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, December 30, 2010

Just A Minute.....

The police are dealing with the horrible Bristol murder, and we ought to let them get on with their job. A man is in custody, and investigations continue. If there is enough evidence the CPS will authorise charge, and the justice system will take its course.

Partly because of the time of year and partly because the victim was a photogenic young woman the press have gone all the way to report who they (nudge-nudge) think did it. High quality full-face photographs adorn every front page.

I grew up used to phrases such as 'helping police with their enquiries'. Even before the current tight rules on identification evidence photographs of suspects were not printed for fear of prejudicing a jury. .

It may be unlikely in this or any case, but if the evidence turned on identification, a notoriously tricky area of law, how the heck could twelve jurors be found in Bristol who did not already know what the accused looks like?

It's a lost cause of course, as our system becomes more and more American.

(Later) The Attorney-General isn't happy either. Shame it's too late.

Update - Fat lot of good the AG's warning did: The Sun couldn't give a toss.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bit Strong?

Tim and Vic have both drawn my attention to this report. Of course Nor'nIr'n is different from England and Wales, but on the face of it six months seems a bit strong. I wonder how the appeal will go?

Which Is The Satire?

A) An Immigration Officer is presented with a passport bearing the photograph of a teenage white girl, who bears no resemblance to the middle-aged Asian male in front of him. He decides to admit the passenger with a warning to update his passport photo.

B) UK Border Agency (that's what they call Customs these days) staff at Heathrow receive an email asking them not to look too hard, or even at all, over the Christmas holiday for drug mules who have swallowed packets of Class A, because well, you know, staff have to have a break, and nicking swallowers is so, like, time-consuming, what with all the X-rays and the rummaging through faeces in the special toilet, so just wave them through, all right?

One of the above featured in a TV comedy show, and one is real. Depressingly, either could be true.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time And A Half?

The press is carrying some horrible reports of murder terrorism and general mayhem. It may be that there is a surge in these crimes but what is more likely is that the lack of political and celebrity news is forcing journos to give prominence to what they have.
Because the law requires those charged to be brought before a court at the earliest opportunity some members of the judiciary have been on standby over the holiday, as they are over every holiday. The new Chief Magistrate himself was dragged away from his cold turkey sandwiches to deal with a terrorism case yesterday. Every court has to have arrangements in place to deal with out-of-hours stuff, from a humble JP who signs a warrant at 3 am in his pyjamas, to the duty High Court judge to deal with the heavy matters. I live too far from my court to be of much use out of hours, but one (now retired) colleague who lived 300 yards round the corner from the police station became very well acquainted with the oh-my-god-o'clock phone call.
I used to do Saturday morning remand courts, and when I had the right clerk there was never any doubt that I would be able to get to my local by 12.30.
The security staff may get time and a half. The magistrates get their usual nothing. Luckily for the defendants, they don't get time-and-a-half at weekends.

Toad Beware!

Today's 'Times' third leader is about speed cameras. I can't link to it because of the paywall, but I am sure that nice Mr. Murdoch won't mind a couple of quotes from my printed copy of the paper:-

whether drivers should be forced to wear seatbelts was once an impassioned debate. Opponents believed a law threatened liberty and would make drivers more careless.......

A generation later, speed cameras are an enduring part of the roadside, having been introduced in 1992. Yet there is still a mythology that regards them as the invention of interfering politicians. This notion is as unjustified as the aversion to compulsory seatbelts: speed cameras save lives by slowing traffic.......

(re. speed awareness courses)..
So far from providing an easy option for dangerous drivers, the scheme would raise revenue for technology that saves lives. The courses would have high fees; these would in part fund the provision and maintenance of speed cameras.

The populist objection to speed cameras cannot withstand the results of scientific research. Some 800 people a year would be killed or seriously injured if speed cameras were decommissioned. But speed cameras do not raise money: the Treasury receives on average £4 for every £60 fine levied. Now that public finances are so constrained, imaginative ideas for raising money and spending it better are especially worth noting and acting on.

So may I counsel the petrolheads and speed freaks whom I am proud to count among my readers to avoid today's 'Times'. The arguments won't convince you, so why spoil a holiday week?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reasonable Doubt v Balance of Probabilities

The burden of proof is different in civil and criminal matters. This looks like an example of the different tests that are applied:-

Gadget is not happy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Year's Revolution?

