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, April 28, 2010

The Dog That Didn't Bark In The Night

As the General Election campaign enters its last week there has been little or no mention of one of the most significant legacies of the New Labour years; the erosion of liberty and the increasingly authoritarian way in which we are governed.
Thousands of new offences have been created, and many of these are enforced not by courts but by various levels of public servants. More and more organs of the State have been empowered to levy penalties on the citizen. Only about half of the so-called 'Offences Brought to Justice' ever get to court, as a succession of hardline Home Secretaries have preferred to allow the police the CPS and other bodies to impose sanctions out of the public gaze, behind closed doors. Now, incredibly, even night club doormen are being allowed to hand out fixed penalties. Civil Enforcement of parking regulations means that your only appeal against a decision is to an adjudicator, and if he is not on your side, that's it - no further avenues are open. Proportionality has gone out of the window. Jumping a red traffic light, an offence that can in some circumstances kill people, carries a fixed penalty of £60. Overfilling your dustbin will attract a fine of £100 or more from some councils; where's the logic in that? Sentencing Guidelines have become increasingly prescriptive. Average prison terms have increased significantly, but the programme of new prisons is only just starting to have effect, resulting in the recent farce of early release that was, surprise surprise, dropped just before the election was announced.
The Criminal Records culture has grown inexorably. Not too long ago, most offences became spent after a reasonable period of good behaviour, on the commendable principle that rehabilitation should be encouraged and recognised. Spurred on by the dreadful Soham murders more and more jobs require a CRB check. Employers can order the checks on the pretext that a driver, say, may deliver to an old people's home. If the enhanced check comes up with a 15 year-old shoplifting conviction, the employer won't take the man on. As a result there is now a substantial cadre of people whose unemployability is made absolute by the ease of access to the CRB. Twenty years ago the only way to get access to someone's record was to slip a few quid to a police officer (oh yes, it happened). Now it is routine.
The anti-terrorism laws have, as feared become widely abused to hamper legitimate activities. Jury trial, having been dispensed with once, will surely be dispensed with again. Every email and phone call will henceforth be stored for the authorities to look at when it suits them. Innocent people have their DNA retained if they are arrested and then released. Someone who is acquitted (as in Not Guilty) can nevertheless be slapped with a restraining order to prevent him repeating the offence that he has just been acquitted of - a new verdict of 'Not Guilty but Don't Do It Again'.
If any of you hears a single candidate addressing these issues, let me know. I bet you don't.