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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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Super-Unintended

This blog by a police Superintendent is fascinating, partly for the priorities to which it addresses itself and partly for the occasionally leaden management-speak that will be familiar to anyone working on the Courts' Service. I fear that the heavy hand of the Communications/PR professionals has been at work.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Doff

The former Lord Chief Justice is interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg in the Telegraph.
I doff my (metaphorical) hat to his Lordship. He speaks sense and humanity, and has the freedom to lay the blame for today's prison shambles where it belongs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Top Cop Slams Beaks

I can't resist having a stir of this pot, which came to the boil when the Chief Constable of Merseyside complained that judges were not always imposing the 'mandatory' five-year minimum sentence for possession of a firearm, and that this was a Bad Thing, and would fail to act as a deterrent. Gordon Brown has now added his five pennyworth.
This serves to confirm my long-held view that policemen should stick to policing and let judges stick to judging. They are very different functions and require totally different ways of thinking. Minimum sentencing does not sit easily in the English jurisdiction, for the very good reason that every case is different, and has to turn on its own facts, and that is why the so-called minimum has, as it must have, a let-out clause allowing the judge to take account of exceptional circumstances. Without this, injustices would be bound to happen. Down in the lower courts we are obliged to impose minimum sentences in some driving cases, in particular drink-drive matters. Quite right too; road safety requires that drink drivers be dealt with severely, but even here we have the discretion to find 'special reasons' not to disqualify if the circumstances are such that this would be just.
The other thing that comes to mind is the touching faith that so many people have in the power of deterrence. As I have said before, to be deterred you need to be capable of reasoned thinking, something that is beyond the mental capacity of so many of the people magistrates deal with. The impressionable young man in South London who is hanging around with blinged-up gangsters in the drug-sodden milieu in which a gun earns 'respect' will not give even a passing thought to the length of his sentence if he is caught because he does not expect to be caught. 250 years ago we used to hang people for theft, and pickpockets would work the crowd at the public executions.
Minimum sentences,'crackdowns' and the rest of it are no substitute for unglamorous day to day solid police work. The rest is just PR.

Later: Here's the Judicial Communications Office statement:-

"If, in any individual case, the police (or the CPS) believe that a mandatory minimum term has not been imposed for gun crime for reasons that are not justified, it is open to them to ask the Attorney General to consider referring the case to the court of appeal as unduly lenient.
This provides a clear mechanism for sentences to be reviewed and checked against the statutory framework, sentencing guidelines and case law.
The number of cases referred for failure to impose a mandatory minimum sentence is small."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Deliberate Distortion

This story appeared in the Daily Mail last week. As intended it attracted some comments that were universally scathing of the police action in this case. Have a look at them.
Just a minute though:- the action described in the story would certainly amount to Common Assault. If it is reported to the police they have a duty to act, and so they did. Neighbour disputes are not all trivial, and have even resulted in murder before now. Most importantly, the man with the hosepipe (described as a 'Financial Adviser') accepted a caution, thus agreeing that he had committed the alleged offence. So what are he and the Mail whinging about? He had his DNA and prints taken? So does everybody, whether they like it or not. Are we asking for special laws for Financial Advisers? Does the Mail want Common Assault redefined?

But that isn't the worst of it. When I read the report (online: I wouldn't pay for the damn thing) I rang an acqaintance to ask him to add a comment pointing out that the police had acted properly, which he did. It was not published: conclusive proof that the Mail did not want to spoil a good 'how dare they' story with the inconvenient truth.

What annoys me about this is that many people, like those whose comments were published, will have accepted the story with its suggestions of police bias and inefficiency.
This is unprofessional and dishonest journalism, and the Mail should be ashamed of itself. It doesn't do shame though, does it?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bad Apple



This (shortly to be ex) magistrate has deservedly gone down for a gross abuse of his office.
I am pretty sure that he must have been bluffing his intended victim too - I don't think that any individual, JP or administrator, could just 'lose' a case like that. There are too many interlinking threads to allow the case to disappear. I suppose that you might get away with it if you nobble someone senior in the prosecuting authority, but it seems unlikely.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Desperately Sad

I stumbled across this on the BBC website. I have two small grandchildren, and the contrast between their lives and those who start their lives in prison is a stark one. As the Shannon Matthews case is demonstrating, children from unstable backgrounds have an awful lot to cope with, and many finish up irredeemably damaged.
The late Sir Keith Joseph made a speech many years ago about the 'Cycle of Deprivation' as he called it, and the mob fell upon him, accusing him of wanting to stop the poor having babies.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Penny-Pinching

Our court staff have historically been paid in the middle of each month, a legacy from the days when the courts' bills were paid by the local authority. Her Majesty's Courts' Service has now moved pay-day to the end of the month, leaving staff to make a month's money stretch out over six weeks. This has caused understandable irritation among the staff, and all for an infinitesimal saving in costs. Silly and unnecessary, in my opinion.



