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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 team, who may or may not be JPs, but all of whom are interested in the Magistrates' Courts.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Competition Time

My Bench Chairman has been given a lot of information about Conditional Cautions that are going to be 'rolled out' in a police station near you some time soon. I shall do a piece on the cautions themselves, but in the meantime I am going to set this blog's first-ever competition!

When miscreants are given a Conditional Caution in future, the conditions will be set by the police in consultation with a CPS prosecutor, leaving those stuffy old fashioned courts right out of the loop. Fascinatingly, one of the conditions that will be imposed (and I'm not making this up) will be for the offender to write a letter of apology to the victim. I don't know how the system is going to overcome the fact that a good half of our defendants are functionally illiterate, and half of those struggle to write their own name. Many communicate only in grunts. Our ushers are well used to filling in means forms, and more often than not ask the defendants to repeat the oath rather than risk them reading it off a card.

So let's have your letters, apologising for imaginary crimes, of assault on PC or civilian, theft, vandalism, drunkenness, public order offences, that kind of thing. I shall award extra marks for any letters that manage to conceal lack of remorse in a cloak of apparent apology. But feel free to write whatever you like.

The unique prize will be the mouse mat and pen pictured below. Not available in shops, this will be a valuable keepsake for your grandchildren. Or you could put them on ebay and buy a potato with the proceeds.

Of Mice and Pen


This is a London Criminal Justice Board mouse mat and pen. It's nice to know that there is plenty of money in the system to pay for things like this. I suppose the LCJB has to keep its image before the public - after all we don't want people to take their business elsewhere, do we?

Take Care


Thinking about the procession of judges that is to take place on Monday, I am reminded of a tale of the old days of Assizes, when the Sessions were opened by a procession of civic dignitaries and judges, mace bearers and all. As the gorgeously robed and bewigged judges approached the court building a man in the crowd made a traditional two-fingered gesture at the leading judge. The judge promptly ordered a police officer to arrest the man, and to bring him into court when required.
A young barrister was sent down to the cells to take instructions, and later in the morning, after his client had been placed in the dock, he delivered his mitigation.
"My Lord, my client wants me to say on his behalf how upset and shocked he is at having caused you offence. Of course he does not deny making a coarse gesture, but he does deny making it at your Lordship. He mistakenly assumed that you were the Mayor".
His Lordship graciously agreed to accept the apology and ordered the man's release. What the Mayor thought about it all is not recorded,.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

From The Official Judiciary Website

Opening of the Legal Year – 2 October 2006
The legal year traditionally begins in October and courts sit for four terms during the year. The 2006/2007 term dates are:

Michaelmas 2 October 2006 – 21 December 2006
Hilary 11 January 2007 – 4 April 2007
Easter 17 April 2007 – 25 May 2007
Trinity 5 June 2007 – 31 July 2007

The start of the legal year is marked by a procession of judges arriving at Westminster Abbey from the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand for a religious service, followed by the Lord Chancellor’s ‘breakfast’ at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.

Timetable

10.45am People start arriving at Westminster Abbey
11.30am Service begins
12.35pm Leave Westminster Abbey for Westminster Hall

History

The service in Westminster Abbey dates back to the Middle Ages when judges prayed for guidance at the start of the legal term. Judges, whose courts were held in Westminster Hall, left the City and walked to the Abbey to take part in the service.
Before the Reformation it was customary to fast for several hours before taking communion during the service. After the ceremony the Lord Chancellor would offer the judge some food to break their fast before they took their seats in courts, hence the term ‘breakfast’.

Present Day

The ceremonies now are more or less as they have always been but, instead of the two mile walk from the Royal Courts of Justice to Westminster Abbey, which has been the case since the late nineteenth century, the judges now travel by car.
The 45-minute service, which starts at 11:30am, is conducted by the Dean of Westminster. It includes prayers, hymns, psalms and anthems; the Lord Chancellor reads a lesson.
Around 1,000 people are invited to attend the service and breakfast. These include judges, senior judicial officers, the Law Officers, Queen's Counsel (QC), Government ministers, lawyers, members of the European Court and other overseas judges and lawyers. Judges and QCs wear ceremonial dress; the Lord Chancellor will wear a morning suit.
After the service the guests will walk from Westminster Abbey to Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster for the Lord Chancellor’s breakfast, which will consist of a light buffet.

