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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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hollesley Bay

Hollesley Bay is a Prison Service establishment on the Suffolk coast. I have been there twice, once to visit the Category D men's open prison, and once to see Warren Hill Young Offenders' Institute on the same site. It is a long haul, over 100 miles from London, and stands in a very large estate of (I think ) more than 2000 acres. The locals still call it The Colony, because it was founded in Victorian times to provide training in agriculture for workers from the cities who wanted to go to the Dominions.
A Cat D prison is mostly used to house those coming to the end of very long sentences, and it is prison policy to get as many inmates as possible working outside in the community in 'proper' jobs. This aims to get them back into work, and to help them build up a financial cushion for the day they are released. Some work in local offices and factories, and a few even work as lorry drivers. Because the prison is miles from anywhere some inmates have cars on site that they use to get to work. One of the Governors told us that a number of men had jobs at Felixstowe Docks for some years (employers know exactly who they are employing) but that came to a stop when the unlovely News of The World ran a splash story around a long-lens photo of an inmate driving a fork-lift truck into the Customs shed. The man was a convicted drug smuggler, and despite there being no suggestion of anything untoward going on, the port's management decided to call it a day.
The regime in the prison is relatively relaxed, and the pleasant grounds are dotted with inmates on gardening duties. There is far less emphasis on farm work than there was a generation ago, because modern farming methods require relatively little labour. When I went there we saw the renowned Heavy Horse centre; the prisoners working there showed obvious pride in their work, and the stables, horses and tack were all in first-class order. Unfortunately the accountants had their eye on it, and it was due to be transferred to a private sector Trust. In the same way much of the farmland was due to be sold off as surplus to prison requirements.
Hollesley Bay is a tabloid editor's nightmare, lacking as it does a treadmill and rock-breaking facilities, but it does have an important function in trying to ease long-term prisoners back into society. Of course there are failures, and there is some abuse of the easygoing discipline (especially with alcohol and drugs, I am told) but the underlying aims are laudable.
The Governor who debriefed us told us that he had been responsible for Jeffrey Archer while he was at the Bay. "Quite the most obnoxious prisoner I have ever dealt with" he said "Kept trying to tell me how to do my job". Why does that not surprise me?

The official website is here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Amoral

If I had to choose one word to describe the zeitgeist of present-day England, one of the richest countries that has ever existed, and one whose citizens enjoy standards of living that are unprecedented in human history, that word would have to be Amoral. My friends and acquaintances are mostly prosperous and comfortable, but few of them ever express gratitude for being well off, or show any thought for those at the bottom of the heap.
Cocaine makes you feel good. Its use has filtered down to the street, and to the benefit-dependent classes. Untold billions of dollars are made from trafficking, most of it going to some very nasty people. But the comfortable think it's kind of okay, just a tad naughty perhaps, and hey, who does it hurt?
A friend of mine has been to Colombia, and I have heard how a beautiful country has been wrecked by the FARC guerrillas and the US-funded government forces, each side paid, in effect, with Western cash.
This report is about a gentle and unsophisticated group called the Nukak, whose lifestyle is crumbling under the pressure of modern civilisation and drug-driven terrorism.
Have a look if you get time, and I hope that it makes you feel as much anger as I do when well-heeled Brits treat cocaine as just a bit of harmless fun.

Only In America - Episode 477

It's good to see our American cousins clamping down on perverts, whatever their age.

Thanks to the great Harry Hutton who is one of the funniest bloggers around

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and POA Statements

The media gave a shamefully easy and uncritical ride to this self-serving and mendacious statement by a senior Prison Officers' Association official.
Here is a reasoned riposte from someone who knows a bit about it.
There are a lot of things that need sorting out in our prisons, including the mental health issue that I have often written about. Marcel Berlins adds his informed opinion here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Be Prepared

It's nice to know that the Police are ready to face all threats, even
this

Friday, April 25, 2008

Voyeuristic, Cruel, and Heartless

This report shows that we have not come very far, if at all, from the days when the quality would visit Bedlam to mock the lunatics incarcerated there. The details and the available technology differ nowadays, but the principle and the casual sadism is just the same.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Loss of Bottle


I have previously written about the unlawful taking of a milk float in Buckinghamshire.
The other day my colleagues dealt with two dairy-linked cases in a quarter of an hour. In the first a man on his way to start work at the dairy in the small hours managed to crash into a tree, damaging his (diesel) milk float beyond repair. Police enquiries revealed him to be four times over the alcohol limit. The very next case involved an electric milk wagon, that was wending its stately voltaic way along the road when it was firmly rammed in the rear by a car driven by - yes - a drunk driver. The weight and design of an electric milk float make it a pretty unyielding object to hit, and this one was more than a match for the Renault that ploughed into it. Another write-off then.
You wait twelve months for a milk-float case, then two come along at once.

