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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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Great Idea

One of my newer colleagues is the Bench's equivalent of Tigger - very bouncy but not always well controlled. He is youngish and very keen, and adds to the overall balance of the Bench.
I sat with him in the summer when we were faced with a tall young man who admitted a public order offence. He submitted a means form showing something like £47 per week Jobseekers' Allowance, and we were, as usual, gloomily contemplating just how little we could fine him when Tigger nudged me, and whispered: "Why don't we ask the jailers to see if he has any cash in his property?". So we did, and they did. He had £177 on him when arrested, which seemed curious for a workless man on less than seven quid a day. We fined him and added the victim surcharge and costs, which came in all to £172. That left him his bus fare home - we do try to be reasonable, you know.

The Drop

A few weeks ago I had the chance to practice a technique in which I was becoming rusty - The Drop. Years ago we often used suspended committals to prison as a way to loosen the wallets of recalcitrant finees. The Drop is the art of telling the man in the dock that you are committing him to prison, and then timing to a split second the words 'however this will be suspended....' - usually after putting the top back on your pen and taking off your glasses.
I was able to do it twice in one day. The first was a fine defaulter who had paid not a penny in seven years, and the second an offender who was just - and only just - on the safe side of the decision to suspend. It's a bit theatrical, but in these cases it got money out of the first chap, and put, I sincerely believe, the fear of god into the second.

More About NOMS

In my second-best court suit I have a neat clicky ballpoint pen that carries the printed logo of NOMS. I was given it at a conference in some swish London venue.
Now that we read NOMS is to be abolished, I am amused to find that the pen has lasted longer than NOMS did.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Oh No, Not Again!

The Home Secretary, who has up to now been sensibly subdued, has been got at by the marketing men, and assumed Straw/Blunkett/Clarke mode. Let us hope that this is just a planned conference-season piece of bull.
If not, lord help us all.

News to Me

I am grateful to Tony T for the following from the Sunday Times:-

Justice agency to be scrapped

The agency set up to improve the running of the criminal justice system is to be disbanded after being dismissed as monstrous bureaucracy. The National Offender Management Service was supposed to streamline the monitoring of criminals from the courts through prisons and into the probation service

Has anyone else heard about this?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Encouraging

I had lunch today with a man who was a school contemporary of my son, and who remains a good friend of us both. As some people do, he more or less threw away his early twenties in a series of dull jobs, and then he discovered the extra gear in his gearbox, changed up and put his foot down. He is now well into a law degree at a highly respected university, and I realised, a short way into our conversation, that he has developed a powerful and questioning intellect from which old chaps like me can learn a lot.
He will do well in time, and it dawned on me that in an era of increased life expectancy and longer careers it is no great handicap to qualify as a lawyer at 35, because you may still be working at 70, unlike those who qualified ten years younger.
I was educated in the Fifties and Sixties, and those who failed to make the grade at 11-plus, or O-level, or A-level were expected to bow to their fate and disappear into the maw of commerce or the public service. Nowadays a young man or woman who may just have grown up a little more slowly than their peers can, if they have the grit, start again and succeed. I truly wish them well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Toad In A Hole (2)

There have been some interesting comments on the previous thread, and a deal of misunderstanding. Here we go, then:-
This was a matter of Dangerous Driving (not speeding). Dangerous driving is that where the standard falls far below that to be expected of a reasonably careful and competent driver. It is an either-way offence, which means that it could be tried before magistrates or the Crown Court. Since the driver pleaded guilty I presume that the lower court declined jurisdiction on the grounds that the case was too serious for its powers (it wasn't, apparently).
There was an earlier charge of TWOC since he did not have his employer's permission to use the vehicle but the Crown seems to have settled for a plea to Dangerous Driving. Speeding and No Insurance matters were not charged either.
As to the comments:- Some say this was a victimless crime. Indeed, but that was sheer good fortune. You could say the same about heaving a heavy object off a tall building where it misses passers-by on landing. The PC Milton case was in the lower court, so it is not a guide to subsequent cases in the way that a Crown Court case can be.
On a personal note I entirely agree about the way in which drivers who wish to break the law try to intimidate the law-abiding. I do most of my driving on motorways, and since I try to drive responsibly I am well used to being tailgated on a motorway that is full. I will always move to the left when there is room, but sometimes there is none. Because I am meticulous about maintaining a safe distance from the car in front, some other drivers become desperate to get by, presumably to tailgate the next car in the high speed queue. With the almost total lack of police patrols these days, this is going to get worse until the day that is not too far off, when car speeds will be electronically regulated from the roadside.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Toad In A Hole


Seems about right to me.