Disruption of Ceremonies

Although well-established traditions, both ceremonies were cancelled on occasion during the last century. The breakfast was cancelled during the First World War and was only held four times during the 22 years 1931-1953. In 1940 the service had to be cancelled due to bomb damage in the Abbey and it was not held again until 1946. In 1953 the ceremony took place in St Margaret’s Church because structures and decorations for the Coronation in the Abbey had not been removed.

For the record:- No, I have not been invited, despite the fact that this blog has had 150,000 more visitors than the Magistrates' Association site.

I wouldn't want to go anyway. No I wouldn't.
(Sniff)
.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Agree

This neatly sums up the flaws in the government's populist drive to involve victims and their families in criminal justice without any real idea of what they will be there for. As I have said before, all that will result will be a freakshow for the delectation of the media.

Terminological Imprecision

Sentencing an unbelievably callous and devious young man who gravely injured his girlfriend while driving unlicensed, uninsured, and drunk or drugged or both and then drove her battered body home, forbidding anyone to call the police until he realised that she had died, the judge, Alan Goldsack, QC, the Recorder of Sheffield, said:-


“When you found Kirsty seriously injured, you had no thought for anyone but yourself.

“This a not a sentence of 4½ years. It is effectively a life sentence where the minimum you serve is 4½ years. It might be very much longer.



The judge was careful to explain the sentence, and for once it was properly reported, at least in one paper. It reinforces my strong view that the life sentence needs a new name so that the public can understand just what is being done on their behalf.

Run Out of Town

This is a report of a man given an ASBO banning him from his home town. If the reports are correct he certainly sounds like a nasty piece of work, and his neighbours must be sick of him. How long though before a Human Rights case based on his right to family life under Article 8? It's a qualified right, but his solicitor may think that it's worth a run.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Simply Incredible

Following the appalling death of a tiny baby, savaged by two Rottweiler dogs, we have been allowed some insights into the way many of our fellow citizens feel about animals and about people.

Sky News' website has this:-

I am particularly saddened by the fact that these two beautiful animals have been destroyed prior to any investigation taking place. Maybe instead of just killing these dogs questions should have been asked as to what the baby was doing to these animals to make them attack and also where were the babies parents when the attack was taking place? It is easy to destroy the dogs...but maybe the parents should be dealt with as well and not just blame (what are after all wild animals) these poor animals.



Investigation? Like finding the dogs guilty or not guilty? Perhaps the five-month old baby provoked them?

Simple, Speedy, Summary (And Unfair)

Petrikov is a regular contributor to the comments, and brings a welcome transatlantic view of things. He has found this from the New York Times, about local justice as practised in the more rural parts of the Empire State.
I do hope that nobody leaves this article lying around in Downing Street. CJSSS is the mantra that is chanted at the morning before-work ceremony in Charlie's Department of Constitutional Affairs (aka Decaff). "Criminal Justice Simple, Speedy, and Summary" is what that stands for, and it's the 'Summary' that worries the hell out of me. I associate the word with summary execution, summary dismissal, and so on. It does not have connotations of consideration of evidence or of due process, but more of a quick ticket handed out by a harassed PC or an ASBO dished out by the park keeper or the dog warden. Well, those sturdy (elected) burghers in NY certainly seem to have the summary bit well in hand.
Don't tell Tony, will you?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Fine Course



