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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frustration II

It gets worse. The mobile phone people delved further and found that an account with them had been opened in my name last Spring. No payments were made, so they wrote it off, but added my name to the don't-touch-with-a-bargepole list. I knew nothing about this at any stage. So far so bad, but I now have to get my credit file from Experian, that will require £2 and one week or so to obtain. If I get the sodding phone by Christmas I will be doing well.
I have had broadly sympathetic comments on the other post apart from a fool who suggests that the fraudster must be some one I have under-sentenced in the past, thus encouraging him to continue a life of crime - all in all a breathtakingly implausible scenario. Then another old name (from whom I usually spare you with the Fickle Finger of Fate moderator toy) took the chance to have a good old sneer about what a soft sentencer I am - a subject on which he knows absolutely nothing, but on which he likes to fantasise.
Just to put the cherry on the cake, the phone company concerned happens to employ my daughter in a senior position. I rang her about it, and got a swift 'sorry dad, not my department'.
Sharper than a serpent's tooth, or what?

Monday, November 28, 2011


A few months ago, a neighbour who shares my postcode phoned to say that he had a letter for me, addressed to his house. I picked it up and it turned out to be a letter from a major bank confirming the opening of my new account. It soon became clear that this was an attempted fraud. I contacted the bank and put them in the picture, and I thought that was the end of it.
Unfortunately the bank placed a marker on my credit record that has had the effect of making it nigh-on impossible to be accepted by the financial industry. Today I attempted to set up a new mobile phone account online, and subsequently wasted an hour and a half attempting to prove by emailing documents that I live in the house that I own. I was given three different accounts to email, each of which rejected my efforts.
It must have been like this in Honecker's East Germany, in the grip of a system that won't listen. I won't even mention Kafka.

One For Practitioners

The following is self-explanatory. I and many colleagues have attended the Stop Delaying Justice course, and this is the CPS response. All we have to do now is hold them to it, and to avoid blaming police every time someone screws up.
The Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, Alison Saunders, has written to London firms in the following terms:

"As you know 'Stop Delaying Justice' is an initiative led by the judiciary in the magistrates' courts which will take effect in the New Year. The aim is that all contested trials in the magistrates' courts are fully case managed at the first hearing and disposed of at the second hearing. It has the support, amongst many others, of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I am writing to draw your attention to the approach I will be instructing prosecutors to take across magistrates' courts in the London CPS Area from 1 January 2012. With the challenges faced by all CJS agencies increasing, it has never been more important that principles of good case management and proportionality are followed if the overriding objective of the CPRs, to deal with cases justly, is to be fulfilled. To that end, by 1 January, we intend to ensure that the following actions are either in place, or at least well underway:

All prosecutors will be briefed in the principles and objectives of Stop Delaying Justice and will be working to support those objectives.
All prosecutors will be trained in the principles of effective case management, the CPRs, recent case law developments and the Senior Presiding Judge's 2009 directions in "Essential Case Management; Applying The Criminal Procedure Rules".

Prosecutors will in particular seek to engage with defence colleagues to identify the real issues and deal with as many aspects of summary trial case preparation as possible at the first hearing of the matter including the oral agreement of Section 9 and Section 10 evidence and early special measures directions.

We will seek to limit bureaucracy and interlocutory hearings where appropriate, by asking the court to permit oral notice of hearsay and bad character and to waive requirements for written counter notice. This would give the court the option of deciding whether applications either to admit or exclude such evidence should be dealt with immediately, at an interlocutory hearing, or by the trial court without the need for an unnecessary interim hearing.
We will also seek to ensure that that only those witnesses who are really needed in relation to genuinely disputed relevant issues will be warned to attend court and that cases are presented in a proportionate way. We believe that in the past some unnecessary warnings of for example police witnesses, have occurred when in fact their attendance was unnecessary, and we will be alert not to warn such witnesses for court. In particular we will not provisionally warn witnesses pending agreement of their statement and will not routinely warn officers in the case to attend court.

