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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two Toads In A Hole

This case speaks for itself.

Let's wait for the cries of 'unfair'.

A few months ago I was a guest on a BBC radio phone-in. One of the callers was a biker who proudly told us that he had recently kept up a speed of 130 mph for about an hour on public roads. He reacted scathingly to my suggestion that his behaviour was dangerous and anti-social. Given the death rate among bikers, he may solve the problem himself in time. I just hope he doesn't take anyone else with him.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not As Nice As She Looks

This interesting article caught my eye because
he was ordered to appear in court on December 3 charged with displaying contempt towards a public servant, an offence which is punishable with a prison sentence of up to a month and a €10,000 (£8,700) fine.

It goes to show how wide La Manche still is. If contempt towards a public servant was an imprisonable offence here, we would need a lot more prisons - perhaps ten times as many.

Still - there are a few regulars on this blog's comments who might benefit from a month in chokey.

Pragmatism Can Pay

We have had a few recent comments on defendants who spend more time on remand than they eventually receive as a sentence (not to mention those acquitted and freed after many months of incarceration). A defence brief with whom I am on drinking terms tells me that when people turn up at a UK port having disposed of their passports and ID before claiming asylum they will often be charged with a 'Section 2' passport offence. The higher courts' guidance to magistrates is imprisonment of 2-5 months, or in reality two to ten weeks inside. As unidentified foreign nationals these people are unlikely to be granted bail so anything other than a swift guilty plea is likely to result in a pre-trial delay that will exceed the real likely sentence. If Crown Court trial is chosen, the delay could stretch to three months or more. So a pragmatic solicitor will usually advise his client to plead, even if there might be a possible defence in the background. Apparently these cases have tailed off recently due to a Human Rights decision. They always struck me as a bit pointless anyway. If you are prepared to uproot from your home friends and family and travel halfway round the world to an uncertain future in the UK, a few weeks in prison are unlikely to be a deterrent.

Rearguard Action

I have blogged previously about my continuing campaign against advocates' habit of mangling the English language and of introducing barbaric neologisms.

We heard a cracker the other day; the CPS prosecutor referred to the accused's 'Adeptitude' at something. There are lots of Google hits on the word, but I have never heard it used before. It's a super compression of aptitude, adeptness, and attitude. I suspect it was a mistake though - this is the same fellow who used 'angst' as a synonym for 'animus' for a few days until someone had a quiet word.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Irony Malfunction

A trio of very drunk Eastern Europeans tried to pick a late-night fight with a group of workers who were on their way to have an after-work drink.

"Fucking Pakis" they shouted, in accented English. "Why don't you fuck off back where you came from?"

As it happens, the people they were yelling at were Cypriots.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Long Remand

We saw a man last week who was charged with an either-way offence that is often met with a prison sentence. He had been held on remand in custody for nine weeks, and came to court and pleaded guilty. We knew nothing of the bail decision and the reasons for it, and when we assessed the seriousness of the offence we decided that it did indeed pass the custody threshold but that the right sentence was four weeks. So that is what we decided, and I told him that he would be released straight away.
That prompted reactions in the public gallery from helpless sobbing, to arm waving, bowing, and mouthed thanks to the court. We were blessed loudly by a couple of old ladies, who were relieved to be getting their relative back to rejoin his wife and children.
It is unfortunate to say the least that a man has served longer on remand than his offence is worth, but it happens, for all kinds of reasons.

Two More Views On Court Closures

Are in this article.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Simple But Very Important

It's been a really busy week, much of it sadly too fresh to blog. There was a day with media people - fascinating, but no, I can't tell you about it. There was a day in the remand court, dealing with about fifty varied cases, and there was a day of appraising a trainee chairman.
In amongst that lot was a simple little trial that turned out to encapsulate a lot of the basic principles of how a trial should work.