Before I switch into Christmas mode (and how glad am I not to be travelling this year?)can I just send a signal to the Magistrates' Association, of which I have been a member for two dozen years?

Even (to quote the late and unlamented Robert Maxwell) a one-eyed Albanian can see that 2011 will bring unprecedentedly rapid change to the justice system. The MA is doing its best, as sincerely and with the same effect as King Canute. The fundamental problem is that most magistrates regard the MA as an irrelevance. The first move to tackle that has to be to dump the MA's structure with the same determination that the Government is bringing to the public service, and put in something with shorter lines of communication based on benches rather than absurd branches. A JP who sits at Harrow is a member of the Middlesex branch, most of whose meetings are in Bloomsbury. The sheer logistics of travel put most people off attending. The new London benches will mostly be around 450 strong, and will be viable units for the MA to build on.

The government is in a hurry, for understandable reasons. The MA needs to gather up its skirts and join in the rush to reform. If it fails, when the music stops there may be no chair for it.

Beanwatch - Update

Mr. Justice Bean is certainly being allocated a lot of high-profile and sensitive trials these days:- the BAe bribes case in which he had a lot to say about the prosecution's performance, the ground-breaking double jeopardy murder trial and, from earlier this year,
this sad case.

No Virtues In Virtual Courts

I hope that the nice people at Crime Line (link in sidebar) will forgive me for lifting the following:-

The virtual courts pilot has shown that the system is expensive and inefficient and should not be rolled out, says the Law Society after the Ministry of Justice's own report on the pilot showed it was more expensive than traditional courts.

Virtual courts, whereby the defendant remains physically at the police station instead of in court and instead appears via video link to the court room, was supposed to save money and prove more efficient, but the MoJ's review of the pilot says "the economic model reinforces the message that a roll-out based on the pilot’s performance and parameters is likely to cost more money than it saves."

The report also found that, rather than reducing the number of hearings per case, there were actually more hearings in the virtual courts pilot than traditional court hearings.

Law Society President Linda Lee says: "The findings in this report show that, in their present form, virtual courts will not achieve efficiencies. Any savings made were exceeded by the additional costs generated by the process, including high set-up and running costs for the virtual court technology and higher legal aid costs.

“Virtual court activity also placed additional burdens on police custody officers, case file handlers and, most significantly, Designated Detention Officers (DDOs), who were charged with overseeing Virtual Court hearings in custody suites.

“It would be wholly irresponsible for the Government to roll out an expensive and inefficient process when justice and the rule of law is at stake.

"The Society has, for some time, been opposing the virtual courts idea for a range of reasons, including the impact it would have on genuine access to justice. The report on the pilot confirms those concerns."

Read the report here:


I hope that the financial arguments do for the scheme, because nobody really gives a toss about the potential for injustice.

I spoke to a senior HMCS person yesterday, who nodded sagely and said "Yes - but they haven't pulled the scheme have they?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small World

The BBC has used a stock photograph in this report. Only two of the four people shown are really magistrates, and three of the four have been retired for some time.

