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 29, 2010


The Government's approach to its inheritance from the Blair years is refreshing to many of us who work in criminal justice, but may I urge caution; experience shows that a simple-looking quick fix is usually anything but. For example:-

Mrs May is to give the police discretion to tackle antisocial behaviour by making offenders repair the damage they have caused or take part in “positive community activity”. It might, for example, in some circumstances be right to make a person rebuild a fence he or she had knocked down.

Fine, media friendly, will go down well in the saloon bar and in the golf club.
But take this perfectly plausible scenario:-

Drunken young man admits knocking down a fence. What a good idea to make him rebuild it!
But who gives the order, under what powers, and how is it to be enforced?
What is the sanction for (likely) non-compliance?

So the order is (somehow) made.
Who buys the materials? The young man is on fifty quid a week Jobseekers, and the fence needs £250 of materials. Who pays B&Q for the stuff?
Who supervises him? Does the old lady who owns the fence really want this six-foot-two simian yob in her garden?
What does Health-and-Safety have to say about giving this job to an untrained semi-literate and gormless teenager? Whoever orders the job done has a duty of care. Uh-Oh. Someone envisages Mr.Yobbo putting a pickaxe (that someone will have to lend him) through his foot. Trouble, lawyers, Daily Mail reporters looming into sight.

Alternatively, put him before a bench of magistrates who have the power to make him carry out unpaid work as well as awarding compensation to the old lady. Compensation is not covered by the income-related restrictions on fines, so it can be taken from his benefits for as long as it takes.
We have had enough claptrap gimmmicks in the last dozen years or so. No more, please Home Secretary, no more.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah So! Asbo!

Anyone who is unsure of my reaction to Teresa May's decision to revisit the ASBO regime only needs to enter the acronym into the search box at the top of the blog.

It is one of the things that I have most frequently blogged about.

Things may be looking up.

Cuts Yes - But Not Here

The BBC has run a largely sympathetic report on a genteel protest staged at Kingston courthouse today by the local bench and local politicians and staff. Inevitably the Chairman of the Bench made a reasoned plea for local justice to stay in Kingston, but I fear that battle is lost already. Sandra Aston of HMCS, whom I have worked with in recent years, made the point that the Kingston court is under-utilised and has poor facilities. In addition, it is one of the few court properties that is not owned outright, but rather leased from the Royal Borough in which it stands. That makes a tempting target for managers desperate to cut costs while keeping the show on the road.
The consultation put out by HMCS gives detail of the whys and wherefores of proposed closures, and much of it is hard to challenge, in view of the need to save vast sums of money. There are courts in charming old buildings that are just too small and insecure to have a future (eg Acton and Harrow). Some have too few cells to handle a busy remand list, some have an overhang of neglected maintenance. The fact that a few are listed doesn't help.
Yes, it's all right for me, as my court is not on the list, but that would be too simplistic a gibe. For the summary courts' system to have a secure future all of us who are involved, salaried or volunteers, will have to be positive, flexible, and look to the future.
Muddling along will no longer do in the new austere court system. Most JPs are now well aware of the need for robust and positive case management, and we are increasingly intolerant of poor performance from our own ranks and from the agencies who appear before us and provide our administrative backup. There is no reason why a lay bench should be significantly less efficient than a District Judge, other than in seriously knotty points of law, and there are strong arguments in favour of the quality of justice that is delivered by well-trained and well-motivated citizen volunteers who have access to quality legal advice, as we do. But that does mean that we need to be firm with colleagues who don't really get it, and show them by example what good practice looks like. Those who are not with us, may need to be shown by the magistrate-led appraisal system that they must shape up or ship out.
So well done to Kingston for a first-class job of putting their case firmly but politely before the public, but don't let your hopes run away with you. By the year-end you will know that your bench will be merged with two neighbouring ones, and you will be doing the same job with some different people in a different venue a few miles away from Kingston. That's when we all need to give our best efforts to delivering an even better quality of justice with limited resources. If any magistrate doesn't fancy that, do you have a better idea? The status quo is not an option.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some Dream That Was!

