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.

My Photo
Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Death On The Roads

I have previously blogged about the complex issues involved in dealing with drivers who cause death on the roads, whether by recklessness or by simple human error or by any of the infinite gradations in between. I dealt with my first case of Causing Death by Careless Driving recently, and our first task was to assess the seriousness and decide whether the matter was suitable for summary trial or whether we should decline jurisdiction and commit it to the Crown Court, where the judge has five years' prison available as opposed to our six months. The guidelines have already been amended, and the notes in our clerk's file ran to quite a few pages, so we popped out for a cup of tea while prosecutor, defence and clerk checked the up to date position so that the bench could be properly advised.
In the event we decided that the offence lay at the lower end of the scale and that magistrates' powers would be sufficient. We had to go through this process even though the young defendant elected jury trial anyway. I have made a diary note to ring up the Crown Court in a couple of months to see how it went.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CPS Again

Regular readers will be aware that my feelings about the Crown Prosecution Service fall well short of adulation. Every judge magistrate or police officer will have his own horror stories of lost files, witnesses not warned, poor or late preparation and more. This piece from The Independent sums up the situation well.
I have already been alerted to the CPS Inspectorate's continuing review of the CPS areas in London, starting in the East and working westwards. The Independent reports on this too.
You can read the reports on the work carried out to date here. The Inspectorate's findings speak for themselves.
A few years ago I heard the then DPP speak, and as there was not much time for questions we were invited to write with any comments. I did so, to the effect that the CPS' grand visions were all very well, but that the failures were at a basic nuts and bolts level. Time has moved on, but that remains the case.

And here, hot from the press, is the updated Guide for Crown Prosecutors. It's also available in Welsh, Polish, Gujarati, and several other languages, but if that's your thing you will have to look it up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What A Coincidence!

The prison Early Release Scheme is to be ended on the 9th of March with the last prisoner being released in early April.

What a fantastic coincidence that this will happen just a few weeks before the General Election. It's lucky that I am not a cynic, because if I were I would see this as unprincipled electioneering, but it was announced by Jack Straw, so it must be all right.

Mustn't it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cock-Up Saves The Day

The ridiculous and heavy handed overreaction to a silly fantasist who wore lots of medals to which he was not entitled has been put to rights:- not, sadly, because of a sudden outburst of common sense, but through a CPS Cock-up.

Friday, February 19, 2010


This case is interesting. The alcohol limit for aviation is one quarter of that for driving a car.


We were part way through a trial on it-doesn't-matter-what and the Crown closed its case by asking us to read the Record of Taped Interview (ROTI). Since this ran to a couple of dozen pages and we quite fancied a cup of tea and a biscuit (if the others had left us any - hanging is too good for the man or woman who raids the second layer before the first is gone, but I digress) we retired for the aforementioned purposes. As is usual the ROTI had been, in the currently voguish word, 'redacted' with prejudicial or inadmissible bits blotted out with a thick marker pen. Tea was fetched, the few sad leftover biscuits were put before us, and we settled down to read the ROTI.
We read in silence, until I, a fairly quick reader, did a double take and said "problem, chaps". On the page I was reading the interviewing officer put all of our man's 37 previous convictions to him, and made the point that one of the things he claimed to have done would have been impossible as he was in the Scrubs at the time.
There was no point in carrying on, so I called out the clerk, and said that the trial was now abortive. On going back in to announce this I expressed some firm views about the dreadful and unacceptable carelessness that had been exhibited by CPS and defence alike. The trial had been live since late last year but of course much preparation was left until the last minute, and that was the root of the problem - hurried work is bound to result in mistakes. So three JPs, three lawyers, one usher, sundry witnesses and one defendant all wasted their time and your money.
And this is the same CPS that plans to fanny about with 'Community Prosecutors'. Forget it, Mr. DPP; just make your people get the basics right.

Bailed Out

As I have often said the grant of bail is always a calculated risk, and most of the time things work as they should. One of the defendants in the first-ever no-jury trial that is currently taking place has absconded. Here is the official statement:-
On 18 February a spokesperson for the Judicial Communications Office said:

“Peter Blake was originally granted bail at the Central Criminal Court on 25 September 2007. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had opposed bail over concerns he would fail to surrender.

“However, Mr Blake has complied with his bail conditions throughout the almost two and a half years that he was on bail and at no time did the CPS apply for his bail to be reviewed.

