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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Déjà Vu (Reprise)

I wrote this a while back, lamenting, as is my habit, successive Government promises to introduce really tough community penalties - you know,really tough. Today's Times reports that ministers plan another go at it. Forgive my weary shrug won't you? Treasury says no.

Westminster Sees The Glasgow Kiss

A Member of Parliament has been charged with Common Assault on three people in a bar in the Palace of Westminster. The case is likely to be heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court (the offences being summary-only) and it would be no surprise if the case were to come before Howard Riddle, the Chief Magistrate (Senior District Judge (MC).

I had a quick look at the guidelines for Common Assault, and they include, inter alia, the following:-
Factors indicating higher culpability: 1. Use of a weapon to frighten or harm the victim 2. Offence was planned or sustained 3. Head-butting, kicking, biting or attempted strangulation 4. Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility to the victim on account of his or her sexual orientation or disability 5. Offence motivated by hostility towards a minority group, or a member or members of it 6. Abuse of a position of trust 7. Offence part of a group action
Factors indicating a more than usually serious degree of harm:
8. Injury 9. Victim is particularly vulnerable or providing a service to the public 10. Additional degradation of the victim 11. Offence committed in the presence of a child 12. Forced entry to the victim’s home 13. Offender prevented the victim from seeking or obtaining help 14. Previous violence or threats to same victim

Reports suggest that head-butting was indeed present, and it is, I imagine, arguable that point 5 might apply, since Conservatives have been a minority group for some time now. It is a little more questionable whether the MP victims were 'providing a service to the public'. You will have your own view about that. In the event of a conviction the court must consider compensation. Since the alleged assailant claimed two hundred thousand quid in expenses last year, he can probably afford to cough up. I can't see him passing the Legal Aid means test though.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ruined (updated)

This solicitor has, like a good few others, wrecked his life in a dishonest attempt to wriggle out of a drink-drive accident. Now he has lost his career and his reputation, and faces jail time.

More than once I have seen someone deny that he was the driver in an accident ('my mate was driving and he legged it') to be confronted with the fact that the airbag has his DNA on it. Being smacked hard in the face with the bag produces ample traces of saliva snot and assorted tissue.

Updated (thanks to Roll on Friday.com)

On 21 February 2012, the Court of Appeal quashed Bridgeman's sentence. The former lawyer will be relased after serving just one month, to allow him to return home and care for his seriously ill wife. His 12 month sentence has been suspended for two years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Spice of Life

Every day in court is different. Sometimes it is because of the particular business that you have been allocated, be it a trial, non-CPS work such as train fare dodgers, TV licences and suchlike, or 'reports' cases in which we consider sentence on cases that have been adjourned by our colleagues. Sometimes we just face the infinite variety of human frailty, with people who range from the unlucky, to the mildly nutty, to the seriously nasty.
Today was a remand court, when we deal with first hearings of a wide selection of cases; if the offender pleads guilty we either sentence there and then, put the matter off for reports with a view to a community penalty, or send the matter of to Hizonner in the Crown Court.
Today's list got off to a slow start, but once we got going we saw a stream of offenders of every level. There was a sex offender who was sent straight upstairs for alleged offences that are too nasty to describe here, an Eastern European drunk driver, a building worker who lost his temper when drunk and broke a lot of stuff that we ordered him to pay for on top of his fine and costs. There was a fellow who kicked off in a restaurant when his meal was not up to scratch and the staff failed to take him seriously. There was a sad and barely-articulate man who clearly had mental health issues that did not excuse his shouty fit with a neighbour. There was a loser who attempted to sell something that he did not own to another loser who gave him a few hundred quid that he will never see again. All this and more kept us busy until half past five, as we handed down fines, prison sentences, curfew orders, a couple of Conditional Discharges and a driving ban or three.
The evening pint in the local was very welcome on the way home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Money Matters

I have picked up the following figures from the Mags Association site:-

Average costs of cases in magistrates’ courts and Crown Court
Fron a recent answer given in Parliament and recorded in Hansard on 31 January 2012

2007-08 CC £1,519 MC £154
2008-09 CC £1,492 MC £169
2009-10 CC £1,488 MC £174
2010-11 CC £1,441 MC £168

*The costs relate to judicial remuneration allocated to the Crown Courts and administration and court costs incurred directly by the courts, excluding overheads and depreciation.

Informed Opinion

The Probation Officer has commented on my post last Sunday. Of course it's nice that he agrees with me, but he makes some excellent points from the viewpoint of someone who knows about offenders from years of working with them.

Irony? What Irony?

