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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

UK Loses at ECHR

Thanks to the excellent CrimeLine for reporting the case of Allen v United Kingdom, (30 March 2010).

In this case the defendant was granted bail by a Deputy District Judge, but the prosecution exercised its right of appeal. The case went before a judge at Liverpool Crown Court and the defendant was denied the right to be present at the hearing.
Counsel had argued for the defendant to be present so that the Judge could consider her demeanour.

Held: Article 5(4) violated. EUR1,000 compensation awarded.

CrimeLine goes on to note that the judgment of Judge Bonello is particularly interesting, in view of the current pilots of 'Virtual Courts' in which defendants appear only on a videolink rather than in person. This may grind to a halt if the ECHR rules against defendants being denied the right to appear in person.



I couldn't put it better than our friend ObiterJ in his recent comment:-

Now just as you were thinking matters could not get worse here is a bit of news to make Bystander's day:-

I first blogged about Ms Casey here and anyone interested can find more using the search box at the top.

I have every sympathy with victims of crime. I have been a victim on numerous occasions as have close friends and relatives. But let's be brutally frank: most of the government's concern with victims is bogus, and amounts to no more than window dressing.
Victims are entitled to be kept fully informed about the progress of 'their' case if it is one of those that comes to be prosecuted. If anything goes wrong they should be told how and why. They should be compensated where practicable. If called as witnesses they should be treated with consideration and courtesy. Most of this happens these days, but what cannot and will not happen is for the court to tailor its sentence to appease or satisfy the victim. In these days of sentencing guidelines, and with the new requirement that a court 'must' in most circumstances follow them, to sentence with one eye on the victim would simply be against the rules.
So heaven only knows what Ms. Casey will be doing for her hundred thousand a year. It certainly won't do any good; I just hope that the harm is limited to the waste of money.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nutters 'r' Us - Update

The Freemen thread has attracted an extraordinary number of comments, albeit many of them come from the same people. I have had several emails begging me to kill the thread, but I have decided to leave it, although I still don't understand the stuff about proving my oath. I'm a JP because the Lord Chancellor sent me a letter to say so, many years ago. Comments on the original thread please.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Scandal! Lawyer Represents Client - Takes Fee

Even by the standards of the Daily Mail, this is a good'un.
There is really no story here at all other than a nudge-nudge implying that this solicitor is creaming off public funds to represent an unpopular prisoner.
Apparently he lives in a "£400,000 semi" in Crouch End, which is a pretty modest gaff for the area.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Courtesy or Cowardice?

This week I attended a meeting (that had no legal connection) to hear a speaker who was to talk about a subject that interests me.
The meeting was in a charming old church hall in a beautiful Chiltern village. Those attending were what you might call countryside types, many of them active farmers. There was a Lord, and a Baronet. Everyone was charming, wine and sandwiches were handed out, and I had a super evening. Except for one thing.
I was introduced to a largeish, blazered, florid man of about my age who greeted me with a firm handshake. We were soon in conversation. He was an old Africa hand, having spent many years on a continent that I have never visited. As his confidence in me seemed to grow he launched without warning into an appalling diatribe about the dreadfulness of the blacks, how they can never govern themselves and how any attempt to civilise them must end in failure. He had been told that I was a JP, so he went on to lament the loss of the death penalty and to complain that nowadays the mere act of a white shooting a black might be treated as murder. Like so many right wingers he assumed as a fact that I 'must be so frustrated' at being unable to dish out really severe punishments. He was in favour of summary street-corner shooting of thieves, assuming that such would always, of course be black. He was looking forward to a trip to South Africa when he would do a bit of hunting - conveniently his guns were already there for him.
Now this man represents much of what I find most loathsome:- racism, contempt for anyone he does not understand, slaughtering great beasts for fun; the whole deal.
And I wimped out and said nothing, merely disentangling myself at the first decent opportunity and breathing in good fresh air outside.
As an Englishman I hope that I display courtesy and good manners. Nevertheless I feel a bit ashamed that I just stood and let him pour out his bile. To challenge him would have embarrassed my hosts, and besides, I could not have been so crass on a social occasion. I still feel a bit grubby though.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Private Process Day