We will ensure that where appropriate and proportionate, if we rely on a summary of a defendant's interview at summary trial, we will adduce that summary in the form of the relevant section of the police report (MG5) rather than routinely rely on what is presently often called a 'record of taped interview' , or 'ROTI', on a form MG15. We are working with the Metropolitan Police to ensure that in all cases, towards the end of a suspect's interview, the explanation provided by the interviewee is fairly and accurately summarised on tape by the interviewer. As a check and balance, the interviewee of course has an existing right under PACE 1984 to add or clarify anything towards the end of their interview which may include any comment on the interviewer's summary.

Defendants have a right to a copy of a recording of their own interview under PACE 1984 and where defendants or their representatives specify, draft and propose reasonable amendments to the summary in the MG5, or reasonable admissions as to anything additional and admissible said or done in interview, we will be happy to agree such matters.

A case-managed trial should also be a more focused and shorter trial and our prosecutors will be instructed to propose proportionate time estimates and timetables to govern the duration of summary trials in accordance with CPR 3.10 and the principles set out in R v Jisl and Tekin [2004] EWCA Crim 696.

We believe that this approach will assist the court to fulfil the overriding objective of the CPRs and maximise the delivery of fairness, proportionality, expedition and efficiency within summary proceedings.

Fairness must be at the heart of the approach and I would welcome discussions with defence practitioners about any aspect of the approach we will be taking or any ways in which we can deliver efficient and timely summary justice.

Alison Saunders."

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This depressing letter was apparently written to order by a young offender as part of his ISSP - a last-ditch order that attempts to impose some structure and order on a young chaotic life.

I have been sceptical about this 'say sorry' business since I first raised an eyebrow at the idea of police giving a conditional caution that includes a letter of apology. For one thing, not too many offenders are literate or articulate, and anyone can pretend to be sorry, just as I would do when my mother told me to apologise to someone for something. A mumbled sorry, given with eyes downcast or averted doesn't mean a lot.

I had the idea of producing a pro-forma letter to save time, along the lines of


I am writing to say how sorry I am for stealing/damaging/breaking into/assaulting/swearing at you/your house/your car/your cat. I was angry/drunk/out of my skull at the time and I will try to be better in future.

I hope that you soon get the insurance money/have the stitches out/get a new cat.

All the best


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I see that the blog's hit counter is nudging towards two million unique visitors, and the page views are nearing three million.

Thanks to you all for clicking on to my writings, and even more thanks to the many commenters whose wisdom, humour and abuse make for a good read, and help to keep me on my toes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Point Missed

A number of papers have now had a go at Bean J over the Section 5 issue, and Robert Crampton joins in in Times 2 today.

Now this wasn't a judgment about swearing at a policeman - it was a decision on what the law says; that's what Appeal judges are for.

The law says:-

Harassment, alarm or distress.
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

I have emphasised the key bit. In deciding whether the offence is made out the court has to decide whether a person is likely to be caused harassment and the rest. Effing and blinding in front of a party of toddlers is likely to do so. The same language in front of experienced police officers is not.

Nobody is trying to make the job of the police any harder, but the only law that matters is the law as it stands. There are plenty of potential offences involved in behaving badly to police, but S5 POA isn't one of them. The Judge's job isn't to be popular, but to clarify the law. If legislators want to come up with something to deal with the foul-mouthed yob tendency, then I imagine they will do so.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Section 5 Again - Sticks And Stones

The eminently sensible Mr. Justice Bean has ruled on the vexed question of whether a police officer is likely to be caused 'harassment alarm and distress' by hearing the word 'fuck'. I have been on drinking terms with police officers for a very long time, and I have never yet had to call for smelling salts to revive one who suffered a fit of the vapours upon hearing the now ubiquitous f-word.
I am not disputing that it is rude and horrid to use that word; I myself only use it in extreme circumstances, such as stubbing my toe or hearing the price of a double gin and tonic in a Thames Valley pub, and even then I try to keep it sotto voce. But really - if a copper is such a delicate flower that he comes over all unnecessary at a bit of Gordon Ramsay profanity, isn't he in the wrong job?
His Lordship properly looked at the wording of Section 5 of the Public Order Act and applied common sense. For what it's worth, I think that M'Lud got it spot on.

This Is Making Us Look Silly

Once again the press is making a meal of the story that Charlie Gilmour, the spoilt brat student fun-revolutionary has been freed from a nominal 16 month prison sentence after about a quarter of the time pronounced by the judge.