Master Criminals Again

I met a colleague at a training event the other day. His court takes business from a major airport, and he told me that a man was stopped for money laundering after a dog detected a million of our English pounds in a bag that was on its way to the Middle East. So far, so average. But the smuggler had checked the bag in as hold baggage: given the combined track record of airport loaders and airport baggage handling systems (T5 anyone?) would you entrust a million quid, even a million dodgy quids, to airport check in?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More on DV

There has been a vigorous exchange of views on the Domestic Violence thread, some of them dismissive of whether the offence happened at all.
If police are called, either by one of the parties or as often happens by neighbours or even children, and they arrive to find a bruised and sobbing victim, a bit of broken furniture, and a couple of distraught kids, then an offence has almost certainly been committed. The PCs will take statements. If the victim later changes her (or rarely his) mind about giving evidence, that doesn't mean that no assault took place.
Magistrates have welcomed proper training on DV issues, but have resisted any suggestion of setting up specialist panels of JPs because there is only one standard of proof, and we should never convict someone because his behaviour seems to fit a sterotypical pattern; only evidence will do. Nevertheless it is right to recognise that in a typical abusive relationship the abuser will be a man, and that the woman has a great deal to lose by trying to do something about it. If she moves out she loses her home and possibly much of her income, kids may have to move away from schools and friends, and they might end up in some rat-hole of a battered women's refuge. Not simple is it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There's Nothing Like Objectivity

And This rubbish is nothing like objective.

(Personal note: I despise Galloway, but fair is fair - and this Sun report isn't fair)

No Quarter

As one does, I sat on some appeals in the Crown Court a few weeks ago with a fellow JP, along with a Circuit Judge whom I know well. It is always an educational experience to sit as a member of the Crown Court, and one that I recommend to all JPs. We are on an equal footing with the Judge as regards findings of fact that go to establish guilt or innocence, and on seriousness that goes to sentence, but the Judge has, quite rightly, the last word on the law.
The fun bit is when we watch the Judge manage the case and control the lawyers before him. I like to flatter myself that I run a tight ship when I chair a case, but as a layman I always feel obliged to allow the professionals enough room to do their jobs, even when some of them push it a bit far. Hizonner is under no such constraints, and briskly cuts short irrelevant stuff, challenging Counsel on points of law and showing proper impatience at delay.
When Counsel are struggling a bit, as happens when the Judge tells them to justify their submissions on a perhaps unexpected legal basis, we see pregnant pauses, quick references to the law books (and they have to be quick, too) and when appropriate, gracious surrender.
If you trawl the many police and lawyer blogs out there you will find a recurrent theme that professional judges are more efficient and less tolerant of errors than lay benches. They probably are (although like JPs they can rarely do any more than grumble) but it is inevitable that they become case-hardened to a greater or lesser extent. And there's the rub.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not Too Effing Bad Then

Last year I quoted Sir Richard Mottram, the senior civil servant who came out with this memorable opinion:-

We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department's fucked. It's been the biggest cock-up ever and we're all completely fucked.

According to yesterday's paper, Sir Richard is about to retire, with a pension pot worth 2.66 million quid. So he's not entirely f*cked then.

More From The Inbox

Thanks to Steve for this fascinating law report.

Here's an interesting report - thanks to John.

This oddity came from Flash.

