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.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hard Cases

As the media furore over the Bellfield trial erupted last week I happened to sit on a case that involved some of the issues that arose at the Old Bailey.

I can only give the skimpiest details of ‘my’ case, but suffice it to say that the offender involved was probably the most deeply obnoxious man I have ever seen in court. His previous offences, his manner, his attitude, were loathsome, and my colleagues and I had a brief discussion in which we agreed that in this, even more than in our usual cases, our heads and our hearts had to be kept firmly separated. In the event we reached a most unsatisfactory outcome, but the law gave us no choice. We agreed that we all wanted to see a particular thing happen, and that it would have been just to make it our order, but it would not have been legal and would have been eminently appealable. If there had been a tabloid reporter in court, you might recently have seen my name all over the papers.

The man was represented by an experienced barrister who, just like the QC in the Bellfield case, knew as well as anyone just what a disgusting man his client was, but carried out his professional duty to advance his client’s case – and he won. The other side’s case had not been well prepared, and had a large flaw in it.

The emotional luggage that has been attached to the Bellfield case, fuelled by the family’s televised distress, has caused a lot of people to lose their sense of proportion and to forget just what the presumption of innocence means, and how the Bar’s professional code is applied. Across the press, and (predictably) in the Gadget comments, the integrity of Bellfield’s counsel has been casually denigrated, phrases like ‘money-grubbing’ are bandied about and one tabloid even went so far as to doorstep both the judge and the silk involved (the price of the silk’s house was included, of course). What did they expect? To be invited in for a cup of Lapsang Souchong and a cosy chat about the trial with a few juicy quotes?

As my colleagues and I agreed last week, even horrible and depraved people are entitled to a fair hearing, however harrowing that might be for some people. The unspoken tabloid agenda is indeed to undermine respect for the courts so that editors alone can decide what is justice. Not for me thanks.