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, July 30, 2009

Spot on, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is said to have defined a cynic as a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He was way ahead of his time.

Recently we dealt with a complex case involving a man with serious mental health issues. He stood in the dock, superficially scary on account of his size and his dress. His solicitor had moved heaven and earth to avoid a remand to prison and had to hand various doctors' opinions, all of them constructive. Pause. The Clerk told us that we could not make the suggested eminently sensible order because we had to have the Consultant's opinions in writing. We stood the case back in the list while a fax was organised. Then we stalled because the defence solicitor needed a copy of a single A4 sheet and the court would not copy it unless they received a fee of £5, that the lawyer could not recover from legal aid. He appealed to court staff, but received a blank response because they have all been warned about wasting public money. So the bench went out while a Ways and Means Act solution was found, as it indeed was.
What the hell are we doing here? To keep this defendant in mental health-compliant accommodation costs a lot of money; certainly many hundreds of pounds a day. Because HMCS, under orders, won't even do a simple photocopy, the public purse could face a bill of many thousands. It would be pathetic if it were not so infuriating.


I saw a chap this week who had been arrested and charged with being in charge of a bicycle while drunk, under the Licensing Act 1874.** He pleaded not guilty and arrangements have been made to hear the case in a couple of months when witnesses are available.

Elsewhere, people are being cautioned for ABH.

Funny, that.

** I am told that should be 1872. Mea culpa. Of course someone on here had to spot it - what an amazing lot you are.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jailhouse Rocked

If you are interested, as I am, in the US prison system, holding as it does an almost incredible two million inmates, this long and well-informed article in City Journal will show you the differences as well as the similarities between our two systems.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So Far So.............. Well, Much The Same Really

Among the flood of Government reports and statements that have been rushed out just as Parliament goes into recess for nearly three months is this look at the effect of 'community justice' in its early days. I have never hidden my view that the whole thing is a political gimmick that has nothing to offer the justice system. You can read the document yourself. But this quote stands out for me:-

Key points
• In order to assess the initial impact of the CJIs in North Liverpool and Salford on re-offending a method was used which allowed for comparison of offenders that had passed through the Community Justice courts in North Liverpool and Salford, with a matched group of offenders who had not.
• Analysis showed that the rates of re-offending within the first year for all three areas were not statistically significantly different.
• Results from this study, which were based on the experiences of offenders who passed through CJIs in their first year of operation, should be seen as tentative. Once greater numbers of offenders have passed through the Community Justice courts, and the changes initiated have become deeply embedded, this, along with data on specific interventions and types of offence on reconviction, could provide more robust evidence on the impact of Community Justice Initiatives.

Here's a report from The Times
And here's some more background.

(post time fiddled to push it up the list in view of added links - ed)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just a Little Backtrack

This and this are an acknowledgement that the fixed-penalty ticket system was slipping up-tariff, as so many have warned. The Magistrates' Association has run a (for once) vigorous campaign, and seems to have achieved a useful result.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


There is now general public awareness that anti-terrorism legislation is routinely misused in cases where there is not the slightest suggestion that a real terrorist threat might be involved. Here is another one. Two lads in a car take a photograph of police officers and are stopped under the terrorism law. It then transpires that they have committed other offences. Many Police officers have been misdirected by their own superiors about the public's right to take photographs of officers, children, and who-knows-what else and many innocent members of the public have been forced to delete innocuous photographs.
The other interesting thing about this report is that the young man was dealt with by the Chief Magistrate, no less. Must be the smell of fame and the Harry Potter connection.

Later:- Tim Workman tried Amy Winehouse too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Kid On The Block

A warm welcome to the latest criminal justice blogger, The Anonymous Prosecutor. I am frequently rude about the CPS, but of course I am having a go at the organisation rather than individuals. Good luck, anon - and keep your head down!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dodgy Figures

Nick Ross has a series looking at the real crime figures, as he describes them. I have always been sceptical about crime stats, skewed as they are by so many variables, and Gadget's post here, and in particular the comments, give a good idea of what is happening, and why.


The current Guidelines set out an approach to calculating fines that works fairly well, in my experience. Broadly, fines are set at Level A,B, or C, which relate to a multiple of the Relevant Weekly Income. That is either the actual weekly take-home, or an assessed amount of £100 for those on benefit, which takes rough account of other benefits such as housing and council tax benefits, or £350 for those who don't tell us anything. It's an inexact science, because the court has neither the time nor the resources to do any better. Rough justice, then.
There are also Bands D and E (they are on page 151 of the Guidelines). We rarely use these, but we did make use of a Band D a few weeks ago. A young man had committed a drink-drive at the kind of level that would attract a medium-upper community penalty, but there was a problem with using unpaid work or a curfew because he is a mechanic in the RAF and may well be off to a hot and dusty place in the New Year, or possibly sooner. So we fined him Band D; that came to nearly £700 with costs; we banned him for the appropriate period and sent him on his way. The officer who came with him told us that the RAF will apply its own sanctions as the Service takes a dim view of its members getting into trouble in civilian courts.
So the D and E fines have their uses, but we won't be using them very often.