A Straw In The Wind

The Minister of Justice has clearly signposted the future direction of legal aid. A relatively modest proportion of the money is spent at magistrate's level, with High Court cases sometimes soaking up millions.
For myself, I have found the restrictions on legal aid irritating, creating as they do delay in getting cases started, and preventing us from granting legal aid in court where justice and expediency required it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Yet Another Plug

I have previously written about courthouse open days, and I have had some very good feedback about them from visitors and hosts alike. This time it is Uxbridge Magistrates' Court, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its courthouse with an open day on the 29th September.
The courthouse will be open from 10 am to 4 pm, and I am told that the day will feature a full range of displays from agencies that use the court, along with mock trials, visits to the cells, and much more. Many members of the court's staff as well as magistrates will be present to answer questions on all aspects of their work. Anyone interested in applying to join the bench can talk to JPs with a wide range of experience, and can pick up information on the application process.
The court is a few minutes' walk from Uxbridge Underground station, and there is, they tell me, a good supply of local car parks.
Apparently you will even be able to have your photograph taken in the cells in exchange for a small donation to Victim Support. There will be no extra charge to be let out. Or so they say.

Of Wigs and Wodka

It's been a busy week, and I haven't had time to comment on the fascinating range of stories that have been in the news. Far and away the oddest was the story of the barrister who was sent to prison for fabricating a legal case and sending it to a litigant with the intention of trapping him into using it in court, so that Mr, Barrister could then denounce it as a fraud. Try as I may, I cannot begin to imagine what was in Bruce Hyman's mind. The judge said that a 12 month sentence was the minimum he could impose, and I have to agree.
Talking of lawyers, there is another story about allegedly poor behaviour by solicitors and Counsel in court. I try to run my court firmly but fairly, and to treat all court users with courtesy but it does try my patience to see a solicitor or barrister, on his feet addressing the court, take a swig from a bottle of mineral water. I will politely invite them to use one of the beakers that are available in the courtroom. They wouldn't do it in front of a judge, and I won't let them do it in front of me.
Cambridgeshire is feeling the impact of the large number of East Europeans who congregate there, mostly to fill the demand for agricultural workers. We see something similar on my mostly urban patch, in particular with offences involving drink, for which many 'New Europeans' seem to have a propensity.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Luck or Justice?

I have never seen a case arising from the notorious S172 notices, which are the ones that require the registered keeper of a vehicle to say who was driving it at a particular time, usually as it passed a speed camera. Last week, I was surprised to see an S172 on my printed list, set down for trial after lunch, and I looked forward to a new bit of law.
We went into court, and the smartly dressed defendant was identified. Our usually-bouncy Crown prosecutor heaved himself to his feet and his demeanour suggested that on this occasion, this bunny was not happy. I will spare you the verbiage, but what he had to tell us was that the CPS had failed to get the case papers into his hands -this for a case that had been adjourned for trial four months ago. The defendant was unrepresented, so I asked him if he had any comment on the CPS' application, and whether he was ready to go ahead with the trial.
We refused the adjournment, and the prosecutor bowed to the inevitable and offered no evidence. We dismissed the charge, and the defendant left, taking with him my chance to hear a good old S172 fight.
That's the adversarial system for you. If the Crown, with all its resources, cannot get an A4 file into the right court on the right day then the bench has a duty to bin the case. Which is what we did.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Does This Not Surprise Me?

From The Times:-

September 12, 2007

Courts lose details of offender surcharges
A new £15 surcharge came into force in April but the Court Service's computer systems cannot keep track of it (writes Frances Gibb).

The courts have lost track of how many offenders have paid the new surcharge to victims of their crimes because its computer systems cannot cope.

The new £15 surcharge, to be paid by all offenders who are fined, came into force in April. But information obtained by the Law Society magazine, The Gazette, has shown that the Courts Service did not have computer systems capable of accounting for or keeping track of victim surcharges when the scheme took effect.