End Of The Phoney War

With the end of the consultation period on court reorganisation and closures and the recent announcement of which courts are to be closed, the real hard graft is about to begin. The closure programme, coupled with redundancy of many staff and redeployment of many JPs will present the salaried and volunteer teams who run the courts' system with severe challenges - the timescale is short and everyone is going to have to show the utmost goodwill to make things work.
I have seen a paper giving the Judicial Office's thoughts on deployment of JPs after the round of bench mergers. I can't say too much because I don't think it's yet in the public domain (no Assange I, I don't have the kind of friends who could pony up a quarter of a million quid to get me bail) but it is going to be badly received in some places.
In London, most courts including my own are to be merged with two neighbours, and the benches merged to create a new Local Justice Area which will have, in our case, three courthouses of differing quality, while three smaller ones will be closed. That will give us a Bench of between 400 and 500 magistrates, and work is already in hand to discuss and to negotiate how it will work. There is likely to be one Bench Chairman, but there will have to be a Deputy at each courthouse in all probability. Key committees such as the Training and Development Committee that has the task of approving chairmen and monitoring appraisals and mentoring will need local sub-committees to retain the local knowledge that they rely on.
The rota systems differ between the courts, and will have to be sensitively handled. There has always been a tension between the need to keep the bench open to as many people as possible and the demands of running an efficient court. The rules insist that we accommodate those who can only sit for half-days (our attendances are always counted in half-day units) but that can mean a 'sitting' of just an hour or two. Someone who has made the minimum level of 26 sittings might in reality have had just 50 or 100 hours of court time in a year. That is not enough to build or to maintain competence. Some people can only sit on a particular day, which means that they are likely to see a limited range of work. If your half-day is every other Monday afternoon and that is when the bus-fare dodgers or TV licence defaulters are listed, your judicial life is going to be pretty dull. Half-day sitters will rarely see a trial, other than the simplest, because we can't take a chance of having to adjourn if the case runs over the lunch break.
Some colleagues are anxious about having to travel between courts, but that will sometimes be unavoidable, especially if JPs are to see a full range of work. With luck we may be able to leave people based at their home court, just sitting 'away' a few times a year. Some of us do that already when workloads demand it, but it doesn't suit everyone.
The touchiest subject is likely to be the redeployment of those whose courts are to close. In a minority of cases there might not be a suitable place to send them, at least in the short term, and that may cause understandable resentment among a group of public-spirited unpaid public servants. And of course there is an informal freeze on recruitment until matters settle down. The Advisory Committees are about to be restructured and we have been told to expect no new colleagues for at least a year. The existing deployment pattern of District Judges will also have to be altered to fit the new LJAs.
There is a huge task ahead, and that's just for the magistrates. Court staff are aware that nobody's job will be untouched. Some admin staff from west London are being transferred to Rose Court, near Tate Modern. For someone used to a fifteen minute commute it will be traumatic to be flung into the maelstrom of rush hour city centre transport. Legal Advisers will be trimmed in numbers, and some grades will probably disappear - at a time when legal jobs are pretty scarce.
You will hear a lot more from me as the process goes on. I think we will make it work, but it won't be easy, and there isn't a lot of time to do it.

Yes, Americans Are Different

This fascinating report could hardly come from anywhere else.

Thanks to our exotic friend Bogol for the link.

Stories That Make You Go 'Hmmmmm' - Part 27

No Comment

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now Look Here

I know that the Internet is a free and often unruly medium. I know that people sometimes say things through a keyboard that they would not say in real life. But I am getting fed up with having to go through the comments to weed out unnecessary abuse of other posters or bloggers.

This is not a democracy, it's my blog. I started it to try to inform, to entertain, and to stimulate debate about something I care deeply about. I am not having schoolyard abuse cluttering up the comments because they are not just tedious, but they drive off people with a serious interest. I have already set a number of commenters to be pre-moderated, which means that nothing from them will be posted until I have looked at it. Vigorous debate, wit, comment are all welcome. Mindless abuse is not. I will block the names and IP addresses of repeat or particularly obnoxious offenders, and they can go and play elsewhere. No appeals, no second chances.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anarchy! Anarchy! They've All Got It ......

In the current moral panic about misbehaviour on the streets of the capital, the ever-present 'outside agitators' and suchlike have reappeared, as they always do. My heart was warmed to read rants on Gadget's comments about soap and getting jobs. The old one about unwashed protesters is a right-wing standby. Ironically, the precious and spoiled-brat Charlie Gilmour probably spends more on grooming in a week than a copper earns in a month. Unwashed he ain't. Unwise, and intoxicated with the elixir of being young, pretty, loaded and famous he certainly is. He obviously fancies himself something rotten, as a member of the true aristocracy, the peers of rock'n'roll.

Anyway:- Do we remember a few years ago when a self-styled anarchist called, if I recall aright, Danbert Nobacon, tipped a jug of water over John Prescott (a common assault in anyone's book)? The day after this heroic attack on one of the few genuinely working-class members of the Blair government Mr. Nobacon flew off to sunny climes. I really wanted to ask him if his anarchic beliefs extended to Air Traffic Control and pilot training, but I think that I knew the answer.

