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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We dealt with a pretty unusual warrant last week. The officer said that he was attached to the ******** squad, and that he wanted to search for some ****, or at least evidence of it, because he suspected that the proceeds of the **** were being used to fund ********'s activities. The Information carried some heavily emphasised stuff about Public Immunity.
The application satisfied us, and we granted it.

Sorry I can't say more.

Not So Gilded Youth

Police and the Serious Fraud Office have been asked to investigate the multi-million-pound purchase by a teenage magistrate of a successful construction firm that then went bankrupt while he led an extravagant lifestyle.

Gareth Darbyshire, who was only 19 when he bought the company, saw it collapse within months, throwing dozens of people onto the dole and devastating the community at its base in west Wales.

As his new business piled up debts, Darbyshire, who is one of Britain’s youngest magistrates, drove around in Ferraris and a customised Range Rover, stayed in a suite at Claridge’s in London and went on lavish trips to Ibiza and Dubai.

TPT Construction Ltd has been forced into liquidation less than 16 months after Darbyshire, now 21, bought it in a £7m deal. The total amount claimed by creditors is understood to exceed £4.5m.

No doubt he will already have had a chat with his Clerk and his Bench Chairman to clarify matters.

Monday, August 30, 2010

No-Ball, No Bail?

The News Of The World pulled off a stunning scoop yesterday with its exposure of an alleged match-rigging scandal involving Test cricket. A man has been arrested and released on police bail, and others have been spoken to by officers and had their mobile phones seized.
The allegations may or may not be true, but the case will take deft handling by the police and the courts. Investigations will not be swift, especially as enquiries will have to be made abroad. Detectives with a taste for travel and for curry will probably be angling to get on the squad as I write.
If a prima-facie case is established and someone is charged, the police bail will be replaced by court bail. Conspiracy can only be dealt with at the Crown Court, so it may well be a judge who decides on bail, and that isn't easy with foreigners. Do we allow them to leave the jurisdiction? If so, how do we ensure they come back? I have no idea what our extradition deal is with Pakistan, but it wouldn't be surprising if once there, suspects have little appetite for a flight back to face the Old Bailey.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bad Call

I have often pointed out the hopeless incompetence of so many of our customers. At the petty level most criminals do really badly out of their adopted trade; for example drug dealers usually live with their mother, which is hardly dead cool.

This week's Mr.Unlucky was driving along when he took exception to the way in which another car was driven at a merge point. He hooted, he waved, he swore. At the traffic lights along the road he leapt out of his car, rushed over to the offending Astra, and attempted to throttle the casually dressed driver. When the passenger held out his warrant card, shouting 'Police!' Mr. Unlucky claims not to have seen or heard.

He was duly arrested after a scuffle, in the course of which he suffered cuts and bruises, and came before us after a night in the cells.

What kind of loser manages, out of thousands of cars on the road, to have a go at two plain-clothes PCs on their way to a job in an unmarked police car?

That's right; Mr. Unlucky.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Plus Ca Change.. (No. 47(b))

This is a 1950s take on a current debate.

Poignant, too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Life Imitates Art

I sat on a trial a few weeks back; domestic violence, as so many are nowadays. It was the usual bottom-of-the-pile scenario. Barry and Charlene's relationship was going through an even rougher patch than usual and dozens of texts were flying between them. Charlene decided to sort things out so she tracked her charmless paramour to a local pub where the couple drank Stella and vodka for a couple of hours. They decided to go home, and Barry texted a reliable mate to score some coke to see them through the evening.
Once home the now-intoxicated couple did four lines apiece, and settled down to watch TV; some time after that the trouble kicked off, someone dialled 999, and the whole mess was placed before our bench. They attacked each other of course, but she was cautioned because he was deemed to have landed the first blow; he was charged with Common Assault.
So far, so run-of-the-mill, but what stuck in my mind was their snuggling down to watch a bit of telly. Charlene said they watched 'Shameless'.
I bet they think it's a documentary.

Dissent In The Ranks

The traditionally placid proceedings of the Magistrates' Association have been replaced in recent days by turmoil and confusion. Last week's extraordinary statement from deputy chairman John Howson about setting up 'justice-lite' courts in shopping centres got a bit of attention from the press, and things became stranger still when a sort of clarification-cum-withdrawal was given to the Solicitors' Journal, of all publications.
Chairman John Thornhill has, I am told, been away,and he has issued a holding statement promising an 'investigation' today after which he will tell members what is going on. John is not one to suffer fools gladly and sensitive souls should steer clear of MA headquarters at Fitzroy Square for a few days.
Many magistrates are aghast at the whole situation, and there is talk of resignations and suchlike.
There is a fundamental problem here that is not going to go away without a serious and radical rethink.
The MA has a serious job to do, working with the government and the higher judiciary, and playing a part in training JPs as well as keeping the public informed about their work.
Unfortunately its decision-making structure is slow and cumbersome, and as with so many organisations, only a minority of members take any interest.
The government's proposal to close over 100 courthouses points up the MA's quandary. Should it oppose the closure of local courts, acting rather like a JPs' Trade Union, or should it take a lead in helping to design a system of summary justice for the 21st Century? Is its repeated concern for 'local justice' an idea that has passed its time?
The MA needs to take a long hard look at itself, its structures and its links to the membership. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fit For Purpose?