I turned up at 9.25, and found myself sitting with two experienced and sensible colleagues. The clerk came out (another plus - she's really good) and told us that we had two trials listed, one morning, one afternoon. I didn't like the sound of a three-hour trial listed for 2 p.m. - too many things can go wrong and result in burning the midnight oil or going part-heard. The admin really shouldn't list these things, but it's all done at a remote courthouse these days.
10 a.m. arrived, out came the clerk; Crown not ready to go. Defendant here, defence brief here, CCTV suite set up for vulnerable young witness, but no witnesses (from the same family). Spent 20 minutes drinking coffee while CPS attempted to phone witnesses. We set a deadline to review matters. Five minutes before that, clerk comes out to tell us that the witnesses won't be here, as they have the date wrong and are expecting to come tomorrow. We troop back in. Prosecutor makes wordy request for adjournment, much of it repetitive and some of it teaching granny to suck eggs. I have a good idea of what the 'interests of justice' means, thanks, and I have a working knowledge of the Criminal Procedure Rules. I cut him short, and ask the defence for submissions - of course she opposes the application. As she gets into her stride and starts looking up case law, I stop her too after a whispered question to my colleagues. "We have heard enough, thank you. We refuse to adjourn the case. Enough is enough, it is now six months old." CPS offers no evidence, so I stand the defendant up and tell him that the case is dismissed. Does that mean I haven't got to come back?" he asks. "Yes, that's the end of it. You can go". He mumbles thanks and waves a sort of salute as he leaves.
This case was about a theft of a trinket valued at little more that £20, and had been going on since last winter. We gave it a decent burial.

We then heard that the afternoon case was also a goner, as the victim was away on holiday (booked after he knew the date of the trial, of course). Case dismissed.

We had some more coffee, dealt with a couple of short matters, then issued two warrants; one to search for documents used for fraud, and one Mental Health Act warrant to allow a squad of psychiatric workers accompanied by police to pick up an unstable paranoid schizophrenic and take him to hospital for assessment.
That was it. We juggled a couple of benches about to allow one courtroom to close; I volunteered for an early bath and I was back home by 12.30.

If you can't take a joke, I mused, you shouldn't have joined.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Can Dream, Can't I?

I had a call from the admin this morning to ask if I could chair a court tomorrow. I agreed, having nothing much planned, so tomorrow the scruffy clothes and the trainers will be left in the cupboard while I take out my (getting rather tired) second-best court suit.
I have no idea what I shall be given to do. I can be pretty sure that it won't be traffic, since nearly all of that stuff has been hived off to a 'gateway' court some miles round the North Circular. If it's a trial it is likely to be domestic violence, but it might be non-CPS stuff from the council, or the environment people or even (heaven forfend) the bus operators or the TV Licence bods. But you never know - a Proceeds of Crime Act forfeiture can be interesting as can any of the thousands of possible offences we have to deal with.
Some of my colleagues get a bit snotty about District Judges (we have one allocated DJ who is often away on things like prison adjudications, training, or, as this week, a short-notice holiday). There is a suspicion on the lay bench that DJs cherry-pick cases leaving the serfs to deal with the dross. I don't think that's quite fair, because a (say) four-day case is much simpler to manage in front of a DJ, obviating the problems of getting three justices together when they all have lives and families to concern them away from court.
In any event, it isn't just the high-profile cases that are interesting. Sure, a delicate point of law can enthral those of us who are interested, but the really dramatic riveting interplay of raw human emotion is just as likely to be seen in a something-and-nothing neighbour dispute or a low-level assault as it is in a newsworthy case that is on its way to the Old Bailey.
I shall know my fate by 9.40 tomorrow morning. Ideally, I would like a nice little trial that is ready to go at 10, has a juicy 'no case to answer' submission at about 12, with a bit of law tossed in (ideally by a blonde lady barrister of about 30-something - think Patricia Hodge in Rumpole) a verdict at 3.45, and if we convict, a nice neat little sentence without reports (more from Ms. Hodge) then a debrief and in the car by 4.30. In the pub by 5, home for dinner about 6.30.