The computer system still cannot calculate the rate of recovery or even how many people have been surcharged, its Freedom of Information requests disclose.
What a typical bit of late-era Blair lawmaking! Rush in a charge that takes not just magistrates and their advisers by surprise, but also Civil Servants who are supposed to account for it.

Here is the full piece.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I think I Must Be Getting Old

Here's the latest scheme to impose order on our brutal and licentious youth:- BBC report. This has all the hallmarks of the Blair-era No.10 sofa. It beggars belief, doesn't it?

Fan Hits Shit

The interesting thing about this assault on Sir Alex Ferguson is the fact that it's off to Crown Court for sentence. That's because the racially aggravated assault on a uniformed PCSO is an either-way offence, far more serious in the scale of things than the unpleasant assault on Sir Alex.
By the way, I am sorry about the headline, but I just couldn't resist it. It was first used, I believe, when the late Brian Clough punched an unruly spectator, giving rise to the headline "Shit Hits Fan".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Numbers Game

I am quietly chuffed that the Sitemeter shows we have just slipped past 700,000 visitors, and 1,000,000 page views.

Old Lag


It is reported that Ronnie Biggs has applied for compassionate release from his sentence. Am I alone in feeling distaste at the continued incarceration of a shambling old man, more than forty years after the crime that he committed as a young man in his prime? Those of us who are lucky enough not to be brought low by a stroke or a heart attack will eventually come to a state where nature has taken its course and reduced us to a condition where any further action by the criminal justice system is pointless at best and cruel at worst.
Enough is enough. Let him out to die in peace.

A Bit More About Car Insurance

There have been a number of comments on the previous thread, that bring to mind the following:-
The Motor Insurers' Bureau will compensate the victims of uninsured drivers for bodily injury and for other losses up to £250,000. This is funded by a levy on every insurance policy, and at present that costs £10-30 per policy issued. If an insured vehicle is stolen and then causes damage the owner's insurance will pay for that damage.
In recent times third-party property damage cover has been restricted to £20 million by most insurers. This follows on the Selby train crash which cost well over £50 million. Fortis was the lucky insurance company in that case, but they were of course re-insured, so the risk was spread across the market, as it should be.
Putting a levy on petrol to cover insurance costs is superficially tempting, but the estimates that I have seen suggest that the cost would be very high, and potentially unfair as safe drivers would pay towards the unsafe ones, with no grading of risk. My car costs about £300 to insure, and I drive about 12000 miles at around 28 mpg, so I would need to pay 15p per litre to break even. A 19 year-old with an old Fiesta would pay about £1750 third-party. Let's say he does 8000 miles at 35 mpg, so he would need to pay nearly £1.70 per litre extra. Not simple is it?

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Beg To Differ

Another blogging JP has posted his views on the very common offence of driving without insurance. With respect, I think that my colleague has got it wrong about the level of fines, and here's why. Firstly, there is no 'standard' fine any more because the Guidelines (see page 72 of the pink sheets) suggest fines at level A B or C, dependent on the defendant's income. Secondly, there has never been any rule that the fine must exceed any premium, and thirdly, many courts such as mine will always disqualify when there is aggravation such as no licence and MoT.
In the old days when fines were highly inconsistent we would sometimes see people in court, receiving benefits, who owed fines in the thousands due to a couple of no insurance offences, and often a lack of car tax too. Someone on £45 per week, faced with a fine of perhaps six months' income, would simply pay nothing. Since there is primary legislation requiring a fine to be readily payable within a reasonable time, we would end up slashing those fines to a manageable level. Like it or not, that means that someone on £47 per week Jobseekers' Allowance cannot realistically be fined more than about £250 in total, which is what you can collect in a year.
Now that we impose realistic fines, and enforce them vigorously, our collection rate has shot up from barely 50% to nearer 90%. We are shortly to put hand-held card terminals into our courtrooms too.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Totally Incorrect - But I Love It


The Police Oracle website has a listing of police slang. These are some of my favourites - the fact that they are funny doesn't necessarily mean that I approve of them!