It is reported that Sun journalists, who are disturbed at their colleagues being turned in to the police over hacking bribery and whatnot may have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights for protection. The Independent's graphic says it all:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Something Had To Give

A colleague has helpfully sent me this statement from HMCTS about the ongoing problems with interpreter services:

"We are aware of the problems that have occurred with the new contract and are monitoring things very carefully. We have agreed a number of actions that need to be taken with the contractor but we have accepted that whilst this action will help improve performance we expect it to take some time to reach an acceptable level. As a result we have decided that HMCTS must take urgent action to mitigate the number of hearings that are failing as a result of the contractor’s difficulties with sourcing interpreters at short notice. With immediate effect HMCTS will revert to the previous arrangements for all bookings due within 24 hours at the magistrates’ courts. Magistrates’ courts bookings should be made direct with the interpreter under the terms of the national agreement. It has also been decided that we will revert to previous arrangements for urgent bookings required for bail applications, deports and fast track applications in the First Tier Tribunal Immigration and Asylum and urgent bookings in the Asylum Support Tribunal. Discussion with the contractor indicates that reducing these urgent bookings should allow a significant increase in the contractors ability to meet other demand. We will be constantly reviewing performance over that period and these arrangements will remain in place until we are clear that the contractor is able to meet demand (and at least 24 February). It remains the firm HMCTS intention to move all business to the contract. Initial management information suggests that despite the problems we have experienced in some languages, the primary problem seem to be matching interpreters to jobs rather than insufficient supply (in essence if we can get the booking system to work better we should get a significantly improved service). We understand that some staff and judiciary have sympathy with existing interpreters. We must however do all we can to encourage sign up to the new arrangements – the new contract has the potential to bring significant benefits to both interpreters and the Justice System as a whole. Many of the interpreters signed up to the new arrangements are those that were previously serving the courts and tribunals, and more continue to move across.

Most people I have spoken to think that the contractor has bitten off more than it can chew.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Biter is Bitten

I have previously commented on the malign influence that The Sun has had on criminal justice. The paper has followed a consistent populist agenda in which all judges are out of touch, all sentences are 'soft' and the length of every prison sentence is preceded by the word 'just'. At one time the Blair government danced to the Sun/Murdoch tune with the happy acquiescence of Blunkett, Straw and the others. The campaign to 'cage the killer drivers' resulted in the introduction of the offence of Causing Death by Careless Driving, the only offence that I can think of in which no intent or recklessness is necessary to attract a prison sentence of up to five years; simple human error is enough.

In a delicious irony, numerous Sun employees now find themselves on the receiving end of the justice system. Let's see how they like it.

It is another Sun policy to sneer at lawyers who act for unpleasant criminals, accusing them of caring more for money than for justice. You can be quite sure that the Sun arrestees will be represented by the finest silk-clad legal talent that money can buy.

Plate sin with gold, and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. Arm it in rags, a pygmy's straw doth pierce it
as the old West Midlands genius put it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


My heart gave a little leap the other day when I saw an email from 'e.windsor' - at last, I thought, my knighthood is on its way.

My elation was cut short when I realised that Mr. Windsor is a Bench Chairman, who was writing on a committee matter.

Some other time, perhaps.

Ruined (2)

Here is another personal and professional disaster as described in a Judge's sentencing remarks.

The criminality of this man's behaviour deserves no excuse, and the judge found none. On a personal note, however, this barrister must have gone through purgatory over many months or years as his world crumbled about him, being, as he was, expert in the criminal law.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Déjà Vu (no 147)

I have seen it scores of times, but it never fails to leave me feeling sad. A scruffy young man is in the dock, charged with a serious offence that is likely to end up with something like eighteen months from Hizonner in the (likely) event of his conviction. In the gallery is a young woman, carefully dressed and made up, her hair styled and coloured to complement her fresh young face. Her eyes are intently fixed on her unlovely paramour as we hear a bail application on his behalf. The solicitor refers to the young woman as a stabilising factor in his life, saying that he feels responsible for providing for their five month-old child. The bail application is hopeless and we remand him in custody pending committal to the Crown Court. As I announce our decision, ending with the usual "go with the officers, please" she pauses as the news sinks in, then bursts into a noisy series of sobs, lurches to her feet, and makes her way out of the courtroom. She is alone of course, without the comfort of friends or family. She will have to get on with bringing up their baby while fitting in pathetic sad visits to lover boy in the Scrubs.
By the way - just one thing I didn't mention - she is nine weeks pregnant.

As a grandfather who is privileged to see his own grandchildren loved and nurtured, it is horrible to see this mess. As a realist, it is even more depressing to realise that the (so far) two children involved are statistically likely to grow up as hopeless and lost as their parents.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury........

The resignation of a Cabinet Minister today is another repetition of a truth that has been known for many centuries: if you trade in your partner for someone younger or more attractive, just make sure that your cupboard is quite devoid of skeletons.
The Greeks (and above all Shakespeare) would recognise this situation without the slightest surprise.

I have nothing to say about the case, as we can leave the last word to a jury.

Heads Up

You heard it here first - there is going to be real trouble over the new arrangements for interpreter services to the courts. Professional interpreters are an essential resource to ensure justice and to keep court business flowing. Furthermore they are a requirement of the Human Rights Act.

I hear on the grapevine that the new (for-profit) provider of these services is offering vastly inferior rates of pay and expenses, and the existing cadre of approved and registered interpreters are mightily unhappy.

I am not an expert in this field, but I am told that there is some real grief ahead.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

From The Temple -A (Nearly) Barrister Writes

Defence lawyer meets with his client. 'The blood tests have come back and we have good news and bad news.' 'So, what's the bad news?' asks the defendant. 'Your DNA matches the blood found on the victim, the murder weapon, and the getaway car.' 'What's the good news?' asks the defendant. The lawyer replies, 'Your cholesterol is down to 120'.