Sarah Pine, in a comment on the previous post, asks about fine enforcement. A few years ago, the courts' performance was abysmal, and in some places, especially those with a high turnover of population, less than half of the outstanding cash was ever collected. That was not really surprising. To the typical offender, the arrival of a franked brown envelope notifying a fine (even if it got to him, and even if he could read it) had little effect on his consciousness. I remember saying to my Justices' Clerk some years ago that any private-sector finance director who turned in a performance like that would have his P45 by Friday, a remark that was received coolly.
These days a lot more effort is put into collection, and every court has its fines officer who has considerable power to collect outstanding cash, including bailiffs, clamping and seizure of cars, addition to the commercial bad debt registers, attachment of earnings and deduction from benefit. Instead of waiting for the offender to get round to paying up the staff may telephone to press for payment (during soaps and big football matches is a good time to find them at home).
If that fails, there is a process that starts with a summons to explain to an enforcement court why the debt is unpaid. If that results in a no-show then an arrest warrant is usually issued. At the end of a long road, and after a court has made a finding of either wilful refusal or culpable neglect to pay then an immediate or suspended prison sentence can be imposed. Decisions of higher courts have placed a number of hurdles that a bench must leap before this final step. I have said before that prison is really an admission of defeat, because it costs money, and wipes out the fine too.

Nowadays collection rates are usually well over 80% and climbing. Still not good enough, but getting there.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bits and Pieces

We had a bitty day today, as our scheduled trial was 'cracked'. A cracked trial is where one side or another throws in the towel, with the defendant pleading guilty or the prosecutor offering no evidence. The issues at stake were factual, as the various witnesses' stories were a mile apart, and the sum allegedly stolen was only about £100.
We went in at ten o'clock, and stayed for two minutes while the prosecutor asked for time to make efforts to contact the three witnesses (out of five) who were missing. We went back outside to the coffee machine. Ten minutes later, we went back in, to be told that the loser of the £100 may not be available today, and that the two key prosecution witnesses were absent and that their phones were turned off. The prosecutor applied for an adjournment, and the defence counsel got to his feet to spend five minutes resisting the application. He managed to have his cake and eat it by telling us how disappointed he would be if he were unable to demolish the two missing witnesses, while urging us to refuse to adjourn. Refuse we did, and the prosecutor then offered no evidence and I told the defendant that the case was dismissed. With our day's business gone we took work from other courtrooms, varying from search warrants, to a bit of case management, to sending a couple of unpleasant young men who had committed a distraction burglary on an old couple to the Crown Court for sentence, our powers being totally inadequate for such a nasty crime.
We were truly surprised to see a scion of one of our perennially-offending local families turn up clutching a Certificate of Motor Insurance, something that has never before featured among their family's posessions. Unfortunately for young Dermot (one of the few not named after a Pope or a saint) the certificate had been taken out two days after his being stopped by the police, so after a word with the clerk he bowed to the inevitable and changed his plea to guilty. We fined and banned him, and had to do without the usual means form because he is a stranger to the mysteries of reading and writing. He is a dab hand with a shovel though, and he earns £550 per week (in cash, of course). We moved on to dealing with a man with a Bart Simpson haircut who had been fined a few hundred pounds last year, had paid about half, then stopped. He was rather indignant at having been arrested and claimed not to have noticed that the payments had ceased being deducted from his benefits.
Matters livened up when the two missing witnesses from earlier turned up an hour and a half late, and were indignant that the case had gone ahead. They said they had tried to phone (believe me, the number of letters and phone calls to and from the courthouse that are alleged to have gone astray is phenomenal - I must have heard the phrase "I never got no letter" hundreds of times). I pointed out firmly that if they had been on time things might have been different, and when I heard that they had been rude to court staff in the lobby, I gave them a few choice words of advice before sending them away.
We dealt with a third-time drink driver, who was still serving a ban for one of the previous offences, so we put it off for pre-sentence reports, and I warned him firmly that he was facing a prison sentence. Finally there was a man in his twenties with fourteen previous convictions for drunk and disorderly. He had spent a night in the cells, so we fined him £100 to be taken out of his benefit and added £43 costs.
So that was it, a richly varied diet of day-to-day magistrates' business. I was back in my home town and walking into the pub before 5 o'clock.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cover Notes