An HMCS manager pictured last week

Friday, March 14, 2008

Odd One, This


This p*ss-taking nutcase appears to have (literally) put up two fingers at the traffic laws, and not been disqualified, albeit receiving a (suspended) prison sentence. Frustratingly, the BBC report does not say what he was charged with, nor why he was at the Crown Court rather than down among the do-gooders (sorry- I'm getting a bit touchy) in the Mags' court. I say no more about this case, being ignorant of the facts, but it is a matter of record that motoring offences that reach the Crown Court often baffle judges, who see them rarely, and that is one of the reasons why two JPs sit with Hizonner on appeals. A while ago I sat with a Recorder, a learned man with a silk gown to his name, but that didn't stop him confusing Special Reasons with Exceptional Hardship on a disqualification appeal.

later:-here's the Mail's take on it, with a bit more information.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Words Fail Me

Community Justice is a Blair-era wheeze that ticks the right boxes, and will have no discernible effect on society, other than to waste millions of pounds and a great deal of everyone's time. This is Plan B; Plan A included courts 'reaching out' by sitting in church halls and suchlike. That was quietly shelved when even the dunderheads in the Home Office realised that there was no money for any security staff, and that courthouses are laid out as they are for a reason.
This nonsense will deservedly disappear in a few years, not with a bang but a whimper. If they look for volunteers from my patch, they will get a very short answer from me.

Yeah, Right

Is there anyone who doesn't react to this with a weary and cynical shrug?

A Bit Of Fuss About Not A Lot

The press has been full of reports based on the proposed Sentencing Guidelines on theft and related matters. I have had a quick look through them, and there are no radical departures from what happens now, as far as I can see. The journos have been running the usual headlines about "Shoplifters/whoever may escape jail" as if most of them do not already. In the media village there is an assumption that any crime not met with a prison sentence is a let-off, even though a minority of those passing through the lower courts (who handle a good 95% of cases right down to sentence) have ever gone to prison.
The whole thing looks like a non-story to me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I Hope Rebekah Wade Doesn't See This

Link

Forty Years On

Libra is the computer system that is supposed to turn the courts' administration into a 21st-century model of efficiency. I don't know when these webpages were put up, but it isn't quite working out like that, is it lads?

No Surprise There, Then


The Times carries this report about the number of cases where magistrates refuse to accept CPS failures and delay, and discharge a case at the committal stage. Almost invariably the CPS will already have been granted one or two adjournments, and benches decide that enough is enough - put up or shut up is what it comes down to.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

The Sunday Times has this piece today, under a headline that is eerily similar to the one its sister paper used about me a couple of years ago. I have just has a look for the blog but it's gone - I wonder whether the blogger was leant on or just decided that paying the mortgage was a bit more important than writing a blog. As I have said before, in the early days a lot of people were very cross about this blog, and I am sure that I would have been hauled over the coals if the authorities had known who I was. I have been in several meetings where official types were furiously denouncing the 'irresponsible' blogging JP, unaware that he was a few feet away. These days I think people are a bit more relaxed about it; after all we have had more than twice the traffic of the official Magistrates Association site, which has been kind enough to link here.
Quite a few police blogs have succumbed to official pressure as have the ones mentioned in the ST article.
I share the anonymous lady's lack of respect for the way the Civil Service seems to operate. The courts were only recently taken over, our staff becoming civil servants, and I am frequently appalled at the waste of time effort and money that I see.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Parole Board

Most people have heard of the Parole Board, but not too many of us know how it works. They have just published their Annual Report.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Apocrypha 24

When deciding on bail or sentence we are handed the defendant's previous convictions. We are only supposed to get the bit about convictions but we often get to see the cover sheet and the police intelligence stuff. The front sheet summarises the pre-cons, broken down into violence, dishonesty and so on. It also lists aliases, and sometimes there are a dozen of them. More often than not (especially with those of foreign origin) the aliases are no such thing, but in fact the result of poor spelling or transcription of unfamiliar names by busy and stressed custody officers.

Just Another Day In Paradise...

I chaired the remand court last week. As Forrest Gump nearly put it:- "Remand Court is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you gonna get".
Our first few cases fell into the early two-thirds of the 'mad, sad, and bad' category. A man of 27 had to be accompanied by his father as 'appropriate adult'. We adjourned for his lawyer to get some medical opinions as to whether the client was fit to plead. Then came a youngish woman, adorned with the popular scragged-back hairstyle that some cruel souls call a 'council-house facelift'. She had carried on with her crack addiction right up to the birth of her baby, who was thus born addicted. At that point it was brought home to her that she was likely to have her baby taken away, and she stopped the drugs just like that, and she has tested clean up to date. Fingers crossed. We saw a drink-driver who was, in legal terms, unlucky. He had blown 40ucg in breath. The limit is 35, but the police do not prosecute below 40. He had refused a blood test; unwisely as it might have exonerated him. We dealt with a theft from an 84 year-old lady who does not trust banks and kept nearly £10,000 in a box at home, until someone related to her stole it. A man with over 40 convictions for dishonesty and a dozen for failing to answer bail, applied to be bailed for his latest offence. He did not look too surprised when we turned him down. We sentenced a man who had been given a community penalty, and breached it repeatedly. Colleagues increased the order a couple of times, then replaced it with a suspended sentence. He breached that too, so we decided enough was enough and activated the sentence in full. Sorry, Mr. Straw, that's another prisoner you've no room for. Not my problem, Guv.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

More Numbers

The Guardian reports on America's prison population. What you make of it is up to you. While there is no doubt about the incapacitation effect of locking up so many people, the US system doesn't seem any more successful than ours at preventing reoffending, and thus by implication, at deterrence.

Later:-
Here is another point of view, from an Establishment, Conservative, figure. And a peer to boot.

http://parkingattendant.blogspot.com/http://www.crimeline.info/