Well, I can dream, can't I?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You Can't Have It Both Ways

I have often commented on the idea that has been successfully implanted in the public mind that speed cameras' main function is to raise revenue. Most people believe that to be the case.

Yet here we are with a story in the Sunday Times that speed cameras are to be 'axed' to -er- save money.

One or the other can't be right, can it?

Friday, July 23, 2010


Here is a barrister's view of the DPP's decision in the Tomlinson case.


Today's sentencing of Jon Venables has elicited the customary "it's not enough" reaction from Denise Fergus, mother of the murdered James. Of course, for some people, suffering a loss such as hers, no sentence can ever be enough, but it is ridiculous for her spokesman to get into the technicalities of sentencing; the judge is impartial and learned, and fully familiar with the law and with the guidelines; the spokesman is merely spouting the tabloid mob-rule line.
It is depressingly redolent of that poor woman Mrs. Bennett, whose son was murdered by Brady and Hindley and whose body remains undiscovered. Every time Hindley's case came up in the papers the bereaved and ageing lady was dragged in front of the cameras and the microphones and the reporters, eager for yet another vengeful headline about the demonised Hindley. She should have been left to grieve in peace, as, now, should Denise Fergus.

(later) By the way, the case was entrusted to Sir David Bean, who is seen as a safe pair of hands to deal with high-profile and sensitive cases such as this one. I have met him on a couple of occasions, and he is very impressive. He wears his learning and his status lightly, and I strongly suspect that we shall see him in a very senior post indeed before he is done with his career.

(later still) Here's what the Judge said.

And here is the foam-flecked report from The Sun

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Iron Laws Of Nature

There are some well-known laws that were never passed by a legislature, but rather emerged from life's sometimes grim lessons. There is of course the law of Sod and the related law of Murphy, which states that if anything can go wrong, then it will.
The law that serves, time after time, to trip up politicians and lawmakers is of course the Law of Unintended Consequences. A new law or a policy is proposed that will deal with a problem - that is a Good Thing, so it comes to pass, without too much head-scratching or debate. A while later, once the new arrangements are in place, it dawns on everyone that the Good Thing will unfortunately foul up one or more other Good Things - and that is a Bad Thing.
There is a good example abroad at the moment. Legal Aid is being relentlessly cut. Good Thing for the deficit, Bad Thing for justice, court timetables (as unrepresented defendants take much longer to deal with that those with proper lawyers) and prison numbers. We are rightly sensitive to the interests of victims, especially in domestic violence and sexual offence cases - Good Thing. Without Legal Aid (see above) many defendants have to conduct their own case - Bad Thing. Witnesses have to be cross-examined - Legal Thing. Defendant cross-examining woman he may have raped or beaten - Very Bad Thing. So the court has the power to instruct a solicitor purely for the purpose of cross-examination - Good Thing. But the lawyer has to read all the papers, which takes just as much time as running the case from the beginning - Bad Thing. And here's a cracker - this work is chargeable at the solicitor's full private client rate, rather than the niggardly Legal Aid rates - Bad Thing (unless you are a solicitor). So the cross-examination alone costs more than instructing a lawyer on Legal Aid for the whole trial - Bad Thing.
It's an Unintended Consequence, you see.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sticks And Stones

Some people seem to think that I have no feelings; that I am a cold and insensitive soul, immune to hurt and to obloquy. What they fail to realise is that under my sunny, hail-fellow-well-met-mine's-a-pint-thanks carapace there lurks a tender and vulnerable old chap.

A few of the people who post on the Mags' Association's members' forum get het up about this blog, and extend their hetupness to poor harmless old me.