Elsewhere on the Interweb the perennial argument about penalties for driving without insurance has popped up again. One often hears the complaint, in the pub or the letters page of the local rag, that it is cheaper to drive without insurance because the fine is often less than the premium that has been dodged. But it's not as simple as that. As my Clerk points out, there is no offence of not having an insurance policy, only of driving without insurance at a particular time and place, so you could with equal logic argue that the premium avoided is one 365th of the annual cost. Further, there is an overriding principle that fines must be reasonably payable within no more than 12 months, so fining a young man who is receiving weekly benefit of £48 the premium of £1500 or so that would be required to insure him is simply impractical. What happens in practice (and assuming that a fixed penalty of £200 and six points has not been offered) is a fine of about a week's net income, less a third for a guilty plea, and six to eight penalty points. Where the lack of insurance is aggravated by the lack of a driving licence and a test never have having been taken, we normally disqualify for about three months for a first offence, and six to twelve months for a repeat offence.
If we do not disqualify, the minimum number of points is six, which has two effects:- if the driver is within two years of passing his test his licence will be revoked, and if he offends a second time within three years he must be disqualified for at least six months. Of course the cynics will say that some will just carry on driving anyway, and that is true, but driving while disqualified is much further up the scale, carrying up to six months imprisonment. Police enforcement has become much easier with Number Plate Recognition technology coupled with the insurance database. We will never get 100% compliance until insurance is unavoidable, such as by a tax on petrol, and I can't see that happening because people like me, who are in comfortable middle age, will have to pay a lot more to subsidise young tearaways - and we don't want to do that, do we?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another Tricky Sentence

Sometimes the probation officer draws a complete blank when writing a pre-sentence report . We had a man before us, convicted of a drunken rampage, who was in line for a community order package incorporating supervision, unpaid work, and alcohol treatment. In interview he flatly denied that he had a drink problem, and said that he did not have anything to be sorry about, it was just that people were picking on him. He would not accept any kind of supervision or programme. The report said that the officer could not make any proposal that would help the court. The defendant had sacked his solicitor, so there was no help from that direction either.

Normally, when a community penalty is proposed, that will bind the sentencing bench to go no higher, since a legitimate expectation has been created. In this case, after a consultation with the clerk, we told our man that in view of his refusal to engage with the probation service we now had to reconsider the question of custody, and we would put the case back for him to see the duty solicitor. At this point, just to muddy the water further, the prosecutor jumped up and asked us to consider making a post-conviction ASBO of the court's own motion.

Gratifyingly, once the case came back into court a couple of hours later our man had undergone an attitude adjustment. It simply hadn't dawned on him previously that if we couldn't impose a community penalty we would consider sending him inside. Now he was prepared to comply with a community penalty. But what about the ASBO? Lots of us don't like putting ASBOs on drunks, because they are bound to be breached and we are setting them up to fail.

One of my colleagues had a good think over lunch, and when we reassembled he came up with a masterly solution. A Suspended Sentence Order with an alcohol treatment programme does the trick neatly - there is a powerful deterrent to further offending, thus obviating the need for an ASBO, and the alcohol problem can be addressed. Job done.

The Art of Sentencing

Despite the best efforts of our legislators some sentencing tasks remain more of an art than a science. There are a few easy sentences. For example, with a case of speeding or of driving with excess alcohol we have a nice clear number to work with. The higher the speed or the reading, the higher the penalty. Easy, simple sentencing. Matters become much more complicated once we pass the threshold of a community penalty, or travel upscale to the custody level. Pre-sentence reports are a requirement in these cases, and these will often reveal unexpected snags. For example, something too serious for a fine might fall into the area of a community order with an unpaid work requirement. If, however, the defendant is on incapacity benefit, the unpaid work is out, for health and safety reasons. So we might, in our quest for a punishment-oriented option, look at a curfew order - but in our minds may be the thought that if this person rarely if ever goes out, that is no punishment at all.

Another problem can arise with programme requirements, such as drug or alcohol treatment, anger management, or domestic violence offender programmes, which often have a waiting list, and are held over a period of time, forcing us to make the order longer than we would otherwise like.