The respected Glenna Robson (who has previously put a guest blog on here) has written an article for a legal journal that gives, in my view, a balanced summary of the present situation of the lower courts.

It's too long to put on as a blog, but you can find it here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Uh-Oh! Another D'oh!

Not too long ago I posted this tale of a simple error that wasted time and money.

Exactly the same thing happened this week, believe it or not. Two pages from the end of a not-very-long ROTI, the interviewing officer put a previous conviction for a similar offence to the suspect, who accepted it. When the CPS prosecutor (who had the officer in the case close to hand) passed up the interview, the Clerk specifically asked him if it had been checked, and he said that it had.

End of trial for today, and a morning wasted for me, my two colleagues, two lawyers, an usher, a victim support worker, two PCs and the victim.

An extract from the CPS Operation Manual

Even worse, the trial was going on in the defendant's absence, since he had not turned up. That's about as near to an open goal as a prosecutor will ever get. Unfortunately London's CPS is about as reliable in front of a open goal as the England World Cup team.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Few Questions

If the proposal to put a 'court' into a shopping centre is anything but a cruel hoax, may I respectfully draw the attention of the Magistrates' Association and the Ministry of Justice to a few practical difficulties?

i) According to the Westfield website the centre is open for 75 hours a week. How many hours will the 'court' be open for?
ii) Will the judicial manpower be a DJ (or several) at about £150k pa each, or lay justices (not all of whom will fancy working up to 10 pm in dodgy West London).
iii) Who will fund the required legal advisers at a cost, including on-costs, of about £50k pa each?
iv) Who will be responsible for booking in the suspect, checking them on the PNC, taking DNA and prints, ensuring that a doctor is not needed, and starting the charge paperwork?
v) Where will the CPS fit in?
vi) How will the suspects' right to free legal advice be dealt with?
vii) How will the security of the judiciary be ensured? A proportion of shoplifters will be drug addicts or mentally ill.
viii) What happens if a case needs to be adjourned, if there is a not-guilty plea, a legal aid application, or a request to see the suspect's own solicitor?
ix) What sort of custodial arrangements will there be? That is a job for professionals.
x) What about youth offenders? They must have an appropriate adult and their names must not be made public. Will there be YOT staff at Westfield too?
And that list is just for starters!

What's the matter with the MA?

(Later) Here's a 'clarification' as reported by Solicitors' Journal. Apparently the statement resulted in 'good PR'. Hmmmm.

(Thanks to SLJP for the tip)

I Hope This Is A Silly Season Story

There is so much wrong with this idea that it's hard to know where to start, so I thought I'd see if anyone else fancies a go.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Please Let This Be True

News about clamping.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

There is a discussion elsewhere on the Interweb about this judge who seems to have got himself worked up about the type of surly attitudinally-challenged youth that we have all seen in our courts. Dumb insolence is an Army concept, beloved of the stereotypical sergeant-major type,but it needs to be treated with great caution in the courts.

This country is so culturally diverse that the judiciary, at whatever level, have to use great care in assessing behaviour. For example, I understand, thanks to a West Indian colleague, that a Jamaican youth, faced with authority, will not make eye contact, because that is seen as disrespectful. To some people it looks shifty, rather than polite. Chinese and Vietnamese defendants may stand with their heads hung low for the same reason. Half-educated and gormless lads from the rough estate down the road are incapable of expressing themselves in structured speech, and content themselves with a series of grunts, that do not necessarily show disrespect, but rather disadvantage. When I was new to the job I commented to a wise old colleague about the appallingly scruffy appearance of the 20 year-old before us. "Think about it" he cautioned. It's very likely all he's got". As you can see at almost any funeral service, a substantial proportion of the young people attending don't so much as own a tie and a shirt with a proper collar, but no matter. As my old mum used to say: "It's the thought that counts". The well-spoken young lad from the grammar school who tells us clearly and confidently how sorry he is that he crashed his mum's car is not necessarily any more deserving of our understanding that the illiterate simian from the estate. The average sentencer is about 57, the average offender 18; that is bound to affect the level of mutual understanding.

Another factor to take into account is facial expression. Some unfortunates (like my friend Dodgy Keith) have a natural mien that makes them look as if they are smirking when that isn't the case. Many primates express fear with a rictus grin; I still cringe with embarrassment about the chairman of twenty years ago who had it in for young lower-class men and was wont to rant along the lines of: "Do you think this is funny? Take that grin off your face". The stress only makes him grin further and the court looks foolish and bullying.

So we need to be highly selective about what we choose to notice. Court is a very stressful experience for most people, so if I tell some young man that he will be absent from his usual haunts for a while, it is up to me whether or not to hear the muttered imprecation as he goes down the steel stairs to a stark cell on his way to Feltham or the Scrubs.
I have never uttered the word 'contempt' in court, and I plan to keep it that way. Exceptionally I may have decided to take the bench out, after asking the Clerk to give the troublemaker 'appropriate advice'. One of our ushers, an ex-forces NCO is brilliant at this. He can calm and warn people, and defuse impending trouble.

