses. Subsistence has gone up by pennies (it's £7.45 for an absence of over 4 hours, which just about covers a pie and a pint, so fair enough) and the car allowance for larger cars has dropped from 60p a mile to 55p. I have no beef with this (the figures are independently calculated anyway) as the 60p rate was brought in when unleaded was about 115p a litre.
The bicycle rate is now 27p a mile (no, I am not tempted) which has, I think, been reduced in line with the car rates. Extraordinary!

Now That's What I Call Schadenfreude!

This news will cheer up a lot of drivers who are still smarting from being captured by a speed camera.

It reminds me that Sir Robert Watson-Watt, one of the inventors of radar, was caught years ago by an early radar speed gun. He penned the following:

Pity Sir Robert Watson-Watt,
Strange victim of his radar plot.
Like many others I could mention,
A victim of his own invention

Monday, May 04, 2009

It's An Outrage All Right

The Daily Mail is well down to its usual standard this morning in a story about the terrible child abuse cases around Baby Peter.
It was always likely that the ground breaking use of evidence from a very small child would go on to be challenged in the highest courts. That's as it should be for such an important issue. However, the Mail has mendaciously planted the suggestion that it's all down to the Human Rights Act, and Article 6, the right to a fair trial. With or without the HRA this child's evidence was always going to be challenged. Courts routinely see video evidence in what's called ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviews, designed to get what evidence is available without traumatising the witness, but asking a four year-old to recount what happened when she was two is a dramatic move onto new ground. For what it's worth I am happy to let the jury judge the value of the evidence (although it's interesting that this one came down 10-2) but it's right that the principle and practice should be thoroughly looked at.
In addition, the Mail has sown the seeds of criticising Counsel for having the temerity to defend such a 'monster'.
The Mail deserves only contempt for using highly educated and skilled journalists to skew news so as to pander to the prejudices of knuckledraggers.
If you can bear it, have a look at the comments under the article on the Mail website. Overwhelmingly they are against this defendant having any legal representation and some even want the lawyers punished.
Yes I know that people write extraordinary stuff from behind the anonymity of a modem, but it is a scary thought that most or all of those commenters will have a vote and be eligible to serve on a jury.