We regularly run a court for non-CPS prosecutions, and these can be a really mixed bunch. Many authorities have powers of prosecution, but true private prosecutions of one citizen by another are rare. Prosecutions can be instigated by the local authority (environmental offences, housing matters including benefit frauds and dodgy landlords, trading standards, school non-attendance and planning) the Environment Agency, VOSA, HM Revenue & Customs, the RSPCA, bus and train companies, the Civil Aviation Authority, TV Licensing and more. Some of these cases are less than riveting and most magistrates regard a half day of fare evasion or TV licences as the judicial equivalent of a spell in the salt mines, but every case needs to be dealt with carefully, taking account of all the circumstances. Other cases are a lot more challenging, because the less common offences have few if any guidelines, so the bench is thrown back on first principles.
The amounts of money involved can be very high. In the magistrates' court an offence such as fly-tipping can attract a fine of up to £50,000 and/or six months' prison. These authorities also claim their full costs, rather than the rough-and-ready CPS scale. Last week a lady who had fraudulently claimed over £30,000 in housing benefit faced a claim for over £5000 costs as well as a suspended prison sentence, unpaid work, and repayment of the overclaimed money. A well-known computer company was fined £40,000 plus costs for failing to make proper arrangements for recycling some of its waste packaging. When an offence results in a gain to the offender and that gain can be quantified, we have an easy guide to the right level of fine:- we make it cheaper to obey the law than not.
A demolition contractor had to remove a diesel tank and pump. Rather than pay an approved specialist he gave the job to an untrained man with a JCB. As a result oil leaked into a nearby river, so in addition to a fine of £7,500 we ordered £5,000 or so to be paid to the Environment Agency to cover their clean-up costs on top of their considerable legal bill.
On the same day that we dealt with three benefit fraudsters who had fiddled nearly £100,000 between them we also dealt with a dim and disorganised single mother who had managed to be prosecuted three times in three years for having no TV licence, piling up a ridiculous heap of fines totalling over £750. "Have you got a licence now?" I asked her. "No" she said. I thought it was paid by the money the court takes from my benefit every fortnight". Speaking slowly and clearly (I would rather run the risk of sounding patronising than take a chance of not being understood) I told her that we were reducing the fines to a manageable level and that she had to go to the Post Office that afternoon and sort out a licence. She said that she hadn't got enough money, as the licence was more than a week's benefit. I explained that there were easy-start plans available, and hammered the point home, stressing that the last thing she needed was a fourth conviction. I give it fifty-fifty at best.
One last point - in cases of theft, the guidelines suggest that thefts of £20,000 or more should go to the Crown Court, but for benefit fraud it is £35,000. Why?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's In A Name?

There is a trial going on in London this week.
The London police sergeant ......told a court yesterday that he had mistaken the orange juice carton in her hand for a weapon".

Sgt Delroy Smellie is accused of common assault

It's lucky he is a very big bloke; with a name like that he would have had a hard time in the playground.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nutters 'r' us

Some self-styled English Freemen have staged a pointless and self indulgent protest in a court in Cwmbran (English Freemen?) and video recorded stuff on mobile phones.

Here's a bit of their rant:-
Here we see Englsih Freemen standing in court as Lay Advisors to another Freemen.

This is for a Council Tax Liability Order hearing in Cwmbran Magistrates Court in South Wales, There were 14 Freemen in attendance.

The court was never convened as the Freemen never handed juridiction to magistrates or the clerk by standing up when ordered to do so and the magistrates never sat down.

The magistrates twice abandoned the court (the ship) and it was the Freemen who called the Police and at one point the Lay advisor can clearly be heard calling attending Police Constables to arrest the magistrates for impersonating judges.

There were many criminal acts committed this day by the company personnel (Magistrates, solictors, security and the clerk) and Police complaints are under way pending prosecutions for Fraud among other things.

Once you have battled through the syntax, the only serious issue appears to be the recording of court proceedings, an act that the law expressly prohibits.

Most magistrates see something like this once in a blue moon, and a firm and confident chairman and clerk can almost always deal with it, but if the contempt is designed to obstruct court proceedings then a swift and condign response is called for - something like 14 days in my view.

Video technology has moved fast and cameras have become smaller and more easily concealed. My son owns a professional quality camera that is little bigger than my little finger, with a lens the size of a button. Courts need to be aware of this, and benches need to be on the qui vive for illicit video recording. Deciding what to do when an incident is uncovered will be tricky.