“There were sureties of £260,000 with conditions to include residing at a specified address, a curfew 23:00 - 06:00 daily, not to apply for any travel documents, not to open any account with a bookmaker or place bets over £100 and not to come within one mile of Heathrow except to see a solicitor.

"Mr Blake had attended on time every day and every session of the current trial. On 17 February he attended the morning session and the start of the afternoon session. He left the court building having been permitted to consult his legal team about a particular legal matter. Mr Blake failed to return to the courtroom where his trial in relation to a robbery at Heathrow in 2004 was being conducted. As a result, the trial judge, Mr Justice Treacy, issued a warrant for his arrest.

“The trial is continuing in Mr Blake's absence and the three other defendants remain on court bail.”

Some Folk Just Can't Take A Hint

A serial shoplifter with a heroin habit was given a six week prison sentence on a Friday, suspended for 12 months with a drug rehabilitation requirement. He reoffended over the weekend, so on the Tuesday we implemented the suspended sentence in full and added the same again consecutively for the new offence. I expect that we shall see him again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Administrative 'Justice'

This post, on the 'ofinteresttosomelawyers' blog (does what it says on the tin)marks another milestone on the road away from fair open and public justice towards hole-and-corner furtive 'justice-lite' administered by civil servants.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Somebody recently pleaded guilty to a Racially Aggravated Section 5 Public Order Act offence. The facts were that he had called a police officer a 'fucking Scottish cunt'.

Are the Scots really a different race?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Who Is Telling The Truth?

Allegations of domestic violence are the basis of quite a few trials these days, and I chaired one a few months ago. As usual the only two people who knew exactly what happened were the defendant and his alleged victim, there being no independent witnesses. The wife had to be served with a witness summons to get her to court, and she looked stressed and tense as she gave her evidence. She went through the sadly ordinary details of her deteriorating marriage, and the fairly trivial dispute that led to the incident. The police had photographed her injuries, amounting to abrasions and a bloodied lip. The husband then gave evidence, and much of his account tallied with his wife's, apart from his denial that he had hit her and his assertion that she must have injured herself in the tussle that followed their row. We went through a structured decision-making process, setting aside all of the agreed facts and concentrating on the crucial disputed ones. The only indisputable evidence before us was the photographs, and we concluded that the injuries were consistent with the wife's account and that the husband's claim that she had inflicted them on herself was just not possible. So guilty it was, and we put the case off for a pre-sentence report, indicating a likely (but not certain) community penalty, possibly including the IDAP domestic violence programme. Another bench sentenced the man three weeks later and I have no idea what they did, but my guess is that they would have followed our approach with an order for supervision, unpaid work and the IDAP.
There will have been many cases like this last week, and there will be more next week and the week after that. Society's attitude to domestic violence has undergone a major shift in the last couple of decades, and the justice system has shifted with it.

Back To The Drawing Board?

I have borrowed this from the excellent Criminal Solicitor dot net site; it deals with an ASBO that appears to have been less than totally successful in bringing an offender to heel:-

Heron v Plymouth City Council [2009]

This was an appeal by way of case stated against the decision of the Magistrates' Court, who, on the City Council's application, allowed an application to vary an anti-social behaviour order that had originally been imposed on the appellant. It was apparent that the original ASBO was not successful. He had been convicted of eight offences of theft from shops since the original ASBO; an offence of theft of a car; an offence of affray; one offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress; four offences of breaching the original ASBO; an offence of actual bodily harm; two offences of failing to comply with a football banning order; one offence of possessing heroin; and one offence of driving whilst disqualified. In addition, there were a number of allegations made against him, which, as Mr James on his behalf points out, had not been proved. "If this appellant goes on behaving in this way he is likely to end up not back merely before a court seeking to impose a variation, but imprisoned for a very long time. Plymouth City Council's patience and attempts to avoid that result can only be commended"

gives the full judgment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brush Off

I am not one for public demonstrations (apart from this anonymous place) but I did add my electronic signature to one of the petitions on the No.10 website. The response is here.

