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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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hornets' Nest Alert

Jack Straw has upset a few people. I have no idea whether or not he is right, but I would love to find out.

So Farewell Then To 2009

I am pleased to agree with HM The Queen's view that 2009 was a year with precious little good in it, when our insecure economy and the determination of those who wish us harm combined to cast a pall of gloom over Britain.
2010 will bring us at least one General Election, and may bring about a change of Government, but in these febrile times anything could happen. In my own little world of summary justice crime is bound to continue, but nobody has any real idea of the real level. If you have been burgled, your personal crime rate is 100%, whatever has happened to other people. The swingeing cuts that will be needed in public spending are bound to affect the justice system in the medium term and there is not the slightest chance of any new spending commitments, as politicians focus on the NHS and other ring-fenced priorities. Looking back to the bright hopes of 1997 many of us in the justice system feel a keen disappointment at the way in which the Blair government pandered to populist sentiment not because they thought that it might reduce crime, but rather to gain a favourable headline. The criminal justice goalposts have been nudged along, year by year, to favour the prosecution and hamper the defence. The soft underbelly of the criminal defence profession is its need to be paid by the government, so that is of course where the latest attack is focused. Gibes about fat-cats apart, many publicly-funded lawyers are struggling to make ends meet. For every glossy Temple silk who delivers a Rolls-Royce service for Rolls-Royce money there are a score of dedicated defence briefs who have seen their fees cut time after time.
But we will all carry on doing the best that we can in 2010, as we did in 2009 and in the years before it. I have had a quiet December from a court point of view, due partly to the weather and partly to family reasons. From next week, it's all up and running again. I can't wait.
Happy New Year, and thank you to everyone who takes the trouble to add comments. All are welcome, whether they come to praise or to carp.

What Would Be Enough Then?

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Colman Treacy QC in action prosecuting an attempt murder in Birmingham. All I can say is you wouldn't have wanted to come up against him.
Today - now a judge - he has weighed off the killers of Craig Hodson-Walker for 34 years apiece.
It's not enough, but it's a damn sight better than most murderers get.


The above quote, from a police blog of course, expresses the usual view that no sentence is ever long enough. It does raise the question of how long would be long enough - although in my extensive saloon-bar research most people of that mindset go on to express a preference for capital punishment anyway.
Many magistrates go out to speak to schools and community groups on a regular basis, and some of the available handouts feature sentencing exercises in which the audience are taken through the facts of a real but anonymised case and it is always a pleasant surprise when ordinary people who have heard all of the facts and considered all of the options pitch their sentence, as most do, squarely within the range that the original bench chose.
Some sections of the media have a clear agenda to mislead the public about sentencing in the hope of stirring up indignation and selling more papers, the recent Hussain case being an example. The resulting cynicism doesn't help society, in my view.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Old Bystander's Almanac 2010

Some of us have just about sorted out the Millennium nonsense, and here we are, ten years on.

So here are my insights as to what may happen next year (that's 2010, for those of you yet unborn who stumble across my apercus as part of your research for your: "WTF were the old-fart bloggers on about?" PhD's at the University of Watford Gap sometime around 2050).

2010 - early bit: A vile rumour spreads across the land to the effect that a General Election will happen before the summer solstice. Nobody gives a toss, except politicians, public servants, and journos desperate to sell papers and/or keep Rupert or Dacre happy and signing pay cheques.

Spring. Election. Popular indifference ensures response way below that expressed for Jedward. Just as well, as the buggers would otherwise be forming a government.

Desperate candidates promise to bring in any policy approved by Rupert Murdoch. No change there then.

Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP redeployed to work of great national importance.

Rejoicing in the Inns of Court, Law Society, and judiciary.

Magistrates' Association considers response, to be announced in five months' time.

Successor to Straw co-opts tabloid editors to Sentencing Guidelines bodies, thus formalising de facto understanding going back to 1997.

Final demise of legal aid for oiks, the poor, and other types of criminal. Massive shift of legal expertise to private-payers. College of Law PLC brings in new course specialising in "what bothers the rich". It is massively oversubscribed.

Justices of the Peace are praised to the skies in a speech by the new Justice Minister (no oxymoron jokes, please) By the way, they all do that, without exception. Gloom speads across the lay Bench. Most common response (from about ten JPs) - "That's it. We're fucked". Magistrates' Association promises robust response before 2010 is out.

Incoming Government enacts law allowing anyone who is burgled to beat the crap out of anyone they think might have done it.

Speed cameras abolished. Jeremy Clarkson elected MEP.