Now That's What I Call A Delay

I mentioned the other day that some London courts have a backlog of cases, and that HMCS are shifting work about and organising extra JP sittings to catch up. But we are the speediest among the speedy compared with parts of India.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Better Shred Than Dead

Data protection is taken seriously in the Courts' Service (apart from little glitches such as having the JPs' yearbook printed in a prison) so at the end of the recent meeting of a committee that considers training and appraisal reports on magistrates we handed our sheaves of paper to the secretary to be shredded, as per usual. "Fraid not" she said. "The shredders have been taken away and confidential waste has to go into plastic sacks to await collection by a commercial shredding firm". "Why?" we asked. "Health and safety" she replied. Apparently shredders present a danger to any man wearing a tie, so out they have gone. A colleague who is cynical even by my standards expressed the view that any man stupid enough to dangle his tie in a shredder would be no great loss to HMCS, nor to the human race for that matter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dick Head

This report speaks for itself, but I am intrigued by the decision to charge assault (all right, I know it's Scotland where Things Are Different). Around my patch I suspect that something from the Sexual Offences Act would have been charged.
He must be a big lad.

Fresh Eire

To return to the case of our two Irish thieves; the defendants were unrepresented and they gave evidence, one after the other, of how they had bought the property in question in a pub, ten minutes before the police stopped them, and that the seller was a fella called Sean, but they didn't know his other name. Sean didn't sound like much of a businessman, as he had sold them £2500 worth of stuff for £70 cash "because he needed some more cash for a drink". Both men punctuated their evidence with "so I did" and "so he was" and when we retired the first thing one of my colleagues said was "They're guilty, so they are".

From Bad to Erse (2)

Today is St. Patrick's Day, which means that it is just over a year since we convicted two members of our most notorious local Irish family of a theft. They went not guilty of course, but their story was comically thin and we had no problem making up our minds. We decided to impose a three-month curfew from 7 pm to 6 am, seven days a week. When I announced this, they pleaded with us to change our minds and to impose a period of unpaid work. Their protests were of no avail, and that was when we realised that they would not be in the pub on St. Paddy's night with the rest of their clan, but stuck indoors. Electronic tags made sure that they stayed there too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CPS Update

The report on London's CPS that I referred to a while ago is now complete and Frances Gibb of The Times writes about it here

The overall tenor of the report is unenthusiastic, although it does give credit for good work when it finds it. If that's the best the CPS can do before the next round of financial cutbacks, it bodes ill for the future.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boss Heads For Exit

Tim Workman, the Chief Magistrate, is soon to retire. He presides at Westminster Magistrates' Court (that used to be known as Horseferry Road, which is where it is).
Westminster has special jurisdiction over terrorism and extradition matters, and through its location also attracts big-news cases such as the alleged expenses-fiddling MPs. It has a number of District Judges as well as a lay bench.
Tim Workman was a solicitor in private practice before joining the bench as a Stipendiary Magistrate. I have met him a few times in committees and such, and by one of those odd coincidences I once instructed him in a case, a few years before I became a JP.
One of my then employees caused a fairly big car crash in Maidenhead and was summonsed to court to answer a charge of careless driving. I asked a solicitor pal if he knew of a good man in Maidenhead, and he named Tim W, whom I duly instructed to mitigate.
Small world, isn't it?

Family Circle

We remanded a young serial thief today. He has another case pending, so he sleeps in Feltham tonight, as he has done for a week or three.
He brought a fan club to court that half-filled the gallery. I gave them my best glare in case they became too vocally supportive of their man, but there was nothing to worry about.
Among the dozen-and-a-half relatives was a sweet little girl, four years old or so, sitting on an adult's knee. She was very well behaved, but I did catch sight of her gently smiling and giving a discreet wave to her 19 year-old uncle who was seated behind the armoured glass of our secure dock, flanked by two custody officers.
Family support is one of the positive indicators when it comes to reforming offenders, and this chap had lots of it.
But after he had gone down the steel staircase to sit in a cell while waiting for the van to take him back to prison, I was moved to wonder how I would feel if one of my dear granddaughters were to be taken to watch a relative being sent down.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

All Time Great Legal Jokes No. 144

Ethical Dilemma

Mrs. Robertson, an eighty year-old widow, visits her solicitors to make a small adjustment to her will. She has been a client of the firm for more than fifty years, and the senior solicitor who looks after her affairs rapidly notes her instructions and promises to get the job done straight away. The client reaches into her bag and takes out a small container. "I have just brought along a couple of my home made cakes. I hope you like them. One other thing; to save trouble, let me settle your bill now, rather than waiting for you to send it in". "Well thank you" says the lawyer. "As an old client, shall we call it fifty pounds?"
The old lady handed over a fifty pound note, and prepared to leave.
Later, the lawyer was about to put the note into his wallet (such a small sum being too trivial to trouble the tax authorities with) when he noted that he had been given two new fifty pound notes that were stuck together.
So here is the ethical dilemma he faced:-

Should I tell my partners?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

News In Brief

* Many court staff will be on strike tomorrow and Tuesday. Magistrates who are due to sit have been asked to turn up anyway, although there may be no work for some of them.