While Stewart sent this offering.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Domestic Violence Again

We were down to hear a trial listed for 11 am last week, and it was expected to take the rest of the day. The charge was Common Assault, the defendant a husband, and the victim his wife. This was the first listing for trial and a couple of pre-trial reviews had taken place. All the witnesses were present, and then, ominously, we were asked for ten minutes while the prosecutor spoke to her witnesses. The ten minutes turned into thirty, and at that point the prosecutor owned up. The only witness of any real value was the victim, and she had been saying for some weeks that she didn't want to go through with it. She had made a withdrawal statement eight weeks ago, so the CPS, as is their policy, issued her with a Witness Summons. Well, you can lead a horse to water, as the old saying goes, but this lady flatly refused to give evidence despite the encouragement of the Victim Support people who do such a splendid job for us, and despite the pleas of the prosecutor and the Officer In The Case. The Crown bowed to the inevitable and offered no evidence, so I told the defendant that the case was dismissed. We gave him his costs out of central funds (i.e.your money and mine) and off he went.
There are so many issues here, in what is a very common scenario. We couldn't possibly punish the victim for refusing to give evidence, as that would make her a victim twice over. The public are stuck with the bill, because the defendant was acquitted. The CPS are pushing these cases as far as they can go, being well aware of the pressures that can be put upon victims, whose relationships are complex, but the failure rate remains high. Special Domestic Violence Courts are springing up all over the place, and they seem to be offering the best possible witness support, but in the final analysis, if the battered wife sees a trial as not being worth the trouble, that's it - all over.
Here's the official viewpoint.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Top Tip Two

Serious one, this. I am reminded by a case we saw last week that burglary of houses in search of car keys is becoming increasingly common. For some teams of young men it is what they do every day, given the chance. It is next to impossible to steal a modern car, such are the levels of electronic and other security, so houses are burgled or people robbed to get hold of the keys. So don't keep your keys anywhere obvious, unless you want your car to finish up like this Bentley.

Reality Television

My colleagues and I spent fifteen minutes watching telly the other day. Our local High Street is well lit and covered by good quality CCTV with full-time operators who can zoom and pan the cameras to follow any action. What we saw was the depressingly familiar sight of groups of young men spilling out of the pubs (this was just before 2 am) and lurching around, sometimes breaking into a run, while making the kind of simian gestures of challenge and aggression that I used to watch on David Attenborough's programmes, as groups of uninvolved people hurried by, having the sense not to look at what was going on for fear of the ritual:- "What you f*cking looking at? You want some then?".
Sporadic incidents came and went. Cars cruised by, one or two being sent on their way by a kick from a Nike trainer, their drivers having more sense than to stop. Police finally turned up (in a car, despite the police station being 300 yards away at most) but too late to prevent a minicab driver being assaulted.
One of those concerned had been involved in something similar a few months ago. The court on that occasion heard that he had been out drinking for twelve hours in a total of five pubs, and had claimed to have drunk about 16 pints of lager and a dozen or more shots of spirits before, surprise surprise, getting into a fight. The assault on the taxi driver was the last straw for us, so we sent him straight inside and revoked the community order that he had previously been given.
One other thing:- how does someone in receipt of benefit afford 16 pints and a dozen shorts? That would come to at least fifty or sixty quid round my way. Jobseekers' Allowance for a man under 25 is something like £48. Odd, that.

Cross

London's courts have been reorganised yet again, and they are now 'clustered' which centralises a lot of admin functions. With typical HMCS efficiency my cluster has not yet designated anyone to authorise magistrates' expenses, so I am still owed money from February and March. I do not claim loss of earnings, so this is cash that I have actually spent on travel and suchlike.
I am cross because this typifies HMCS' casual attitude towards the magistrates they are there to serve, and because I did not volunteer as a JP in order to make an interest free loan to the Government.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mouth-Foot Interface

It's been a good week for emails. Here's another, from someone who works in the system. This magistrate has got himself in hot water over his views about homosexuality. If he wants to carry on being judicial, he will need to become more judicious.

Later, from another e-mail:-
this one that is still being looked into.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Unexpected