Is This Really Right For A Caution?

The post header header speaks for itself about this case.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's A Fair Copter

We don't have enough helicopters in Helmand, but they are apparently plentiful in the West Country.


The CPS Inspectorate has published a report that suggests, inter alia, that many CPS advocates are not as good as they should be.

Well I never!

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Window-Dressing (Updated)

Thanks to Roger Swindells for this report from a provincial newspaper. The whole 'community justice' nonsense, the pet project of Louise Casey, is likely to achieve absolutely nothing. Whatever the 'community' (whoever they are) tells me about how awful it is to be mugged or burgled (a sore point, as a close family member was burgled yesterday) I am still bound by the Sentencing Guidelines as is every other member of the judiciary. It's like the Victim Impact statements that are read out at the Crown Court; they make a good headline but the judge is specifically forbidden to allow them to influence his sentence.
It annoys me to see the CPS wasting resources on this kind of stuff. They still have a great deal of work to do to get the basic nuts and bolts of their job sorted out; we still suffer week after week with letters from solicitors unanswered, court directions ignored, paperwork lost. The rest is just spin, I am afraid.

Shortly after posting this I found myself looking at a Committal to the Crown Court. For the practitioners among you it was a Section 6(2). CPS applied for a week's adjournment because their file was not ready as a statement was missing. That's what they said last week. Defence opposed the application; their client had now come from South Wales three times, and was going to have to come back again. We conferred and refused the adjournment, discharging the defendant. I did, however, warn him that that might not be the end of it as the CPS could always re-charge him when (if?) they get their act together.

Isn't sorting out that kind of incompetence more important than poncing around with 'community prosecutors'?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Anyone Listening?

As usual, Lord Judge is spot on.

The only hope of a pause in the legislative frenzy is the fact that an election is due in less than a year's time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Well I Never!

The Daily Telegraph reports today that a Government department has unearthed the following amazing facts:-

The percentage of households with gardens is expected to have fallen from 91.8 per cent in 1995 to 90 per cent by next year.
By 2020, just 89.5 per cent of households are likely to have a garden.
Don't you love that 'just'? That's nine out of ten, guys.

The report from the Department for the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs.........found that between 37 per cent and 44 per cent of flats had private gardens – compared to 86 per cent of terraced houses, and 99 per cent of semi-detached houses.
Well well. Who'd have thought it? Houses usually have gardens and flats usually don't. No shit, Sherlock, as they say across the water. Just in case you still haven't got it, here's a direct quote from the report:-

The likelihood of having a garden is greater for larger detached dwellings than flats.

The people who wrote this rubbish are likely to be well-paid graduates sitting in comfortable offices with the prospect of an even more comfortable index-linked final salary pension. Isn't there something more useful they could do?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Déja Lu

The study of literature teaches, above all, that however much human circumstances may change, human nature remains the same.

This came home to me with some force the other day when a 25 year-old scion of one of our very extended local families whose members have kept our court in business and our local solicitors in groceries for many years appeared in custody charged with a residential burglary. He peered under his brows until he located half a dozen relatives in the public gallery, greeting them with a nod, then cast a surly glance at the bench. "Just a moment sir" called the usher, and then a small boy walked in accompanied by his enormous grandmother. They were sat in the well of the court, along with a member of the Youth Offending Team.
I glanced at the list, and saw that the two were jointly charged, the younger being 12 years old. Apparently his uncle had lifted the boy up to enter a house via the fanlight window, whereupon he had opened the door to admit the older man. The whole thing was pure 'Oliver Twist' - the two characters would have been perfect to play Sykes and Oliver.
So we remanded Bill Sykes in custody, and bailed Oliver to the next available Youth Court. Procedures have changed over the years, but Charles Dickens would have recognised the whole scenario. And in 150 years' time, I have no doubt that something similar will come before my successors.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stoned Walls

This piece, published a while ago in The First Post will have come as no surprise to those of you who read this on here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Soul and Heal

The excellent NHS Blog Doctor points us to this mordant comment on so-called 'alternative' medicine. When some enthusiast for The Alternative Way gets hold of me at a party or in the pub, I try to remind myself of the fact that nobody who has just been run over by a bus has ever been known to call "get me a homeopath" rather than a properly equipped paramedic ambulance.
The good Doctor has previously made another telling point that has stayed with me:- when the Queen or Prime Minister or any other highly valued celebrity travels with an entourage, that entourage will include a doctor, rather than a 'nurse practitioner'. Sauce for those geese is sauce for this here gander.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Long Arm Of The Straw

What can I say about this?