* The Magistrates' Association is discussing retirement age (currently 70) on the basis that many people still have all their marbles at that age, and should be allowed to carry on subject to annual appraisal. It will not happen.

* There is a backlog of Family Court work and posters have appeared in London courthouses asking for volunteers for the Family panel. The workload in Family has shot up following well-publicised cases of child abuse and neglect.

* There are still concerns that the CPS are under-charging cases, in order to get a more certain conviction or even a guilty plea. Typical examples are an obvious ABH charged as a Common Assault, thus preventing election for jury trial, and those caught with fairly large amounts of cannabis as well as scales and plastic bags being charged with simple possession rather than With Intent to Supply.

* Associate Prosecutors (not qualified solicitors or barristers) are to be selected and trained to carry out a greater range of prosecutions, such as summary magistrates' trials (non-imprisonable only) Special Reasons hearings, and others. This is another nail in the coffin of the independent Bar. APs will be regulated in future by the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).

* The Anonymous Prosecutor deals with the cost implications here.

* When imposing a fine the court has to assess the Relevant Weekly Income (RWI). Someone on benefit is deemed to have RWI of £100, and someone who does not provide full information is assessed at £350 RWI. A multi-millionaire was recently sentenced in a London court and fined £2,000 which was far less, as a proportion of his income, than £100 would be to someone on Jobseekers.

* A woman who attended court to have a fine reassessed (not having attended the first hearing) heard that the fine was being reduced from £350 to £100 and asked the bench "Is that the best you can do?"

* The youngest current member of my Bench is 26, and very good.

* There is, for some reason, a poll on the MA members' site asking if: I would prefer to be called a community justice rather than a magistrate
I won't disclose the result, but you can probably guess. That 'C' word always makes me suspect that the hand of the dreaded Louise Casey is involved.

What Happened To The Old Certainties?

I am confused. What is happening to me? First, as kindly pointed out by Anonymous John, the Mail has run a reasoned and thoughtful piece about the Venables affair by Suzanne Moore, and then I open my Sunday Times to find that I agree with the drift of a column by, of all people, Jeremy Clarkson.
I think I may need a holiday.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


This speaks for itself.

Thanks to Steve Bell in The Guardian

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


He may well have committed a further offence. In that case the authorities must keep it under wraps, because he could not otherwise hope to have a fair trial in front of a jury.

He and his accomplice have received hugely expensive education and supervision since they killed a toddler while they were children themselves.

If that has not worked in this case, that does not create an argument for not trying rehabilitation in future cases.

That's about all we know, or will know for some time, about this.

How Would You Deal With This?

Two middle-aged men are side by side in the dock. Each has a care worker with him as both have learning difficulties. They have committed sexual offences against girls of 12 (I have to be careful here, but suffice it to say that no physical contact was involved, but rather crude and inapproriate sexual talk) that has obviously caused great fear and upset to the young victims. The defendants are quickly identified, and brought to court.

They are charged under Section 12(1)a and other sections of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

This will have to go up to the Crown Court, of course. The victims will have been traumatised and will need careful care and counselling that is, in my experience, likely to be forthcoming.

So what do we, as a society, do with them? Their crime is awful for their young victims, and must have traumatised the girls' parents too. But they are, in the old and obsolete phrase, a bit simple. They need permanent support from their local authority, and they can live independently only with that support. So where do we start?

It won't be for me to decide, as a Circuit Judge will have that job, but how is he to balance the competing interests of public protection, concern for the victims, the need to treat those of limited mental capacity in a humane way, and the overriding law?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

It's Being So Cheerful As Keeps Me Going

We are trying to catch up on our backlog of trials this month and some extra courts have been laid on. Inevitably, the first three that I sat on fell apart. The first changed his plea to guilty and the second had the charges greatly reduced, resulting in a guilty plea. The third was a typical foul-up; one witness was unavailable abroad and had been so for a while, but nobody had bothered to make a hearsay application. Neither police officer had been warned to attend by the CPS either. So the prosecutor bowed to the inevitable and threw his hand in, offering no evidence. I duly announced that the case was dismissed.
So far so not-very-good, but the day was enlivened by an (unsuccessful) attempt to escape from the courthouse and ended sombrely when I passed a huge pile-up on the motorway involving at least half a dozen cars and vans, with police ambulances and fire engines all over the place. (later edit) I discovered from the news that a helicopter had attended too, and landed on 'my' side of the road, so I was well out of it.