English is my first language, and I think that I understand most of its nuances. I read No. 10's answer as 'get lost'.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Saw It Here First

Next year will see a significant anniversary for the magistracy. My informant in the Mags' Association has slipped me an unofficial view of the logo for the celebrations:-

650 not out is a decent innings, is it not?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Missed Opportunity

A man has been arrested on suspicion of a murder that was committed many years ago. No comment from me then, but a question for the newshounds:-
Why, in view of the fact that the suspect was released on police bail, did the headline not read:-


Iron Rationing

Two blogs have recently highlighted the pressures faced by front-line public services as a result of their having insufficient resources to deal with the demands of their day to day jobs. Tom Reynolds the Ambulanceman is pretty hacked off at the pressures of too many not-particularly-sick people calling ambulances and the limited capacity of hospital A&E departments. This means that patients may have to be shipped all over his patch, sometimes leaving really ill people without the service they need. PC Bloggs is now an Acting Sergeant and she says that on some nights she simply does not have the troops to respond properly to 999 calls.
Of course it isn't simple, and there is a serious problem with the high number of non-urgent emergency calls that clutter up the system, but the underlying problem is only going to get worse. There is already pressure on cash across much of the public service, but nobody is going to do anything until the election is out of the way. Once it is, real front-line cuts are inevitable, and the standards of service that we have become accustomed to will be just a memory.
This is why some senior people in London's Courts' Service are fuming at a recent training initiative, in which professionals have been bored and patronised by an extraordinary and expensive New-Agey presentation, accompanied with luxuriously printed documentation that would not be out of place in a Bentley showroom. I have seen the stuff and it is beyond parody. The fact that it cost many thousands of pounds is a stupid waste of money - as one manager said to me; "for the cost of that lot we could have employed two ushers for a year".

(Later:- You can get the flavour from this site, which is linked in the glossy booklet I mention above).

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mags' Mag

The latest edition of 'Magistrate' magazine dropped through the front door yesterday. It is, as you would expect, a worthy if rather pedestrian publication, and it sometimes includes useful guides to current legal issues, alongside the usual posed groups of magisterial worthies flanking some big beast from the judicial jungle - this month it's Lord Judge smiling owlishly from a crescent of people involved with a community sentencing initiative.
The cover trails a piece about women magistrates who have now been with us for 90 years, and who currently comprise just over half the Bench. They used to be called lady magistrates, but HMCS issued an edict a couple of years ago that the 'lady' had to go, so women it is, at least for those who care what HMCS thinks.
The ads in the magazine suggest that the agency selling the space sees the demographic of the magistracy as a well-heeled and middle-aged lot; a quick glance shows a charity, the Civil Service Insurance Society, a law school, an upmarket travel agency, a supplier of posh stationery, another of commemorative crystal, and an offer of a parchment scroll to commemorate your appointment or retirement as a JP (£26 and £38 respectively). The small ads are mostly for holiday properties offered to let by their JP owners.
The oddest thing in this month's volume is what is described as a blog. It has a handful of unexceptionable comments, but just one thing, chaps - 'blog' is an abbreviation of 'weblog', and Google has never heard of this one, at least as far as I could find. If it ain't on the web, it ain't a blog, I'm afraid. It's an article in a magazine. And I would like to know how the author managed to post at least three of the pieces well after the printers' deadline had passed.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another Top Tip For 2010

Note for burglars: When burgling someone's house, if you awaken the occupants and flee in panic, try not to leave your mobile phone behind. Someone did last week, and is now in The Scrubs.

Bail - It Doesn't Get Any Easier

I have frequently blogged about the sometimes finely-balanced decision whether to grant bail to an offender or to remand him in custody. In the last year the law on bail for imprisonable but summary-only offences has changed; there is a useful article here. We encountered a tricky one just before Christmas.
Brief facts:- Estranged husband lives in the same area as his wife and children. He has a drink problem and has behaved badly in the past while drunk. He has admitted two charges of criminal damage to his wife's home, amounting to a few hundred pounds' worth. He pleads guilty and we adjourn for reports with a view to a community penalty, asking Probation to look at the drink issue and possible treatment, as well as punishment and compensation. Because the case has a domestic violence background to it (although there is no suggestion that he has ever attacked his wife) Probation need a full three weeks to do the reports.
The Prosecutor vigorously opposes bail, relying on the

fear of the commission of further offences which are likely to cause another person to suffer or fear physical or mental injury. This will be particularly relevant to cases of domestic common assault
But this isn't common assault, it's low-level criminal damage for which a prison sentence is highly unlikely. On the other hand, he may get up to no good if or when he next gets drunk, so perhaps his wife will 'fear' injury at his hands. So do we bail him, with or without conditions to keep him away from his wife, or do we lock him up for three weeks while reports are prepared, which will keep him away from her but will leave him in the same position when he comes out in three weeks' time?
What would you do? For what it's worth, I don't think there is necessarily a 'right' or a 'wrong' answer.