40-odd police authorities amalgamated into 37-odd. "We had to draw the line somewhere" says MoJ spokesman. "Any more and we would have been stuck with the Welsh".

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Totally Personal

This is me, it's personal and it's nothing to do with my being a magistrate, so no comments on those lines please.

Personal. Right?

Gerry Adams has a few family problems. As a human being I sympathise, and would not wish this on anyone.

But just a minute Gerry:- What about the many hundreds of fathers brothers sisters children and friends who were blown up, shot, maimed, and mangled by the organisation that you supported and, by some accounts, headed? Your family is suffering from an alleged horrible misuse of power. What did the innocents of the IRA campaign suffer?

What about the civilians who were blown to rags by IRA bombs, or the fathers shot in front of their families, or the poor sods caught in the crossfire of your war?

Tears are for crocodiles as far as you are concerned, Gerry. Some of us have long memories.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Housekeeping Note

Haloscan comments, that I have used happily since 2005, have been taken over, and we are now using Echo. Comments will look different in future, but I hope that they will work all right.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's In A Name?

Lawyers are in the habit of using the name of a case to identify a particular bit of law, and even at our local summary level we are all familiar with the names of Turnbull, Galbraith, and other long-forgotten people that have become embedded in our day to day business.
I have just cleared out a few old files, and one of them included the papers for an Environment Agency prosecution against a well-known large company, among them the case summary and the so-called "Friskies' schedule of aggravation and mitigation".
I remember that this made me sit up at the time, as I do not usually come across leading brands of pet food in my court sittings. The whole case was conducted in a genteel manner, as the pleas were guilty, Counsel for the parties had pretty much agreed everything beforehand, the papers and submissions were impeccably prepared, and all that we had to do was set a fine - even the costs had been agreed in advance.
When it came to the fine we were handed the report of HHJ McDowall's sentencing remarks in the case of Environment Agency v Pizza Express in the Crown Court, which pretty much did the job for us, being admirably clear and well-reasoned. So between the catfood and the pizzas we were guided to an appropriate sentence, and after elaborate courtesy from Counsel we allowed 28 days to pay, and popped out for a cup of tea.
I never expected the job to include catfood when I started twenty years ago.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Code!

From the invaluable CrimeLine:-
The Ministry of Justice has abandoned plans to proceed with BVT.

The Law Society has issued this statement:
The Law Society welcomes the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) decision inviting the Legal Services Commission (LSC) not to proceed with its planned pilots for Best Value Tendering (BVT).
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary and Lord Bach, the Legal Aid Minister have listened carefully to representations made by the Law Society and by legal aid firms.
The MoJ concluded the scheme currently proposed by the LSC - the government agency charged with administering legal aid - is “unlikely to lead to the efficient, restructured legal services market envisaged by Lord Carter in his 2006 Review of Legal Aid Procurement”.
The LSC proposed to start piloting BVT in Greater Manchester, Avon and Somerset from January 2010. The plans were met with much opposition by firms, many of whom refused to participate without a TUPE indemnity and said it would result in firms going out of business.

Law Society President Robert Heslett says:
“The Society praises the wisdom and statesman-like approach of the Ministry of Justice in reaching its decision. For the issues faced by law firms in Avon, Somerset and Manchester, this is a great Christmas present. The Society has campaigned against this tendering scheme from its infancy, and so we especially welcome this news. We now look forward to working afresh with the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice for a new way forward in 2010.”


That last quote from the Law Society translates as a mighty big -

YESSSSS!

First we have Jack Straw taking note of the Mags' Association, and now of the Law Society.... Anyone would think there was an election on the way.

Good Sense In A Strident Debate

There has been a predictably intemperate reaction from some populist commentators on the case of a crime victim who was sent to prison for wreaking violent retribution on one of the men who had robbed and assaulted him. Of course it makes a good cynical why-oh-why headline to say that the victim went to jail while a criminal 'walked free' - or as free as you can be with brain damage.
Ever-willing as I am to dip a toe into troubled waters I was about to do a piece about the case, but having read the Anonymous Prosecutor and this from PC Bloggs, the point is made for me:-
I don't even fully object to the sentence handed out to businessman Munir Hussain, who bludgeoned a burglar with a metal pole, fracturing his skull. Mr Hussain had been subjected to an ordeal, but where he went wrong was gathering a posse, chasing the offender outside, and then continuing to beat him until he was almost dead. Worse still, he made up an array of lies but was found out by independent witnesses. He was tried by jury, who if they had felt enough sympathy with his plight could have acquitted him. Following a guilty verdict the judge had little choice but to jail him. As we keep saying on these blogs, GBH with Intent is a serious crime that should attract jail. And what isn't revealed in the attached article is whether Mr Hussain had previous convictions for violence. I sympathise with his situation, but surely a few kicks would have done the job and they could have then detained the burglar for the police.