In my time on the bench I think that there has been a distinct diminution of the respect that defendants show to the court. In the case of young men from the local underclass, it is undoubtedly so.
Jimmy stood slouched in the dock, and I had to tell him to take his hands out of his pockets. He was convicted some weeks ago of a mid-upper public order offence with racial overtones, so my colleagues had ordered reports, with a view to a high-level community order. He was given an appointment to attend Probation, and didn't turn up. We saw no more of him for more than a month, until he was arrested on the bench warrant that had been issued and brought before us. His body language suggested that he resented the inconvenience, and thought that we were wasting his time.
His young and keen barrister explained that he had not attended Probation because he had injured his ankle. "Does he use his foot to make a phone call, then?" enquired the slightly testy chairman. "Well, sir, his foot was very painful". "That's as may be" replied the chairman, who was beginning to have a sense of humour failure, "but what happened to him for the next four weeks?" Ms. Barrister did her best, but could smell which way the wind was blowing, although Jimmy looked as relaxed as ever in the dock, looking round to see if any of his mates had turned up. When we said that we would retire, the brief looked as if she had smelled a rat, but her client just sat smugly on his wooden bench. We called the clerk out and told him that we were sure that we would never get Jimmy in for a report on bail, so we were going to remand him in custody, ticking the box that says 'reports impracticable on bail'. When we went back and I announced our decision Jimmy looked a little puzzled, but he got the idea when the officers came in and indicated the way to the nasty steel staircase. I thought that he might kick off, but he decided to make do with a scowl and a bit of a kick at the door. Perhaps he will turn up for his bail in future. At least probation know where to find him this time.

Toad in a Hole

By way of contrast here's yet another news item sent to me by a blog reader. This bloke perverted the course of justice to get off a crummy speeding ticket, and came badly unstuck.

What Do You Think?

I never thought that I would ever link to the Reader's Digest, despite that fact that my parents subscribed to it all through my youth. This turned up through a link to this blog, and I thought that it might be worth a canter.

Coincidentally, another blogger has just sent me this, a critique by the formidable Theodore Dalrymple of this.

The Great Unsayables

In public life there are a number of Unsayables, and two of them have, in one of those delicious coincidences, cropped up today.
The High Court has confirmed, as we knew all along, that the decision to drop the corruption investigation into BAe and its Saudi deals was improper. We all know that the 'Security' argument that was trotted out to justify this was a thin smokescreen to cover a blatantly commercial decision. The Saudis seem to have leant upon the Government with a threat to stop buying BAe's weapons if the SFO had carried on with its probe into the vast 'commissions' that now nestle comfortably in Swiss banks. Great swathes of prime property in London have been bought with the bungs and kickbacks from deals with autocratic but oil-rich states.
Speaking personally, I would sooner accept a slightly less prosperous future for myself and my children and grandchildren in return for the ability to hold up my head and assert that British Justice is not for sale at any price.

The second Unsayable is about drugs in prison. Anyone who has visited a closed prison will have seen that the only way for serious quantities of drugs to get in is via bent staff. And so it appears to be. Why is this unsayable? Because the Prison Officers' Association is one of the last unreconstructed old-time unions, and any serious security clampdown would result in a potentially catastrophic strike in the prisons. It would be perfectly feasible to stop drugs getting into jails but the political will is lacking because of Realpolitik - just as it was with the Saudis.

One day, not soon, but nevertheless inevitably, Britain will have had enough of this weaselly surrender to the brutal forces of corruption, and take a principled stand. I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Doherty Finally Potted

Pete Doherty, the famous and drug-raddled singer has finally exhausted the patience of West London Magistrates' Court and has had his suspended sentence activated. He was sentenced to 14 weeks prison, which I calculate as: 98 days, less half remission, leaving 49 days, less 19 days early administrative release because the jails are full, leaving 30 days to serve. His community order will probably have been revoked, so all the drug rehabilitation and supervision will end - he doesn't seem to have done much of it anyway. Any bets on what happens when he comes out?

From the Mailbag

This arrived in the e-mail:-

Defendant appeared in Court for sentencing having pleaded guilty to Driving whilst disqualified.

Was in Court three weeks previously when the Bench adjourned for reports. Their indication was for a 12 week suspended sentence.
13 days after his Court appearence he committed a further driving whilst disqualified.
Aggravating factors included committed whilst on Bail for the first offence, and whilst assisting in preparing report for Probation. Previous driving whilst disqualified 2 years ago.
No mitigation other than guilty plea.

What do people think? I don't know what happened either, but I hope that my correspondent will let us know the outcome.

Later:-
This is what happened (edited for anonymity):-
The responses from the blog reflected what we ultimately decided. The main difficulty on the day was that there were only 2 of us on the Bench and could not at first agree on the sentence. It took a long time to come to agreement but we eventually got there. We kept going back to the structured sentencing principles and highlighting the circumstances. The final sentence (given credit for guilty pleas) was 8 weeks custody for the first offence and 12 weeks for the second to be served consecutively, a total of 20 weeks.