A bit of vandalism occurred in the early hours of the morning. A neighbour of the victim heard something and looked out. He saw someone whom he recognised walking away from the scene. He phoned the neighbour whom he suspected to be the victim (as he was) and they went downstairs to investigate. Police were called, but as happens with such a low-level crime, they did not attend until the next day, when they arrested a suspect, took him in for a taped interview, and took statements from the victim and the witness.
The independent witness was one of the best I have ever seen. He had been a neighbour of the suspect for ten years and more and he gave his evidence clearly and confidently. Under cross-examination he was unshaken, and courteously dealt with each challenge put to him by the young blonde defence barrister.
When the defendant came to give his evidence it came down to a flat denial that he was there or had done the damage. He was unshaken in cross-examination.
So we had a very credible independent witness who knew the accused by sight, and a flat denial from that accused.
The defence summed up:- yes,the witness seemed sure. But it had been dark (although she accepted the witness' evidence that the lights were good). The damage happened, but the witness had not seen it happen - the evidence was circumstantial even though some debris was found close to the defendant's only available route home.
As I expected she then raised the Turnbull guidelines that come up in every case involving identity issues. The nub of Turnbull is that an honest and sincere witness can be mistaken. She then, very properly, drew our attention to the fact that our man had no previous convictions, which means in law that we must have regard to his good character. The legal adviser popped up on her feet to confirn this to be correct.
Out in the retiring room we soon agreed that the defendant was more likely than not to have done it, but that the lack of direct evidence of his actions, plus the Turnbull caveat, plus the good character rule meant that we could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt. We decided to say something to reassure the witness (who was still in court) that we did not doubt him, but rather that he had not seen enough for long enough.
So we trooped back in and I read out our reasons, finishing with the words "Not Guilty" .

We did the right thing, I am sure. I don't suppose that the victim or the helpful neighbour feel that way, and I expect that the local coppers put this one in the 'silly old magistrates' box.

But we were right, and I want people to know what we did and why we did it.

That is after all why I started this blog 1600 posts ago.

Friday, October 22, 2010

True Story

A barrister of my acquaintance, who specialises in family and children's law, was recently briefed to deal with a matter in court. He prepared the case, and as sometimes happens the hearing went ahead but ended rather earlier than expected.

Blessing his luck, my learned friend joined some friends for a round of golf in the afternoon. As golfers do, the party laid little bets on longest drive, nearest the pin, and suchlike harmless nonsense.

At the end of the day, totting things up, our man discovered that he had made more from his wagers than he had been paid for his professional services.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

That's A New One

From the Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday:-
Overall, the Home Office budget will find savings of an average of 6% a year. The Ministry of Justice's budget will reach £7 billion by the end of the four year period - with an average saving of 6% a year. A Green Paper will set out proposals to reform sentencing, intervene earlier to give treatment to mentally ill offenders, and use voluntary and private providers to reduce reoffending.

This must be the first time in political history that an announcement about sentencing policy and the treatment of offenders has been made by the minister responsible for finance, rather than one responsible for justice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cash In The Kitty

The now-notorious 'cat bin lady' has been sentenced by (sigh) a District Judge. The DJ imposed a fine of £250, which seems about right to me, assuming middling income and credit for the plea, the inevitable Surcharge (that gets nowhere near victims) and a costs order of a whopping £1171.
If the CPS had prosecuted this, their costs for a plea would have been around £70. But the CPS did not prosecute; the RSPCA did, so they applied for all the costs that their legal department could think of.
This is an anomaly that we see with 'private' prosecutions from such as local authorities, the Health and Safety people, bus and train operators and the like. Prosecutors claim costs as if the case were civil, where costs, as the briefs say, 'follow the event'.
This is often unjust; an evaded train fare of £3 or so can attract costs of £100 plus. That isn't fair because it isn't proportionate to the offence.
So why does the RSPCA have special status as a prosecutor? Why can't they assemble evidence and hand the case to the CPS to be dealt with?

