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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yes - But Why?

Those of us who have been magistrates for a couple of decades or more have seen far-reaching changes to the law and to the management and organisation of the courts. Quite often changes are sprung on us (and on our legal advisers) at short notice, but we listen, learn, and get on with the job.
When I was sworn in I was appointed to HM Commission of the Peace for Middlesex. I was shown the Commission document, with the Royal seal and signature on it, and told that this gave me authority to act in the Queen's name. Eventually all these old Commissions were swept away and replaced with a single Commission for England and Wales. We all thought that this would simplify things and make it easier for JPs to move between courts as needed, while still being allocated to a 'home' court. In particular it facilitated the practice of cross-bench appraisals, whereby a proportion of regular appraisals would be carried out by a suitably trained colleague from another court, giving a perspective untainted by familiarity. But something has gone wrong. In the unending stream of new law it seems that changes have been made to the rules, and that cross-bench sittings may not be okay unless authorised by the Lord Chief Justice or some other grandee. Now the LCJ is a busy man, so I can't see him getting involved with whether or not I should appraise a colleague at a nearby court. Urgent talks are under way to sort things out, and the Justices' Clerks Society has recently issued guidance that amounts to leaving things be for the moment until the situation is clarified. The problem is in the operation of Section 10 of the Courts Act 2003 (below, in italics). It is clear, however, say the JCS, that the issue potentially goes beyond appraisals.
The Act says:-
10 (1) Lay justices are to be appointed for England and Wales by the Lord Chancellor by instrument on behalf and in the name of Her Majesty.
(2) The Lord Chief Justice
(a) must assign each lay justice to one or more local justice areas, and
(b) may change an assignment so as to assign the lay justice to a different local justice area or to different local justice areas.
(2A) The Lord Chancellor must ensure that arrangements for the exercise, so far as affecting any local justice area, of functions under subsections (1) and (2) include arrangements for consulting persons appearing to him to have special knowledge of matters relevant to the exercise of those functions in relation to that area.
(3) Every lay justice is, by virtue of his office, capable of acting as such in any local justice area (whether or not he is assigned to it); but he may do so only in accordance with arrangements made by or on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice.
(4) Rules may make provision about the training courses to be completed before a person may exercise functions as a lay justice in any proceedings or class of proceedings specified in the rules.
(5) Subsection (3) is subject to section 12 (the supplemental list).
(6) The functions conferred on the Lord Chief Justice by subsections (2) and (3) may be exercised only after consulting the Lord Chancellor.
(7) The Lord Chief Justice may nominate a judicial office holder (as defined in section 109(4) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005) to exercise his functions under subsection (2) or (3).
[Courts Act 2003, s 10 as amended by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, Sch 4.]

No doubt this will all be sorted out, after a great expenditure of time and effort. Mercifully, it won't be my job. But why all this tinkering? What has been gained? What is the strategy? It's hardly as if the Daily Mail or the Sun have been on about the subject, and they are the main drivers of criminal justice reform these days.