We dealt with a child-pornography case in which the custody threshold was just passed, but in which we felt able to suspend the prison sentence. The longest Suspended Sentence Order (i.e. one where we can impose additional requirements) that we are able to make is two years. Unfortunately the Internet Sex-Offender programme requires 36 attendances at monthly intervals, so we were forced to abandon the suspended sentence to allow for an order long enough to accommodate the programme. So we ended up under-sentencing the case, because we thought that it was important for the defendant to go on the programme.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Proboscideicide




If anyone reading this is, or is acquainted with, a journalist, would they please, in the interest of sanity (especially mine) prevail upon the wordsmiths to stop,and I mean stop, using the cliché "The elephant in the room".

The sodding phrase is everywhere. It is near-enough meaningless. Even when explained, it is a poor metaphor.

Just stop it. Now. Then there may be no further consequences. Use it again - any of you - and I may not be responsible for my actions.

Is that clear? Is it?

I am off to lie down now, but don't forget what I said, will you now?

All-Time Great Jokes (Not Necessarily Legal) No.147

Harry Hutton has just come up with the following gem:-

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Britain’s teachers. If it weren’t for them we’d all be speaking German. And French. And Latin. And be able to do sums.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Jealous - Moi?

Have a look at this man's post. Am I the only one to feel that I made a wrong career decision in my youth?

Cocaine

There is a fascinating clip on You Tube showing the production of cocaine from stripping the leaves to the final powder form. The final product, it is said, sells for $800 per kilo, a sum that grows to £50,000 on the streets of London.

The photographer (who appears to be English) must have run a considerable risk in going into the Colombian jungle. I hope that his film gets wider circulation.

Later: The clip has been taken down from You Tube, but as I had hoped the film did get a wider audience. It won the Editors' Choice on Newsnight, and the programme showed a 10-minute version of it in January.

Prison

I have often commented on the fact that for many people any sentence not including imprisonment is no more than a slap on the wrist, and that there is a widespread view that prison sentences are too short.

According to the (rather out-of-date) figures published by the Home Office, if we were to incarcerate the same percentage of our population as the United States does, then instead of the 78,000 people currently in prison in the UK we would have to find room for 385,000.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

More Sentencing

The Magistrates' Association site has some interesting sentencing examples both for common offences and for a couple of new ones, including voyeurism, which is a charge that I came across for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

(Later) Elisabeth, who is a JP in the South-East, has emailed this germane comment:

I wrote to The Magistrate to complain about this motoring example as it appeared either just before or just after a table of the normal speeding offences for which a fixed penalty is offered.

This excess speed fell within the FP tariff and should probably have been dealt with as such, unless there were exceptional cirumstances.

No wonder people say we don't know our arses from our elbows!

Elisabeth


Thank you for that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

These Lads Don't Miss Much

Next month the new rules for Legal Aid will be introduced. The aim is to save about £35 million per year, but that is within the potential margin of error, in the view of many practitioners. One big worry is that getting means information from defendants will be difficult, and that will cause delay in the courts, just as the efforts put in over recent years are starting to pay off.

Circulars are going out at the moment to players in the system, and here is a priceless extract:-

Adopting a weighted scale of this sort allows for a much more meaningful comparison of relative incomes. In practice, it allows us to recognise, for example, that a couple with dependent children will need a higher income to achieve the same standard of living as a couple with no children.


So that's all right then.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Magistrates and Rowlocks

Magistrates from Kingston Upon Thames will be rowing in the Great River Race next Saturday.




Photo shows some of the crew. The one on the right who looks like an off-duty waiter is their senior legal adviser.

I propose to send them a tenner towards the charity, and I hope that a few of you will want to contribute a bit too.

Any cheques sent to:

Matt Preston JP,
c/o The Clerk to the Justices,
The Guildhall
Kingston-upon-Thames
Surrey
KT1 1EU

made payable to 'Xpression' with a slip of paper saying "Internet Donation to River Race" will, I promise, be put to good charitable use. (Xpression is a Registered Charity)

Justice is Blind

The BBC has the story, with which most of us are familiar, of a man who drove a car, mercifully with a friend beside him, without having the traditional asset of a pair of eyes, or indeed of any eyes at all.