There are plenty of papers and saloon-bar experts who love the chance to have a pop at the justice system ("You couldn't make it up" and so on). So why is nobody moving to address the absurdity of a judge or magistrate solemnly announcing a sentence that everybody knows will in effect be a fraction of what it purports to be?

A JP's maximum prison sentence in most circumstances is six months (26 weeks). If the offender pleads guilty, that will be reduced by a third to just over 17 weeks. Automatic release comes after halfway, leaving about eight and a half weeks to serve. Then, for the shorter sentences, comes release on Home Detention Curfew (a tag) halfway into that, at little over four weeks.

In the same way, the awesomely named 'Life' sentence means nothing of the sort except in a small number of cases. Now I have no problem with keeping sentences as short as practicable (subject to the need to incapacitate violent and dangerous offenders) but can't we come up with a nomenclature that doesn't patronise the public, and doesn't give rise to corrosive cynicism?

All of us who work in criminal justice have a duty to try to build and retain public confidence in what we do. Misleading sentences don't help.

Same Crap, Different Sewer

My kids sent me a Kindle for my recent birthday, and I took the opportunity to download, for a tiny fee, "In Stitches" by a doctor who writes as Nick Edwards. He started off as a blogger and moved on to write a proper book (memo to self - what's wrong with that idea?).
The main thing that we have in common is the overarching feeling that the Establishment (aka Civil Service) is out to get you under control while enhancing its own power and being unaware of the effect on the poor sods, professionals or punters, down at the sharp end.
In more than two decades on the bench I have seen many reorganisations and bright new ideas come and go, along with their authors. We are currently working on complex bench mergers, alongside staff who still don't know if they will have a job in six months' time. Just to produce a rota for one of the 400+ strong London benches has already taken a couple of hundred hours' work, and it isn't finished yet. I take my hat off to the staff for ploughing on when their reward might turn out to be a P45.

Why Be Messed Around By Amateurs When You Can Be Messed Around By Professionals??

This email from a colleague in another part of London deserves wider circulation:-

I was in court yesterday and two trials cracked due to witnesses, counsel and defendants going to the wrong court. In the retiring room we shook our heads and remarked that this came as no surprise to those of us at the sharp end who could see this coming when the new LJA’s were announced meaning that cases in our area could appear in one of three possible courts and indeed, with each hearing being in a different one. On top of that, JP’s were crossing paths as ‘Bromley Magistrates’ were allocated to sit at Bexley (say) and vice versa. Hardly a sensible use of time or resources as expense/travel claims increase as a result. While we understand the rationale (or rather we don’t!!) is that as certain courts are allocated particular types of case so as to concentrate expertise, those JP’s will require to go to other courts to maintain competency generally, we are seeing the inevitable consequence of an ill thought through system.

I know that our clerks are keeping a record of such happenings but in our area, the movement of JP’s has been declared ‘not negotiable’ which has led to the inevitable resignation of some and a lot of muttering from others about the ridiculous position we now find ourselves in.
I spoke to one colleague who lives 4 minutes from Bexley Mags and who had taken well over an hour and a half to come to Bromley. It would take me a similar time to go the other way and at least an hour to get to Greenwich. My current rota gives me nearly half my sittings at a ‘foreign’ court. Crazy!! Of course we would all be willing to ‘fill in’ if need be, but this compulsory rota-ing is a nonsense.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Front Line

This report highlights the everyday risks faced by frontline police officers. A man is in custody so we shall have to wait to find out just what happened, and why it happened, but it seems to have been one of those run-of-the-mill incidents that suddenly escalates into mayhem. Here's wishing a speedy recovery to the officers concerned.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Could Be Worse?

The MoJ has just published this report about the operation of the judiciary in the lower court. It's a pretty big document that appears to conclude that the difference in performance between lay and professional benches is not all that great, in cost or outcome. The one conclusion that can surprise no one is that DJs will always work faster, as they do not have to consult on their decisions, nor do they have to refer to the Legal Adviser as often as a bench of JPs.
See what you make of it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Roll Up! Roll Up!

Here is a part time job that pays the best part of five hundred quid a day.