(Addendum) Here's the Guidelines' take on costs:-
1. Where an offender is convicted of an offence, the court has discretion to make such order as to costs as it considers just and reasonable.
2. The Court of Appeal has given the following guidance:
• an order for costs should never exceed the sum which, having regard to the offender’s means and any other financial order imposed, he or she is able to pay and which it is reasonable to order him or her to pay;
• an order for costs should never exceed the sum which the prosecutor actually and reasonably incurred;
• the purpose of the order is to compensate the prosecutor. Where the conduct of the defence has put the prosecutor to avoidable expense, the offender may be ordered to pay some or all of that sum to the prosecutor but the offender must not be punished for exercising the right to defend himself or herself;
• the costs ordered to be paid should not be grossly disproportionate to any fine imposed for the offence. This principle was affirmed in BPS Advertising Limited v London Borough of Barnet in which the Court held that, while there is no question of an arithmetical relationship, the question of costs should be viewed in the context of the maximum penalty considered by Parliament to be appropriate for the seriousness of the offence;
• if the combined total of the proposed fine and the costs sought by the prosecutor exceeds the sum which the offender could reasonably be ordered to pay, the costs order should be reduced rather than the fine;
• it is for the offender to provide details of his or her financial position so as to enable the court to assess what he or she can reasonably afford to pay. If the offender fails to do so, the court is entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to means from all the circumstances of the case;
• if the court proposes to make any financial order against the offender, it must give him or her fair opportunity to adduce any relevant financial information and to make appropriate submissions.
3. A costs award may cover the costs of investigation as well as prosecution. However, where the investigation was carried out as part of a council officer’s routine duties, for which he or she would have been paid in the normal way, this is a relevant factor to be taken into account when deciding the appropriate amount of any costs order.
4.Where the court wishes to impose costs in addition to a fine, compensation and/or the victim surcharge but the offender has insufficient resources to pay the total amount, the order of priority is:
i) compensation;
ii) victim surcharge;
iii) fine;
iv) costs.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bill From "Bill" To Old Bill

It is reported that the Met Police have bought all of the police uniforms used in making the long-running cop series 'The Bill' to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals and fraudsters. So far, so sensible.

But considering that the Met inspired and sometimes collaborated with the programme makers over many years, and considering the strain on police finances at the moment, wouldn't it have been a decent and public-spirited gesture to just hand them over for free?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Doesn't Look Too Good Does It?

This report in The Guardian claims to reveal leaked details of proposed cuts to the Justice budget.

There isn't much point in my saying a lot since we shall know the facts by Wednesday, but if the leak is even near accurate, the justice system faces changes that are likely to leave pretty much everyone unhappy - except for the thousands of offenders who will be let out of jail, and given (you guessed it) really tough community penalties. Where have I heard that before?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Welcome Newcomer (Part 2)

One of our regular commenters has set up his own blog here. His comments under the nom-de-keyboard of Phatboy were always worth reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In the retiring room, or the bench meeting, or the Legal Aid solicitors' meeting,or the court staff meeting, or the Probation staff meeting, or the Justices' Clerks' meeting, or the (contracted-out) minimum-wage security staff meeting, or the tea-room meetings of the thousands of people who work in and around the courts, the usual cheerful gossip has given way to an awkward silence. The proposed changes, cuts, what-you-will, are bruited to be of an entirely new order, far surpassing anything we have previously experienced. Nothing is sacred, nothing is too important to be unceremoniously dumped.
That the axe will fall is a given. Where it will fall is unknown, except to those on the inside.
Jobs will go of course. That is a blow to a part-time clerk whose spouse has a decent job, but a catastrophe to the poor sod manning the front desk who relies on his couple of hundred quid a week minimum wage to support his family. Courts will close. Tea ladies will have to look for something else to do. Bewildered semi-literate and not even half-educated people charged with an offence will have to hack their way through the undergrowth of the law without professional help. High Street solicitors who have slogged away for years at the down-and-dirty end of the law, earning a fraction of the money that their glossy colleagues make, will face the closure of their firms. Small niceties and common decencies will be swept aside by otherwise nice people, who murmur "there's no money, you see" as they ease people out of the door and turn the key with a sigh that is more relief than regret.
I haven't the heart to post too much day-to-day court stuff, because the landscape may be so very different in the not so distant future, that what I write may just look absurd - a bit like being the amusing entertainer on RMS Titanic.
As one of nature's optimists, I am sure things will sort themselves out, and a different but still worthwhile justice system will emerge.
But it's pretty scary right now.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Veil of Tears

This is a situation that most JPs and court clerks will have thought about. Every case stands on its merits, but I suspect that I would have taken the same view as my East Midlands colleagues.

MA - Not Quite There Yet

A week or two ago the Mags Association asked to confirm my email address, as they intend, very sensibly, to communicate a lot more via the Internet in future.

Today I received an email over Chairman John Thornhill's name asking my views on the optimum size for a bench. I excitedly clicked on the link, eager to play my full part in the MA.

It didn't work.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Desperately Sad

The jury in the Mark Saunders case has returned its verdict. So be it.
We must accept that the killing was lawful, but I beg to question whether it was necessary.
This article in a conservative newspaper deals with many of the relevant issues.

