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, January 31, 2012


Look, I know it's been a bit quiet about here but I do have an excuse. Many courts, mine included, have just gone through the biggest shake-up in over a century, and as one of the people trying to make it work, I have spent many hours slaving over a hot email. On the whole things have gone pretty well. Magistrates tend to be cheerful and collaborative souls, and we all want to make the new system work as well as we can. It is no use whingeing about the lack of financial resources, because the whole public service is subject to cuts, and most of us think that it is right for us just to get on with it.
I have managed a couple of sittings recently (one of them a weekend short-notice callout for a remand) but I have dealt with very little real business. We saw a complex benefit fraud case, but the defendant entered a late guilty plea, so all that we had to do was send it to Hizonner up the road (well, it was systematic fraud over some years, resulting in a loss of more them £50,000 to the public purse). The decision was straightforward, but twenty minutes' court time cost me a full half day of travelling and out-the-back time.
I am back in a 'proper' court tomorrow, so if the business permits, I might have a tale or two to tell before the weekend.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

De Minimis CPS Curat Quite A Bit

The other day we were presented with an allegation of criminal damage to....a garden gnome. I won't go into the details of the case, but the officer who attended took a lovely sharp A4 photo of a sad little gnome with a crumpled ear. Value: £15. Defendant pleads guilty and says sorry from the moment that he is collared.

It was the end of a long day, and I am sorry to confess that I found the opportunity too good to miss.

I adopted my most serious frown and my most portentous tone and said: "In this court we take a very serious view of wanton damage to garden ornaments." As I had hoped, a couple of lawyers developed grins. "You have damaged this sculpture (!) and you must pay for it. Our sentence is a conditional discharge, but you must pay £15 for the damage. As you are on sickness benefit, we will limit costs to £15". The defendant missed the irony, as I had expected, and shuffled off.

Yes, I was self indulgent, but what the hell is the justice system doing with nonsense like this going through a court? Yes, the def had a bit of petty previous over 15 years or so, but in a system where people are getting cautions for ABH and the like, where is the commonsense sergeant or CPS lawyer who can smell a pile of rubbish when it appears?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pride and Savagery

Channel 4 recently showed a disturbing documentary about the fighting culture that flourishes among some Irish Travellers.
The programme was built around a ferociously aggressive man who appeared to judge his place in life and that of other men, by his prowess at bare-knuckle fighting. If illiterate men want to indulge in consensual mayhem, then I suppose that is their business (although I imagine the law might have a view on how valid that consent might be - Operation Spanner anyone?) What truly disturbed me was the systematic coarsening and brutalising of boys, some under five years old, by their being inducted into the fight culture and made to participate in catching killing and butchering wild animals. Any kind of pity or sensitivity was treated as weakness, and the scenes in the film showed real child abuse. Once those lads grow up they are almost certain to be as vicious and illiterate as their fathers. That's a gloomy prospect both for them and for society.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snaresbrook Caterer Passes Opinion

This unpleasant story comes as no surprise; I mentioned something similar a long time ago.
There is a very long history of those at the bottom of the heap doing disgusting things to their superiors' food. George Orwell's experience as a 'plongeur' in the kitchens of grand Paris hotels is a good place to start. My late father-in-law claimed to have seen a chef chewing up the parsley for a parsley butter (thus leaving his hands free for other tasks) when he did some maintenance work in a smart kitchen, and a pal who worked as a waiter in apartheid South Africa told me some disgusting stories of black waiters taking revenge on rude and contemptuous customers.
Perhaps the old profession of food taster will have a revival. I believe that some dictators, oligarchs, and spoilt Hollywood types employ them already.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In Charge

There is some confusion in the comments about Drunk In Charge on the previous thread.

It is quite common for a driver to be found asleep in his car, midway between the pub and his home, with the lights on and sometimes the engine running. It is pretty clear that he has been driving, but there is no hard evidence that he has done so, leaving DiC as the right charge. There is a statutory defence of having no intention to drive, and that is for the defendant to prove on the balance of probabilities (the civil standard). I wrote about one such here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Premature Adjudication?

We tried a case of Drunk In Charge the other day, the alleged offence having taken place last October. I was surprised to see that one of the driver's bail conditions, imposed by a DJ(MC) was not to drive any motor vehicle. Since the man was a professional driver, he had not worked while awaiting trial and was living on his dwindling savings. That seemed a bit heavy to me, so when we eventually convicted him and imposed a ban (which is discretionary for this offence) we reduced it by a period that reflected the time that his bail condition had been in force.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Even senior judges can fall foul of the law sometimes.

(later) Or lawyers.

More:- http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/jan/13/judge-publicly-reprimanded-driving-ban

Friday, January 06, 2012

House Full

The upheaval caused by spending cuts and resultant court mergers means that few areas are recruiting new JPs at the moment. The official data is here.

The recruitment freeze makes sense for a number of reasons, primarily the need to allow the changes to settle down, and also because it is by no means clear how much work will be coming through the courts in future. Committals are to be abolished, and I wouldn't be surprised to see bread-and-butter cases such as fare evasion and TV licences move to a fixed penalty régime. I have previously written about the heavy cutback in the number of courtroom days, and that will inevitably require fewer JPs to sit.

There will be a price to pay though. A year's freeze means that the whole bench will be one year older, and we already have a heavy bias towards older JPs:-

Under 40 3.8%
40-49 14.0%
50-59 29.9%
60-69 52.4%

We need a period of consolidation for now, but this issue will have to be addressed sooner or later.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Three Into One Will Go - I Hope

In common with many other benches, the one on which I have sat for quite a few years has merged with two of its neighbours, and we have just dealt with our first two days' business. Many people felt a bit odd about the changes, some sitting with colleagues they have never met before, some sitting in a courthouse new to them, or with an unfamiliar legal adviser. Minor (and not so minor) differences in procedure have always existed between benches, so we have all started on a learning process, rather as we did when moving to a new school all those years ago. Things were pretty quiet yesterday, but there was a bit more to do today. I sat on two trials, neither blessed with fluent or speedy advocacy, and the first one needed an interpreter, something that always slows things down.
The Eastern European chap who needed the interpreter put up a pretty hopeless defence, and I watched the face of his solicitor lose its smile, add a frown, then fall into weary resignation as his client dropped himself in it, bit by bit. He ventured, without any prompting, to tell us that he had a previous conviction for something similar to today's offence. Bravely making the best of a bad job, the brief asked him "You very candidly (read 'stupidly') told the court that you were convicted of a similar offence some time ago. Did that have the effect of teaching you never to do it again?" A muttered remark to the interpreter, and a bright 'yes' from her. Hmmm. Guilty it was, not because of his admitting his previous, but because his story kept on changing, or petering out into 'I don't remember'.
We didn't get that one done until about 3.30, and we wouldn't normally want to start another two hour trial at that time, but we are now going to be so short of courtroom time following the merger (in which we have lost 30 courtroom days a week) that we decided to plough on with the other case. We finished on the dot of 6 pm, leaving us to fight our way home through the traffic.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Psycho ID

Here is a report of the remand appearance of someone charged with murder. The report includes a photograph of the alleged murderer.

Let's hope that the jury isn't asked to decide on an identification issue, with a Turnbull direction from the judge.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Come On Now - No Sniggering.

Nothing seems to be safe these days.

As I have previously reported, two closed courthouses lost the lead from their roofs in short order last year, and one of my colleagues had her purse taken from her handbag that she had left in the retiring room while she was in court.