One has to feel for the duty CPS person, who had to decide what to charge. Dangerous driving it was then. Pretty hard to deny that one, in all the circumstances.

Sentencers have had their discretion limited little by little over the years, and the sentencing court in this case had no alternative (it's here on page 162) to imposing a ban and requiring a compulsory re-test. Naturally, that looks ludicrous, and the press have taken full advantage of the opportunity to imply, nudge-nudge, that the courts are stupid and gullible. The man was given a suspended prison sentence (more press mockery, but what the hell is the point of cluttering up a cell with this guy?).

Whoever sentenced this bloke was asked a silly question, and the law required them to give a silly answer. What else could have they have done?


(Thanks to Bill for the link)

Going to Pot Again

Steve has kindly sent me this link. I have blogged before about cannabis, and I shall be interested to see how the debate turns out. A good friend of mine will be a delegate at the conference, so I might ring him up for a bit of quiet lobbying.

For what it's worth, I am as concerned as the next man about the prevalence of high strength cannabis, especially now that we are becoming aware of possible links to psychotic damage from the drug, but this proposal seems unlikely to help. The use of cannabis is endemic among many young and quite a few not-so-young people and in most cases detection is unlikely. To fiddle around with classification will deter no-one, and the gesture value will also be nil.

A Look Inside


The Guardian has an interesting piece about Wandsworth prison, and makes a few thought-provoking points.

Another One For The Statistics Fans

As some of the comments to the previous thread show, many police officers, along with most tabloid journalists, don't really believe in anything other than prison as a punishment. The man-in-the-saloon bar will often quote wildly distorted figures about sentencing (and nobody has ever asked me "if courts have gone so soft where have all these prisoners come from?"). The latest stats I have seen are here with spreadsheets available for download that go into very great detail indeed, for anyone with the time and the inclination to find out what courts actually do, rather that what people think they do.

One quick warning - most offences cover a wide spectrum of culpability, so apparent inconsistencies usually have a reason.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oops! (2)

Mohinder was worried when the police stopped him while he was driving his friend's car. Mohinder was not insured on his friend's car. To avoid the expense and unpleasantness of a court appearance he decided to give the police the name and address of yet another friend. Unfortunately this latest friend had recently, unbeknown to Mohinder, been banned from driving, so Mohinder was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station. This was not at all what he had planned, so he protested that the police had got the wrong man. "Oh yes, of course we have, sir" came the stern reply. Matters were sorted out after a bit of cell time, and Mohinder was brought before us charged with driving without insurance and giving a false name. Because no insurance carries at least six points, and because Mohinder only passed his test eighteen months ago, DVLA will now revoke his licence and he will have to go back to L-plates and take a new test. We fined him for no insurance, with £100 on top for giving a false name, plus £43 costs and disqualified him for three months, so he won't even be able to make a start on getting his licence back for that period.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pass the Sick-Bag Alice

The Sun's headline over the story of Ian Huntley's suicide attempt in prison is

BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME


Thus do the values of our civilisation slip away, a little at a time.



Afterthought - come on Rebekah, why not put Murdoch's money where your mouth is, and offer a reward for the first prisoner to slip Huntley a razor blade? What a headline - it's the Sun wot done it!

Keith Rupert Murdoch is a born-again Christian, but he doesn't seem to let it trouble his editorial policies does he?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Date For Your Diary

Ealing Magistrates' Court (usual disclaimer) is holding an Open Day on Saturday 9th September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be tours of the Court House, visits to the cells, mock trials, and stands run by the Met Police, Victim Support, Solicitors, CPS, and other organisations. There will be the opportunity to chat to magistrates and court staff, and to find out what is involved in applying to become a Magistrate.
The Courthouse is in Green Man Lane W13 0SD, just off Ealing Broadway.

(posting date tampered with - Bystander)

Be there, okay?