Here are a few samples:
Bystander is quite vituperative in his/her disparaging commentaries on the MA (as increasingly on so much else, I'm afraid) and I mentioned this only because his blog is one of the most public fora in which such criticisms are aired. He's quite entitled to spit in his own soup, and I'd go to the barricades to defend his right of free speech, but I do find such 'holier than thou' preachers generally rather tedious.
(Editor's Note - the Oxford lexicographers say vituperative means "bitter and abusive" Bitter? Abusive? Moi?
It has been written on Bystanders's Blog that the MA is " generally run by those out for their own self aggrandisement rather than for the good of their members. It is a supine, useless 'club
I don't remember writing that
People seem very quick to blame, viz the well-named Bystander, but I don't see him or her offering his services/expertise or knowledge in the interests of the magistracy as a whole, or of the fight for local justice.
Now look matey, I'm not putting my magisterial CV on here, but I have done more in my two decades on the bench than many, possibly including you.
These are dangerous and challenging times, and one can either carp from the sidelines, as Bystander does, pontificating on the state of the world from a position of blithe anonymity (whilst slagging the MA off at every opportunity), or find one's own little way of helping steer the ship through the treacherous waters ahead. I don't know why Bystander is so bitter and twisted, but am damn sure it's not specific to the MA. As it is, I'm equally sure that were he/she to offer his services to the Association, they would be delighted to accept.
I must admit though that bystander does snipe at the MA on numerous occassions (sic) and makes me wonder if they (sic)have an axe to grind?
If Bystander is so great why hasn't he/she put up for office so that they (sic) can make changes to the MA themselves? I understand they must be a member of MA cause they have access to the web site??
........ Bystander (who has made much of his great friendship with the new NBCF Chairman) ........
I said in one post that I knew Frances Hoare. Suddenly this bloke thinks we're best mates. Give me strength.

I keep meaning to do a post about the MA. About 70-odd percent of JPs belong to it (including me) and it has a worthy history. The branches vary widely across the country, often due to geography. My branch is the Middlesex one, and meetings are usually in or near WC1. As I live to the West of London that is pushing an eighty mile round trip, so I only go to one or two meetings a year, and that is more than most people on my bench.. The committee and officers seem to be made up of the same faces, which is hardly surprising. Nothing actually gets decided at the AGM, as the Trustees decide policy matters.
The National officers have sharpened up their act in the last couple of years, mainly due to John Thornhill the chairman, who is an abrasive but effective man of the Liverpool persuasion. Press and PR are in better shape than they have been for some time.
Most of us realise that the organisation's structure needs looking at, and financially-driven reorganisation of courts and benches might provide the stimulus that is needed. Despite the views of the grumps on the Members' Forum I shall do what I can to help - in a non-vituperative way, of course.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


This, while being a sentence that is completely justifiable, is a good example of the sort of stuff that really shouldn't bother a Crown Court.

Technical Hitch

The new Sentencing Council is having teething troubles with its website. If you try to get into the Magistrates' Guidelines you end up going in electronic circles.

Must try harder, lads.

(It has been fixed as of the 20th July. Perhaps they read the blog? Hope so)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's See

The latest figures on the amount of crime are discussed here.

I have reservations about crime figures, as I said five years ago.

Let's see what tomorrow's press makes of the report. Will the Mail and Sun and the rest headline the story, or bury it down column on page 46?

I think I know the answer. News that doesn't fit the paper's or the proprietor's agenda tends to disappear.

Let's hope for a nice surprise in the morning.

Yes, I Really Ought To Get Out More - Reprise

I'm gonna knock on your door, ring on your bell
Tap on your window too
If you don't come out tonight when the moon is bright
I'm gonna knock and ring and tap until you do

I'm gonna knock on your door, call out your name
Wake up the town, you'll see
I'm gonna hoo-hoot and howl like a lovesick owl
Until you say you're gonna come out with me

Hey, little girl, this ain't no time to sleep
Let's count kisses 'stead of countin' sheep
How, how can I hold you near
With you up there and me down here

I'm gonna knock on your door, ring on your bell
Tap on your window too
If you don't come out tonight when the moon is bright
I'm gonna knock and ring and tap until you do
(copyright acknowledged)

This oldie from my (relative) youth was played on the radio a week or so back. Humming the tune and running through the words in my mind I realised that this chap has carried out a course of conduct that probably amounts to a Section 2 Harassment.