(later) Here is Max Hastings' view in another conservative newspaper.

And here is what the Coroner has said.

Here's a fellow barrister's comment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New Boy Hits The Ground Running

A few weeks ago I gave a mention to a new blog by a probation officer. The author has got off to a cracking start, and I truly feel that every sentencer ought to read his blog with care.
Until I read the blog I had no idea that the probation officers who serve our courts are not all the professionally qualified people that we used to know - the difference between a PO and a PSO is as broad as that between a PC and a PCSO. There are some jobs that are so central to public safety that they should never be given to second-line part trained staff.
Our author will never get the readership of, say, Inspector Gadget, because he prefers to look at things in depth, rather than simply sloganise. But his postings add real value to the criminal justice debate, and that's worth more than all the ranters put together.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Fair Enough

The Judicial Studies Board has published a new Guide to fairness that every judicial office-holder and all regular court users should read. At first sight it seems to be common sense; I shall read it with interest.

Tale Of Two Emails And One Bulletin

Two emails have arrived from HMCS addresses this evening. One is an 'organogram' whatever that may be.

The second has been expected for some time: funding for biscuits has been withdrawn.

The Judiciary email that arrives every Friday this week carries some good news for judges, who are to have their laptops replaced, and will henceforth have a choice of three types. So that's all right then.

Monday, October 04, 2010

New Term

Every bench is obliged to hold its AGM about now, to transact the important business of electing its officers and committees, and drawing a line under the old year as we look forward to the next. Those elected take office on the 1st of January. This year my bench has elected a new set of faces, as last year's officers have all stood down. There are differences of practice across the country, but our setup of a Chairman and three deputies is pretty common. Only one of the four has previous experience of being a Bench officer, which will allow a fresh start to face the challenges of a year of likely radical change. The new Chairman will go on a three-day residential course run by the Judicial Studies Board at Madingley near Cambridge. The course is made up of lectures discussions and practical exercises to prepare the new Chairmen for their duties, many of which are laid down by law, and there is an important opportunity to socialise and discuss current issues with their peers - and there are a lot of current issues.
Everything will now be in limbo until the Government announces definitive spending plans later this month. We have a pretty good idea of what is likely to happen in London and the new boys will have to devote themselves to making the whole thing work. As an old hand I shall offer my full support to my new Chairman but take good care not to get under her feet.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


The mouse-finger on my right hand is suffering from the 650-odd emails that I have had to get rid of today.
Normandy is great at this time of year (and "les St Jacques sont arrivées" is a sign to lift the soul).
Random thoughts are the best that I can manage today, so here are a few:-
The French have changed the number plate format on their cars, (for new and resold vehicles). They are now in the pan-European format; another nail in the coffin of regional differences.
I had a decent bistro lunch in Pont l'Éveque (and of course I bought the eponymous cheese). We had a look round the church, and saw a small display of old photographs including one of what was left of the church in 1944.
The church appears to have been destroyed in one war or another on a regular basis over about 700 years, and I was reminded of the argument that I tend to produce in the pub when some Daily Mail reading oaf starts to bang on about the EU. Of course there have been some absurd rules from Brussels about straight bananas and suchlike, but too many of us have forgotten that the founding fathers of the Community wanted to ensure, through economic interdependence, that land wars in Europe would be a thing of the past. And it worked. France was invaded by German troops three times in about 70 years; millions died. Since 1945 - peace. That alone justifies the whole EU in my view.
France is very expensive these days. A modest lunch for two can easily run to £35 with just one small drink each, and that will more than double if you hit the a la carte and buy a bottle of wine.
And as for wine........
The supermarkets all have a 'Foire des Vins' on at the moment. Stacks of wooden cases cover the floor next to laden shelves. Weighty tomes from the likes of Gault-Millau are on hand to guide the punter. I leafed through a few, and I still haven't got a clue about wine. I have glugged a drop or two over the last 40-odd years, and these days most of what I buy is from any country but my beloved France, because, mes braves, you will tell me the producer and the terroir and the domaine and the cru and the appellation, but what you never tell a poor thirsty Anglais, is what it tastes like, and whether I will like it.
The label is no guide, nor is the price, nor is Gault-sodding-Millau. Sharpen up mes amis, or the antipodeans will have you for petit déjeuner.