Let me know how you get on.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unanswered Question

I spent this morning in a church in Tottenham that had been taken over by BBC Radio 5 Live for a Victoria Derbyshire Show discussion of the summer riots. The debate did not get near my particular expertise, so I decided to hang back from contributing. The audience of 150 people included victims who had lost their homes or livelihoods, senior police fire and ambulance officers, and local representatives, as well as Tottenham's MP and a government minister.
Unsurprisingly some people's contributions generated more heat than light, and a common thread among some locals was the claim that the riots were a product of anger felt by 'the youth' at police oppression, especially stop-and-search. A number of speakers spoke passionately and angrily to denounce the 'murder' by police of the man whose shooting sparked the riots, as well as reeling off a list of people who had allegedly died while in the hands of the police. I won't attempt to summarise a two-hour programme, but I came away feeling that the question that Ms Derbyshire posed several times went unanswered:-
If you are aggrieved by the way that the police behave in your neighbourhood, how does it help to burn people out of their homes and steal luxury consumer goods?
One disturbing fact that did come out was the unacceptable delay in paying compensation to victims who have literally lost everything - nobody appears to have received a penny so far.
Thus far, and pending a definitive report, I remain convinced that the riots were at bottom recreational, offering young (mostly) men the thrill of broken glass and huge fires, the chance to have a go at the police (who were caught badly off balance in the first couple of days before they finally put enough officers on the street to bring the riots to an end) and the lure of free stuff that looked at the time to be risk-free. That last assumption turned out to be wrong.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


The Court of Appeal judgment that endorsed heavy sentences passed on some of those involved in the August riots said, in brief, that the overall situation of mayhem in the streets justified sentencers in going beyond established sentencing guidelines.

I suspect that the same will apply to those convicted of theft or handling of valuable metals, especially copper cable. The consequential losses caused to third parties far exceed the value of the stolen metal, and I am sure that thieves and dodgy scrap dealers can expect to be sent to the Crown Court even if the amount of metal stolen is quite small.

Hizonner will know what to do.

Whatever punishments are imposed, they won't be as severe as seems to have happened to this fellow.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Blame Game

The terrible accident on the M5 at the weekend has turned out, mercifully, to have killed fewer people than at first feared. The emergency services faced a gruesome task with their usual professionalism, and the police, as they must, are investigating exactly what happened.
The crash is likely to have been caused by a combination of factors, including restricted visibility, rain, and the lethal mix of cars and heavy lorries moving at speed.
In our democracy we accept a trade-off between safety and convenience, and most people are relaxed about a road death toll that equates to a medium sized airliner crashing every couple of months. If the motorway limit is lifted to 80 mph there will inevitably be a rise of some sort in casualties, but many people think that its a risk worth taking. Of course 80mph is already the actual speed of the right-hand lane on most motorways, but human nature says that drivers who now do 80, a speed at which you are most unlikely to get a ticket, will nudge up to 90. I drove to Bristol and back at the weekend, and there were quite a few cars moving at well over the hundred, often tailgating until people moved out of their way. So we can expect to see another look at the 80mph proposal, politics being what it is.
Bonfires and fireworks are another problem. On my journey on Saturday night I saw several large bonfires within a short distance of the M4, but no sign of smoke. But fires and local climate vary, and you cannot guarantee that any one fire will not put smoke across a major road. I do hope though that we can learn from this without the need to prosecute anyone, unless the most gross recklessness can be proved. Bad things happen, and it is not always necessary to drag people through the courts to ensure that lessons are properly learned.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


One of the fiddle players in this inspiring clip is a colleague of mine.

I'm off to play it again, with a silly grin on my face.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi -Part 97

The Sun has splashed a headline about the Legal Aid funds paid to a firm that has been involved in the Dale Farm brouhaha.

The article is carefully constructed to imply that the large sums involved went to defend the nasty p*keys in Essex.

Read it again though, and that appears to be the firm's total take for legal aid for a variety of cases in a particular period.

There is a firm on my patch that received a vast amount in one recent year, but those payments were booked when received, and were for work spread over several years.

Sadly, the Sun will have achieved its objective of convincing its knuckle-dragging readership that the government is shelling out millions especially for travellers.

It's okay if you work for News International, because the firm seems happy to stump up for the fees of serious London briefs on the increasingly numerous occasions that one of their staff comes to grief with the police.