I fear that I may have been doing this job for too long.

Moat and Beams

A lot of people are getting excited about the unhealthy cult of martyrdom that is growing around the late Raoul Moat, in particular its expression on Facebook.

The comments are mostly immature, frequently illiterate, and almost invariably confused. There is nothing inherently wrong in pitying a man who simply failed to cope with the hand that life dealt him, leaving him a pathetic small-time loser with big muscles and a festering narcissistic sense of grievance. There is a great deal wrong with condoning his murder of one person and maiming of two more, as if his troubles somehow justified these crimes. So far, so pathetic.

It's nothing new, though. From Robin Hood, through Dick Turpin and his ilk, to Ned Kelly, to Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, the Krays and many more a spurious glamour has often attached itself to people who are at root anti-social and frequently thuggish. A faux aura of adventure was ascribed to the IRA a few years ago. Jolly rebel songs were sung in the pubs of the Kilburn High Road to celebrate the latest triumph of blowing the legs off a typist or two or shooting a man in front of his wife and children. There is never any glamour about the brutal and ugly reality of violence.

The best thing to do about the Facebook hagiographers is to read a few of the comments, shake your head gently, and move on.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Busy Boy

Ken Clarke and his civil servants have been very busy indeed making plans. The underlying strategy seems to be pretty sensible, but it won't be easy to achieve in the teeth of massive financial cutbacks. As I said the other day, the devil is in the detail.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Joined Up Or Cocked Up?

I had an email from David the other day. It speaks for itself. He writes:-
Seen this?:


I hope this is an example of crashingly inept right-hand/left-hand trouble. If not, against a background of courts being cancelled because we aren't allowed to replace legal advisors, court closures and all the rest of it, it looks rather like two fingers being waved at the lay Magistracy. And the message to the general public is: you're going to have to travel further when you're summoned to court; we can't be arsed to collect over a billion in unpaid fines and we're happy to pay millions a year to have justice dispensed by singleton stipes rather than by volunteers selected from among inhabitants of the real world.

It is, to say the least, interesting that at a time when four out of ten courthouses face closure and the continuing fall in the number of cases coming to court is likely to be enshrined in Government policy for financial reasons, there are plans to hire a further 30 DJ(MC)s.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Disturbing Echoes

As I type this, the hunt for Raoul Moat seems to be drawing to a close. We must hope that Moat will soon be in custody. If not he is likely to be dead. (Which is how it turned out). The appalling Cumbria shootings are a recent memory, their perpetrator, like Moat, labouring under a grievance that twisted logic and narcissistic self-esteem turned into an imagined justification for cold-blooded murder.

A few days ago we were faced with a man who had pursued and lost a civil case, leaving himself with a large bill for the costs of both sides. As so often happens he felt hard done by, and blamed his solicitors for the court's decision. He then issued threats to staff at the firm, who prudently called the police. He now faces charges. Another man, appearing on the same day, had suffered the break-up of an eight-year relationship in which he had fathered children, and, unwilling to accept the situation had harassed his former lover, despite a warning to desist.
Murderous rampages are mercifully rare, but perhaps it is no more than chance that the two recent killing sprees took place a long way from my patch.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Good Day For Civil Liberty

The Government has suspended the blanket use of stop-and-search powers. The routine abuse of Section 44 powers inconvenienced thousands of people without laying hands on a single terrorist. It was bad for the police too, allowing sloppy policing and needlessly alienating the people the police exist to serve and protect.
To one who grew up in the reforming days of the Sixties it is extraordinary that a left-of centre government was so repressive, and that it has taken a right-of-centre one to have a fresh look. The great Bernard Levin once wrote that too many Labour politicians never used the word 'Liberty' without prefacing it with the word 'diabolical'.
To the great libertarian reformers of the 19th Century it would be incredible that Europe, that then laboured under widespread tyranny, has had to pronounce on British justice.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Bit Early For The Silly Season - But Too Good To Miss

My American friend Arlington Hynes who writes Bogol, a blog that veers between the brilliant and the downright weird, has come up with this cracker from the BBC.
"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," a police spokesman said.
What a great mix of slightly-dim and slightly-German that quote is.
I couldn't cap that, even if I had been drinking, which I haven't.
Perhaps I'll start.