Rough Justice

It was the day for Mr. McCarthy's trial. He was up for some bits of nonsense involving an unlicensed and uninsured car, and some odds and ends of theft, carried out with his customary incompetence, thus ensuring his rapid return to a cell - an environment with which he has become very familiar over the last two decades. He had managed to convince himself that he was the victim of a police conspiracy on this one, so he had gone Not Guilty. Given his previous record I and my colleagues (for he spends almost as much time at the court as I do, me upstairs, him down in the cells) had kept him in custody, given the near-certainty of his offending on bail. He was brought up by the jailers, and gave me a wary nod of recognition.

The CPS prosecutor stood up. I could see from her demeanour that she knew she was in big trouble, and was going to try to brass it out. "Sir, I regret that I am obliged to ask for an adjournment this morning.........." She went on to relate a tale of woe that led to the fact that all but one of her witnesses were not present. She started to explain why, but at least had the decency to look ashamed as she did so. I had my Sunday-best sceptical look on, and looked across to the defence brief, who clambered to his feet and opposed the application. We stopped him a little way into his speech and suggested that we had heard enough. He took the hint and sat down.

A whispered consultation on the bench. "this application has no merit, and we will not adjourn this case". CPS bows to the inevitable, and offers no evidence. I tell Mr.McCarthy that all charges are dismissed, and that he will be released, thinking as I do so that a swift investment in Guinness shares might pay off in the short term.

Justice? Cock-up? Well both, actually. He was probably guilty, and the CPS' failure allowed the case to collapse. But he had spent eight weeks inside on remand, which is the equivalent of a four month sentence. If we had allowed the adjournment he might easily have served another six weeks while the CPS rounded up its witnesses, so in a rough old way, justice was served.

Don't quote me on that will you?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tough Stuff

A judge of my acquaintance is wont to say, when delivering an address to newly-sworn magistrates, that you must be prepared, in the line of duty, to ruin someone's life.

We got close to that today, convicting a man in his fifties of an offence that will assuredly result in him losing his job and being unable to get another in the same line of business.

He deserved it, and our verdict was one that we were comfortable with. Nevertheless, it is an awesome thing to look into a man's eyes and tell him that his world has just fallen apart.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mad About Raving

The rave phenomenon that so exercised Mrs. Thatcher's government appears to be undergoing a revival. This time round, thanks to Tony Blair's flurry of public-order legislation on top of a few bits of left-over Thatcher law the police have extensive power to break up gatherings of young revellers.

I can never read about raves being broken up without thinking of H.L.Mencken's remark about puritanism:

The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's Him Again

I have blogged before about a couple of local families who ensure that the court is rarely short of business. Quite apart from their low-level feuding that results in a lot of sound and fury but rarely signifies anything, they seem to specialise in low level pain-in-the-arse sorts of offending:- the usual motoring offences always include driving without insurance, because even if they could be bothered to get it and be willing to pay for it, and go to the trouble of getting a driving licence, they would be turned down by any underwriter who wished to keep his job. Because they are never insured they are frequently disqualified, and they routinely disregard the court's orders and carry on driving anyway. Any local copper will recognise them, and arrest and prison usually follow. Of Irish descent, most of the men are named after Popes or saints, and for the more serious cases an aunt or granny will turn up to watch their lad go down. Indeed on one occasion when my wife was in the gallery she noted that granny was telling her rosary every time that I spoke. That day we gave a community penalty to one of the 19-year-old up-and-comers from the tribe, so perhaps the rosary worked.

Today in a quiet moment a clerk came and asked us to decide whether to 'lodge' some fines. This is the process whereby serving prisoners who have outstanding fines can be given a certain number of extra days to wipe out the fines. These can be concurrent or consecutive to the main sentence according to the circumstances. On the top file I noticed the name of John Patrick McCarthy, and I said to the clerk "What's he in for this time?". She checked the file and it turned out that on top of his usual raft of driving offences he had got himself done for Dangerous Driving and been sent to the Crown Court for sentence, where the judge potted him for eighteen months. We added another 21 days to clear the fines, consecutive in this case because the fines were for the same type of offence.

He'll be back, sure as the Pope's a Catholic.

Tabula Rasa

This was originally a mistake, a blank post. Even that drew comments from some of the usual suspects. Well go on then, do your worst. See if I care.

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