Or this?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Interesting Case

Thanks to Crime Line for this interesting case about sentencing. I am sure that Justices' Clerks across the country will be issuing guidance about it.

When a matter is too serious to be dealt with there and then a bench will order a pre-sentence report. As required by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act we have to complete a reasons form to hand to Probation. We fill in the starting point for the offence, then aggravation and mitigation, and any personal factors. We then indicate our view of the appropriate sentence, often bracketing across several options. If custody is an option, immediate or suspended, we have to say so. Many of us write "ALL OPTIONS OPEN" on the bottom of the form to avoid any doubt. I always read the form to the defendant and make sure that he understands if custody is on the cards. There is case law, referred to in the above report, that if the bench indicates a community penalty then the defendant has a 'legitimate expectation' not to go inside. Until now, that has been that (and much frustration can be caused by careless benches who tie the hands of eventual sentencers). The High Court has upheld the DJ(MC) who ignored that on the grounds that the decision was 'perverse' and that too raises a few questions. Their Lordships mention the fact that the bench ordering reports did not reserve the case to itself, but that is not at all unusual because of the problems in reconvening a lay bench. It looks like this one was doing half-day sittings so they couldn't even deal with it later in the day. If we convict after trial I always insist that at least one of us comes back for sentence, despite the fact that our Clerk doesn't like it. If needs be I will swap into a sitting, or simply adjourn the sentence to a day when I or a colleague are in. I think that the objection owes more to administrative convenience than to justice. Someone who has sat through a trial and heard the evidence and seen the witnesses will have a far fuller understanding of the case than someone looking at a single A4 proforma.

So let's see what our advisers make of this latest case. I will keep you informed, of course.

Old Bailee

Deciding on bail is one of the most important tasks performed by magistrates, and while we have the Bail Act to guide us, there is a considerable degree of judgment required. When someone comes before us in custody from the police station the Prosecutor will make representations before the Defence make their bail application. These days there are a few Prosecutors who are on something of a mission, and who vigorously oppose bail in almost every case. This means that we have to look carefully at the objections before we reach our decision. The other day a man was brought in, and the Crown opposed bail because he was already on (bail) remand awaiting committal to the Crown Court for six high-value thefts, and had just been charged with a seventh. The Crown submitted that this raised the fear that he would commit further offences, so please would we lock him up. I questioned the Prosecutor closely about the seven offences, and it turned out that the seventh theft was carried out at the same time as the first six, but the police had only just got together enough evidence to charge him with it. So the offences were all of a piece, the objection was not made out, and we re-bailed him on the same conditions as before. The CPS need to do a bit better than this. Prosecutors have a duty as officers of the court to assist proceedings and they must try to avoid a knee-jerk policy of always opposing bail.

Monday, July 06, 2009

War On Drugs - Latest

Phew! That's a relief.

Puts me in mind of this.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Personal View

If I were Justice Secretary and I were asked whether or not to confirm a decision of the independent Parole Board to recommend the release of a prisoner of almost eighty, who is fed through a naso-gastric tube and who has a broken hip and requires constant nursing care, I am pretty sure I would go ahead and confirm it.

But then I am not a politician, and I couldn't give a toss what the tabloids think.

Here's the threat to society - looks dangerous doesn't he?

Friday, July 03, 2009


I have just stumbled across this list of revised fees to be charged by magistrates' courts. I'm not sure how I feel about HMCS charging for the services that I give for free (well all right, for a few biscuits then).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What Was That Again Officer?

'The promise of reform which the Green Paper heralds holds much for the public and Service alike; local policing, customised to local need with authentic answerability, strengthened accountabilities at force level through reforms to police authorities and HMIC, performance management at the service of localities with targets and plans tailored to local needs, the end of centrally-engineered one size fits all initiatives, an intelligent approach to cutting red tape through redesign of processes and cultures, a renewed emphasis on strategic development so as to better equip our service to meet the amorphous challenges of managing cross force harms, risks and opportunities.'

The above is apparently a quote from an ACPO document. Once I had recovered from the GBH done to my native language I started to feel a sneaking sympathy for the less exalted coppers who have to put up with this rubbish.

The whole story is here.