Thanks to my correspondent for the info.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Unhappy Families

I do not sit in the Family Proceedings Court, but I do admire my colleagues who take it on. This speech by a senior and respected Judge is one of the most outspoken that I have ever seen from such a high-up member of the Judiciary. It makes sobering reading, because whether we take part in the system or not, we are all affected by the stability or lack thereof in families.

Seen To Be Done?

Today's Times carries this story about proposals to lift the bar on CPS lawyers sitting as judges, initially as Recorders and (presumably) Deputy District Judges, then moving up if they make the grade to the salaried Bench. This is a part of the CPS strategy of raising its profile; I have previously commented on the emergence of would-be celebrity Crown Prosecutors, inspired by the visibility of District Attorneys in the States. It worries me a bit, because a full-time employee of the CPS, even if he is a solicitor or barrister, will inevitably have the prosecutor's mindset, and target of getting the conviction rate up. The test for any member of the judiciary, from yours truly down at the magisterial coalface to the Lord Chief Justice is to avoid any appearance of bias; the question isn't 'are you biased?' but 'could a reasonable observer think that you might be?'. If the bank in which I hold a few shares is the subject of a fraud I will announce my interest in open court and offer to withdraw or transfer the case to another bench. Council employees may not sit on cases involving the Council, and HM Revenue and Customs staff do not hear cases from that Department. So how should we feel if the judge hearing our case is a full-time CPS prosecutor? Might we just suspect that he will be a little less sympathetic to the defence than someone not so employed?
By chance, today's Times also carries this Law Report of an appeal judgement dealing with potentially biased jurors.
I think that we need to be cautious here. The impartiality of the Bench is more important than improving the career structure of the CPS.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sloppy

Journalists have a strong herd instinct, and a particular way of looking at an issue soon becomes embedded. It is currently standard procedure to speak of sentences as being 'just' this or that, and to add 'of which he will serve just half' as if that is some kind of special let-off. This is a good example of reporting that is just plain wrong and plain ignorant. The magistrates were obliged to allow a one-third reduction in the sentence as credit for a guilty plea, and if they had imposed the full six months they would certainly have been appealed. If the reporter had taken the trouble to ask a magistrate or a lawyer they could have corrected the CADD campaigner's assertions. The BBC ought to do better than that. At least Mr. Spokesman from Sussex Police got it right.
This may seem a trivial complaint, but it does matter. The steady drip-drip of half truths and misinformation has given the public a distorted picture of what courts do and why they do it. That's bad for society and bad for democracy.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Memory Lane

I miss traffic cases.
When I was the new kid, Court Four was, for four days a week, the Traffic Court, and anyone who was insignificant, or had upset the Day Chairman, or was a bit too gobby for someone with fewer than thirty years' experience, was allocated to sit there. I often fitted all of those criteria, so off to Four I would go. Since I was junior, as well as male, I would go in last and close the door behind me. Hence, it was five years or so before I ever sat on the Chairman's right in Court Four.
The Traffic list often ran to about 150 cases, of whom a dozen or so would turn up, the rest choosing to plead guilty by letter, or just to ignore the summons in the hope that it would go away. So we sentenced on the guidelines (that were pretty skimpy in those days) and that was that.
A few cases stood out and alleviated the tedium, most of them Not Guilty pleas, where the ordinary decent Mr. Average, who has never been in a court in his life, tries to clear his name over a bit of disputed driving. It can be quite upsetting to see a man in his fifties break down and cry at being convicted of having no insurance (caused by a cock-up on his wife's part, but it's a strict liability offence) even though we cut the fine right down to £50 - we were obliged to give him six points.
Nowadays, in the new shiny efficient, simple, speedy, summary, community-aware, inclusive HM Courts' Service (London Branch) traffic work has been concentrated into 'gateway' courts of which mine is not one. The poor sods who sit on these sometimes face hundreds of rubber-stamp cases, so I am happy for them to do it, but it cannot be an improvement if JPs don't get a share of all kinds of work. We know our local roads, and local problems. Where's the justice in a crash in Ealing resulting in a case before Hendon court?
I'm getting old and grumpy aren't I?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Is This Fair?

A special University Challenge quiz is about to start on BBC2 TV - this time it's a team from the Ministry of Justice against a team of comedians.

I know it's April 1st, but how fair is it to pit one team of comedians against another?

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