The great Bernard Levin used to call his type 'fun-revolutionaries'. That will do me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More About Assange

The Wikileaks man has now been granted conditional bail, but remains inside while the bail decision is appealed. The CPS quite often appeals bail these days, but I have no idea of their success rate.

One slightly curious thing though - it appears that the District Judge imposed a mixture of a security (i.e. a cash deposit) of £200,000 with two sureties (promises to pay if he doesn't turn up) of £20,000 each. I have never seen a mixture like this, but I guess it has to be legal if the Chief Magistrate has done it. Looking at the financial status of supporters such as the Goldsmith heiress Jemima Khan, I can't imagine why their sureties wouldn't do, but readies are what is required.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

This rather pathetic neighbour dispute is the sort of thing that any magistrate will be familiar with.
Unfortunately for the Circuit Judge concerned, her job has pushed the story into the headlines. In the same way any small incident involving me could easily escalate into "JP in neighbour From Hell Row" when nobody would be interested in the story without the JP angle.

A long time ago I was a guest, in my business capacity, at a cricket club's annual dinner. The meal was followed by an 'exotic cabaret'. The current Australian tourists were present, and when the 'cabaret' started matters became raucous. I shall draw a veil over what happened next, but as one of the dancers became rather involved with a man from the audience I felt my survival instinct kicking in. "The JP, the Aussies, and The Strippers" is not a headline that I fancy being involved in, so I made my excuses and left for the bar, where I nursed a serious and solitary gin and tonic while matters took their course.

Years have passed, and my strongest recollection is of Merv Hughes calling out to the black dancer: "Come on darling, show us your pink bits".

Primus Inter Pares

Sitting in the remand court last week, I was flanked by two colleagues. At the lunch break it turned out that one court had run out of business, and that one of my colleagues really wanted to attend her daughter's school carol service. Matters were sorted out, and the carol service lady was able to leave while one of the people from the superfluous court came in to take her place. So far, so normal.
My replacement winger happened to be a very senior magistrate, only a year or so less experienced than me. The other magistrate, who has fewer than eighteen months in the job said "I think that I shall just keep quiet; you two are so experienced".
"No!" we replied in unison. "Your views are just as valid as ours, and your fresh viewpoint is important to keep us on the straight and narrow".

It is quite rightly one-man-one-vote on the bench. You have the same powers on the day before you retire as you had on the day you were sworn in.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back To The Future

When I first joined the Bench it was usual for a police sergeant to prosecute low-level crimes, and a constable to deal with lesser traffic cases. That all stopped with the introduction of the CPS. They started off using lawyers, often Counsel, but over the years they have come to do most cases themselves, appointing 'lawyer-lite' Associate Prosecutors to do the simpler stuff. HM Revenue and Customs prosecutions are now handled by the CPS, so this work has gone from being presented by warranted Customs officers, to Counsel, to CPS staff lawyers.
I recently sat on a Proceeds of Crime Act forfeiture application and was surprised to see that the applicant was a Met Police Detective Sergeant. The case was well prepared and the respondent who had had his cash seized managed to give three differing accounts of the money's origin; one when the police searched his home, another in interview, and a third in the witness box, so we had little difficulty deciding on the civil standard of the balance of probabilities that the cash was recoverable property.
After the case was over I asked the officer if we were likely to see police officers doing more of their own court work, at least in PoCA cases, and he said that was indeed the case, as it worked out a lot cheaper than using a lawyer. So the wheel has almost gone full circle, in a couple of decades.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Court Puts Things Right

This is a report of the system working as it should.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Déja Vu Again (no 244 of a series)

If you go to the search box in the top left-hand corner of the blog front page and type in 'ASBO' you will find that these orders have concerned me for some time. Most people in the system recognise them for the populist claptrap that they can so easily become, although anyone who can be bothered to read through my archived posts can see that I think the orders have a part to play when properly thought through and sensibly formulated. Their usage is in decline.
This week one of our regular customers turned up for sentence on a handful of offences, and for consideration of an ASBO application. He is in his early fifties, but looks twenty years older, is an alcoholic with mental problems, and is a pain in the bum to the local population, when drunk. As it happened we had to put the case off because the psychiatric report that had been ordered by my colleagues wasn't ready. He squinted at me through his bleary eyes, and nodded his head as I explained S-L-O-W-L-Y that the case couldn't go ahead and that he has to come back in three weeks or so.