100 Yard Hero: A member of the public who is very brave and shouts obscenities at a police officer from a safe distance.
Alabama Lie Detector: Police baton.
Bad Call: What your police partner says when they think you need an eyesight test. Usually uttered after you've pointed out a member of the opposite sex.
BINGO Seat: Bollocks I'm Not Getting Out Seat. The seat at the back of a police carrier where the laziest officer sits.
Black Rat: Originally Met traffic officer. Now in general use. Allegedly chosen as a motif because it's one of the only animals that'll actually eat it's own young!
Black Rover: Warrant card, when used as a travel card on bus, tube or train.
Body: Potential/Valued customer wearing handcuffs.
BONGO: Books On Never Goes Out. See also Uniform Carrier, FLUB and Clothes Hanger.
Canteen Cowboy: Police officer, generally young in service. One who likes to advise other officers, usually younger in service than the cowboy. Can be used as a put down, but usually behind the cowboy's back. eg: 'He's a real canteen cowboy that one'
Do you take warrant card?: Method of payment for goods or services by police officers. Practice believed to have been totally eradicated in the early 1900's. More flexible than your most flexible friend. eg. 'How would you like to pay for this curry?' 'Do you take warrant card?' 'That'll do nicely sir'. It has been said that back in the early 1900's some officers in the UK had totally done away with the need to carry any other form of accepted payment on their person.
FLUB: Fat Lazy Useless Bastard. See Uniform Carrier.
G.T.P.: Good To Police. Many things can be considered G.T.P. Shops that provide discounts, curry houses, night clubs that provide free entry etc.
Gurkha: Someone who has forgotten their powers of arrest. Taken from stories from the British army, e.g. Gurkhas don't take prisoners.
Guv: Officer of at least Inspector rank. Someone who doesn’t get paid any overtime.
Gypsy's Warning: When someone is given a 'quiet word' in their ear. Was in common usage until the 90's when it became politically incorrect.
Ker-Ching: as in noise made by a cash register. Usually said out loud shortly after giving a caution for littering (or any other sec.25 worthy offence.) ten minutes prior to clocking off time. Also see over-time bandit.
L.O.B. A call which did not require police presence. Load Of Bollocks, in less politically correct times was often heard on the police radio, was often given by old sweats as a result to a call.
L.A.S. People who make drunks disappear, take our carefully applied bandages off and know which nurses at the local hospital are currently single.
M.O.: modus operandi. The way in which a criminal commits a crime.
Night duty: Shift that starts at 10pm. Usually called nights. Causes zombie like states in some officers, growth of whiskers, night duty bottom etc.
NonDe: Non descript, used when referring to an unmarked police vehicle taken out on obbo's.
Old Sweat: Description of an officer long in service. possible term of endearment. Considered made it, see it, done it.
Olympic Torch: Never goes out. See BONGO.
Onion: Sergeant. Onion Bargie - Sargie. eg 'watch out the onion's coming!'
Over-Time Bandit: Officer who generally uses ker-ching frequently.
Padding: Unscrupulous police practice of adding to a drugs haul to upgrade an arrest and ensure a conviction.
Peckham Rolex: Tag worn by criminals on release from prison.
Probationer:The officer who just gave you a ticket for no seatbelt.
Section House: Large, usually decaying tower block housing young single police officers. Just like the TV program men behaving badly, but on a much, much larger scale. Also see sl*g.
Shiny Arse: Derogatory term for an officer employed in a long term office environment.
Showing Out: The unethical practice of hinting to an officer upon being stopped that you are a fellow officer and therefore not a sl*g. Done in the hope of receiving unfair treatment which we in no way condone e.g 'Have you got any ID on you sir?' - 'Why yes officer, I think I have my driving licence in my brief side pocket'. 'Do you realise you hit 97mph over the hump back bridge 10 miles back?' - 'Sorry officer, I'm court off nights this morning, I'm rushing home to get my number ones'. 'Have you ever taken a breath test before?' - 'Only when I was at training school, I blew under after having ten pints that day too'.
Spin Drum: To perform a search, generally to search a property. 'We're gonna spin his drum'. Spun Drum, property already searched. 'We spun his drum and found nuffink'.
Station Cat: Officer who preens themselves and finds every excuse possible not to leave the factory, work shy, a borderline shiny arse. Not to be confused with Station Cat: a nice, friendly, fluffy whiskered feline whom keeps itself busy by sorting the rodent population at the nick and living on tidbits thrown to it at refs time.
Strawberry Mivvie: Civvie. Civilian police staff. Can be shortened to Strawbs etc.
Thief Taker: Term of praise for a police officer. An uncanny radar-like ability to spot a criminal. eg. 'he's a good thief taker that one'.
Trumpton: Fire Brigade, very adept at cutting the roofs off of slightly dented cars. Rumoured to be prone to stealing, practice believed eradicated back in the early 1900's.
The full list is here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Interesting Use of Fixed Penalty

This is an interesting one. I wonder what the magistrates will make of it?