Monday, July 05, 2010

That's A New One

We had a TWOCcer hobble into the custody dock on crutches the other day, complete with multiple cuts and bruises, the result of his crashing a stolen car after a lunatic chase. He wasn't able to deny, as so often happens, that he was the driver, because forensics had already got a DNA result from the airbag that had inflated in his face when the car finally crashed.

Image Problem

I have been toying with various ideas for a post on a serious aspect of my part-time job, but today's mail has stopped me in my tracks. My monthly copy of 'Magistrate' arrived in its smart black plastic wrapper, and as usual I tore it open with trembling fingers and high expectations.
But what was this? As with so many publications there were a number of (presumably) paid-for inserts with the magazine.

Special Pensioners' Hearing Aid! shrieked one.

Don't let the misery of Arthritis ruin your life
urged another.

Affordable Health Care
was yet another.

A glossy 4 page leaflet from TV licensing told me a lot of stuff that I already know (but not why poor people have to stump up £145.50 a year to line the pockets of Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, Jeremy Clarkson et al). The ads inside the magazine are the usual mixture of long distance travel, various types of insurance and suchlike.

There is one young (26) JP who writes a piece, but there are also election statements from four prospective Deputy Chairmen of the MA aged 63,63,63, and a youth of 61.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Yes, I Really Ought To Get Out More

I had a bit of fun a while ago with the thousands of Statutory Instruments that are used to regulate minute (and sometimes not so minute) aspects of our lives.
In a dull moment, while my wife was in the other room yelling at the tennis on the telly, I browsed a very small selection of some recent SI's. How about these for a taster? It shouldn't be hard to find even more ridiculous-sounding examples. If you do, let us know in the comments.

The Poultry Compartments (England) Order 2010

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (Commencement No.9) Order 2010

The Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 2010

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Matters Subject to Legal Privilege) Order 2010

The Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay (Adoption), Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (Adoption) and Statutory Adoption Pay (Adoptions from Overseas) (Persons Abroad and Mariners) Regulations 2010

The Hill Farm Allowance Regulations 2010

The Scottish Register of Tartans Act 2008 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2010

Gorchymyn Consesiynau Teithio (Gwasanaethau Cymwys) (Diwygio) 2010

The Pedal Bicycles (Safety) Regulations 2010

The Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009 (Commencement) Order 2010

The East Harling Internal Drainage District (Alteration of Boundaries) Order 2009

The Sheep and Goats (Records, Identification and Movement) (Wales) Order 2009

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Past It?

John Sadik points out, in a letter published in today's 'Times' (no link - paywall) that the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke QC, who appears to be just getting into his stride in his new job, has turned 70 this week, while Mr. Sadik recently had to retire as a magistrate on reaching that same age.

Friday, July 02, 2010

From Our Foreign News Editor

As a breath of fresh air to relieve and lighten this blog's constant stream of chatter about the legal system here in the outskirts of London, here's a stimulating news item from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, whose people are bravely unbowed by the niggling setback of a 7-0 defeat in the World Cup.

Here it is. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What Can Anyone Say?

Uno, a two-year-old white male pitbull, had been left in ------'s care when her son joined the Army. Another pitbull-type dog, a bitch called Lita, was given to John-Paul's father to look after.

The family considered the grandmother was unable to look after both dogs, the court previously heard.

The little boy had woken up at around midnight and said he was hungry so his grandmother went to get him a packet of crisps.

By the time she returned John-Paul was already asleep again so she opened the crisps to give them to the dog.

But as she did, Uno pounced at John-Paul. She tried to force the dog off her grandson and was attacked herself as a result.

Tragic on so many levels.