Dignity is the word - Some people can do it and some cannot.

(By the way, I looked for a cartoon judge to illustrate this piece, and couldn't find one without a gavel - bah!)

Monday, August 09, 2010


Here is a story of a heavy-handed painter being dealt with by a heavy-handed policeman.
If this allegation had gone before a bench the prosecution would have had to prove it, so that the court could be sure that the damage was either reckless or deliberate. The CPS would not have let it through, I suspect. Instead the clumsy painter was pressured into accepting a ticket; I hope that the senior officer who took the decision to rescind it spent a few minutes giving advice to his PC as to the elements of the offence of criminal damage.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Another Vignette

Senior CPS man to young woman on trial for alleged bad behaviour and ripe language after a session on the vodka shots:-

"You have said that you were annoyed by this time?"
"What did you say to Mr. Smith?"
"I told him to fuck off"
"and did he fuck off?"

Pause. A glance at me. I was more amused than scandalised. "Let's move on, Ms. Jones...."

News Agenda

This report doesn't seem to reflect credit on some police officers, but a careful reading seems to suggest that:
i) Yes, the driver was unbelted, therefore liable to be stopped.
ii) It took an eight-mile 17 minute chase and the deployment of a Stinger to bring him to a halt.
iii) He pleaded guilty to a number of traffic offences.

Purely on this report, and being otherwise unaware of the facts, I think these PCs ought to be cut a bit of slack. They had no idea what to expect from the driver, who could have avoided the whole business by stopping and speaking to the officers.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What Would You Do? (One of a Series)

It is afternoon in the remand court. Into the glassed-in secure dock shambles a red-faced, wheezing, unkempt man who may be around 50. He has breached his ASBO, again. The prohibitions in the Order are i) Not to drink from any open can or bottle in the Borough and ii) Not to cause harassment alarm and distress to anyone.
In the past he has been given conditional discharges, fined (sometimes deemed served by time spent in custody) and prison. He was released from his latest sentence of (nominally) sixteen weeks four days ago. With utter predictability he took his discharge grant straight to the off-licence, and was back in custody before three full days had elapsed since his release, having staggered and slurred his way along a local parade of shops to the understandable alarm of a shopkeeper.
Now breach of an ASBO is a serious matter, either-way, so it can be sent to the Crown Court for sentence, where Hizonner has up to five years' custody available to him. Our colleagues have previously imprisoned this man for something approaching our maximum powers, short of sending him upstairs. Should we up the ante? Have a look at the guidelines for Breach of Asbo. It's pp.24-25 of the pdf.
Being drunk is a fineable-only summary offence. So is Section 5 Public Order Act, which is pretty much what the second prohibition amounts to (and, incidentally, may be a bit dodgy according to the case law).
You, like me, are sitting in front of your computer, possibly with a cup of tea or something stronger, and you can, if you choose, take a sternly mechanistic view, follow the guidelines, and send him up to the wigs for a likely nine months.
But the other day my colleagues and I were looking into the bleary eyes of this wreck of a man. I was pretty sure that he hadn't much idea what was going on, despite his plentiful previous convictions - they seem to wash over him.
We had the Guidelines. We had our collective experience as JPs. We had a junior prosecutor following her instructions to press for a top-end disposal. We had a world-weary duty solicitor who had seven custodies and a dozen or so others to see, who was expecting the inevitable for his client, but went through the motions in a professionally credible way. But I must add - the shopkeeper who called the police was distressed and upset, inconvenienced by a ranting drunk in the doorway of her shop, and needs to be protected.

We were thrown back on first principles.

So what would you have done?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I am grateful to Doreen for her comment on the previous topic, drawing attention to this look at the facts.

I have put a link to fullfact.org on the sidebar - it promises to be a valuable resource for those of us who want to get to the truth behind the spin and the headlines.

Monday, August 02, 2010

I Have A Bad Feeling About This

The Sun opines today about a policy that has more of its origins in the Wapping newsroom than Downing Street:-

PARENTS all over Britain will cheer the announcement that Sarah's Law will be put in place across Britain. And they owe a huge debt to Sara Payne - mum of murdered Sarah - whose determination spearheaded the 10-year campaign to make it happen. Now, mums and dads can demand to know if people with access to their kids have sinister secret histories. Critics of the scheme claim it drives paedophiles underground. But as police chiefs' president Sir Hugh Orde says here, these vile offenders do their best to lurk below the radar of detection and supervision anyway. More than 60 child sex crimes have been prevented during the scheme's trial in just four police force areas. It is now being rolled out to eight more and will be implemented nationwide by next spring. The reason for that is simple, and one the critics just cannot deny: Sarah's Law works.

The disclosure arrangements are limited and controlled, but nothing can stop the information leaking out. We have previously seen vigilante-style actions, in one case directed at an unfortunate paediatrician. I have a nasty feeling that one day in the not too distant future we shall be reading about the first lynching prompted by a disclosure under the new law.