Another One Bites The Dust

Here's another case of someone who doesn't quite seem cut out for a life of crime.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Official Prison Numbers

Here are the just-released figures for the prison population. It's one for the nerds, I'm afraid, and the report admits that the margin for error is wide, but it's worth a look.

Help Needed

I have been trying to look up the case law on the question of bail following a guilty plea in the mags' court where the bench commit to Crown Court for sentence. The CPS site refers to R -v- Coe (1968) 53 Cr App R 66. Can anybody point me to this one?

Later - I am grateful for the helpful and prompt reply.

What do the lawyers on here think is the position where D pleads guilty to an either way offence that is way over summary powers (tariff circa 3-4 years) and JJs decide to commit for sentence? D applies for bail. Being post conviction, does he have any presumption of a right to bail, or is is a matter for the bench?

Phew!

I have had a busy couple of weeks. During the holiday peak season many colleagues are away, and if need be I will volunteer to cover vacancies. In addition I had previously agreed to do a Crown Court appeals sitting, and one case ran over the day and I had to go back for another go at finishing it.
One case, a Special Reasons hearing on a drink drive, was interesting not so much for the legal side, as we had little difficulty in deciding it, but for the fact that the defendant had previously been front-page news in the tabloids, and that the SR arguments placed before us included alleged bad behaviour by a TV personality. So I am sorry to be a tease, but that's all I can say about it. There were no press in court (there rarely are) for a story that would certainly have excited the interest of a red-top.
We heard a Racially Aggravated Assault case and I was reminded that most such cases that I see are Hindu-on Muslim, or Black on Asian, or Sikh-on-Hindu, or any one of the myriad combinations of racial conflict that are possible in a diverse area. Casting my mind back, the only one I have seen in recent years involving a white defendant was a man who was rude to a Welshman. I wrote about it here.
One of our regular customers, a surly youth of 18 who has just joined the grown-ups after a lengthy career appearing in the Youth Court, was unable to resist the temptation to brick the side window of a car that had been parked with a sat-nav visible on the windscreen, and make off with the gadget. Unfortunately for him the visible sat-nav was too good to be true as the police had left the car there, fully wired with cameras.
We are seeing more and more Proceeds of Crime Act applications to detain and, eventually, to forfeit cash that police have seized, and the amounts are getting lower. Just a thousand or two is quite common now, whereas a couple of years ago we never saw much less than £10,000. My personal record was over £3 million some years ago, but that's another story.

What a fascinating job this is!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

That's a Relief!


The Daily Mail reports that
A student who was facing a career-wrecking criminal conviction for putting her feet on a train seat walked free from court today.
Kathleen Jennings, 19, wiped tears from her eyes as she was given an absolute discharge by JPs at Chester Magistrates' Court.

I was so relieved to see that she walked free from court, as I was terrified that those nasty old JPs would send her to prison.
As they say in America: Puh-leeze!
She has still got a conviction, by the way, contrary to the impression given in the Mail article. I wonder if they took her DNA? Probably not, since she wasn't arrested. At least she didn't have to pay the absurd victim surcharge.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Bit of Perspective

Like most magistrates I am often asked to countersign documents such as applications for passports, driving licences, shotgun certificates and the like. It's part of the job, and I am happy to help.
The other day I agreed to sign something for a Chinese national (who has full right to be in the UK) and when I arrived, pen and spectacles to hand, I was surprised to be taken on one side by her English housemate. "You ought to know" he said, "I had to stop her from going out to buy you a present half an hour ago". I was halfway towards asking why when the penny dropped. In China, as in so many parts of the world, if you want an official to do any service, however small, a present is expected, its value dependent on the importance of the matter in hand.
I laughed it off and settled for a cold glass of beer, but it did remind me that Britain is one of the least corrupt countries in the whole world, and that I am very proud of that fact.

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