I shan't see him when he comes back. I have no idea what will be in the reports. I don't know what the answer is to a dim and confused alcoholic who staggers around, swears at strangers, and calls the fire brigade for no reason. But I do know that the answer isn't an ASBO, because ASBOs only deter those with the mental capacity to be deterred. At this point, I would implore any MOJ staffer who has access to Ken Clarke's inbox and who happens to read this stuff - and I know there are a few of you - to tell him that what's going to happen here is typical of the reason why prisons are cluttered up with inadequates.

He will be given an ASBO prohibiting various pain-in-the-arse activities. He will breach it within a few weeks. He will probably get a suspended 28 days or so. He will breach it again. He will go inside for, in reality, a few weeks. He will come out better fed and less smelly than he went in. Then he will breach again. JPs will get fed up with him and send him to the wigs for sentence. A Recorder with a busy list will glance at the guidelines and give him nine months. Guess what happens when he comes out? Go on; you know don't you? Breach, prison, and so on to the crack of doom. And the underlying offences, of drunkenness, Section 5 POA and the rest are all low-level fine-only jobs.

Clear him and his like out of the prisons, Mr. Clarke, and you will be well on the way to your 3000 reduction in the prisoner headcount. But you will have to find something else to do with them.

Wiki Leaker Locked Up

There have been a few comments about the bail decision in the case of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks figurehead. From the information available in the press, I don't think that I would have bailed him either.
Are there substantial grounds to fear that if granted bail he would abscond, commit further offences, or interfere with witnesses? We are dealing with the Swedish warrant alleging a sexual offence. He is clearly an international citizen without a job home or family in the UK. I have no idea how the Swedes deal with these matters, but on any analysis a conviction is likely to lead to a prison sentence, albeit in the relatively humane Swedish system. That must be an incentive to abscond. What conditions could address this fear? Sureties or securities from very rich people wh do not even know him don't mean a lot. If Ms. Jemima Khan (Née Goldsmith) were to lose £20,000, that would very likely be less than she spends on her hairdresser in a year. It might be a price worth paying to get her protégé on his way. So inside he must go, I'm afraid.

And this is the Swedish warrant. If America's rage and frustration turns to a determination to make an example of Assange, then he could be looking at 20 years or more in the barbarous hellhole of a Supermax jail. If that isn't an incentive to do a runner, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Known By The Company They Keep

This is not a political blog, but I can't resist commenting on the list of countries that plan to support China's boycott of the Nobel Prize ceremony, following that country's outrage at the honouring of one of its citizens who is an activist for human rights.

It said in a statement that the envoys of Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco would miss the event "for various reasons".

Not exactly a proud list of democracies that revere the rule of law, is it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Er - No.

Asil Nadir, the appropriately-surnamed 'businessman' who has recently returned to this jurisdiction following a long sojourn in extradition-free Northern Cyprus was arrested today, apparently for breach of bail. A newspaper reported:-

The businessman, who is on £250,000 bail ahead of a trial for multimillion-pound theft charges, was arrested at 2.30pm on Saturday.
But later the former Tory party donor emerged from Charing Cross police station in London without charge.

Well he would, since breach of bail is not an offence per se. A court faced with such a breach can either revoke bail and remand to custody, or re-bail on the same or more onerous conditions, so charges don't come into it.

Close Call

The sentence of a Conditional Discharge was spot on in this case. I wonder if anyone told the defendant that the DJ concerned rejoices in the nickname of 'Custody Cooper"?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Who Wants To Have A Go?

One of the MPs charged with expenses fraud has changed his plea to guilty.

Let's see your idea for a proper structured sentencing exercise, paying due regard to the Guidelines and giving your reasons, just like in real life. Assume no previous convictions - the rest is all in the news report.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Droit Étranger

Maitre Éolas, un blogueur Francais, to whom there is a link on the sidebar, has put this link on his Facebook page. I'm afraid it's in French, but being Le Monde it's the kind of French that some Anglais can cope with. It's a very moving and tragic story.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Surprising? No, Not Really.

This case will come as no surprise to most of us. I really can't be bothered to comment.