The law gives considerable rights of self defence to householders, but as with most other aspects of the law those rights need to be exercised reasonably and proportionately. Nobody expects someone who hears a burglar downstairs to sit down and do a risk analysis, but it is blindingly obvious that getting help and then battering the burglar into irreversible brain damage is way over the top. As Bloggs points out, this case went before a jury of ordinary people who heard all of the facts, as well as the law, and went on to convict. That will do me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gloom

This is the most depressing thing that I have read for years, for more reasons than I care to go into.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That's Nice

The blog appears to have just passed two million page views. I am very pleased and a little awed by that.

I started the whole thing (at my son's suggestion) in 2005 because I wanted to shed some light on a magistrates' courts' system that is still poorly understood. Some people in the system were unhappy and a few wanted to have me identified and slung off the bench. Gradually, most people realised that there is much to gain and little to fear from telling the public what we do in its name.

I am proud of being a magistrate and proud of what we do. Of course the system isn't without faults and many of the 34,000 comments we have had have pointed that out. But JPs have served the country for something like 700 years, and despite the gloomier prognostications I expect them to carry on doing so for a while yet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Priorities, Anyone?

This Walter Mitty type allegedly acted out his fantasy by wearing medals to which he is not entitled. Sad; pathetic even. But does it really merit the attention of the police, the CPS, the courts, and the rest of it?

Unless he used his bogus life story to rob someone, shouldn't he just be left to live out the rest of his life as the laughing-stock that he has deservedly become?

The police should file this one under P for Prat and get on with something more important.

This Could Be Interesting

This report suggests that lawyers acting for A.Golfer Esq have obtained an Injunction clamping down on the reporting of certain alleged facts about which this blog has not the slightest opinion, suspicion, knowledge or any other inkling of a sniff.

Subject to contract, without prejudice, terms and conditions apply, as do disclaimers and caveats, instructions and retainers, all inclusive of VAT and Wig Surcharge. Oh yes, plus disbursements too. Your house is probably not at risk. Comments may be recorded for training purposes.

Who wants to bet though, that the whole thing is out there somewhere on the Web as I type this, and will be well and truly in the public domain by, shall we say, Monday?

(Five Minutes Later....)

Found it. Just Google Tiger Woods Injunction, and off you go. Still, with the credit crunch on, m'learned friends need all the money they can get. Christmas is coming, and New Year at Sandy Lane doesn't get any cheaper as years go by.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Luke

Any magistrate will recognise the blank eyes, the slumped shoulders and the dead expression of Luke, the young man I saw this week. When he walked into the dock I had just finished reading a pre-sentence report that was bleak even by the usual standards. Old-school Probation officers could usually identify some chink of light, some possible way forward, some intervention that might, just, with a following wind, give their client a straw to grasp, if the necessary will could be summoned up (as it usually could not). Not so here; Luke's history could serve as a stereotype for any criminology lecturer to draw on:- never seen his father, mother on benefits all her adult life, two elder siblings each with a history of offending. Luke had been in and out of Council 'care' (as it is called without the slightest intended irony) and had first offended when just 12. He has now turned 18, so he falls into the adult offender category. At first his offences were acquisitive for the most part, but in recent years violence has started to appear on his record, as well as one sexual matter that has worrying implications for the future. Probation use sophisticated assessment techniques in these reports, and Luke had the worst set of indicators I have ever seen on the so-called OASYS chart. Drink, drugs, illiteracy, a total lack of any social context for himself, a loathing of the police, and admiration for the more successsful criminals in his age group all featured in the report.
What we sentenced him to is, I'm afraid, neither here nor there. It won't work, because so much damage has been done over the years that sporadic interventions by the courts and weekly meetings with his key worker will make not the slightest dent in the anti-social cloak that he has drawn about himself. The Probation assessment is that he has a 95% chance of becoming a repeat offender and of spending the best years of his life in prison. If anything 95% is on the low side, and I haven't the faintest idea what we can do about it.

Cross Your Fingers, Matey!

The nation will be breathing a sigh of relief that a man who approached Tony Blair's London home with a loaded automatic pistol has been arrested.
Earlier reports said that a passer-by picked up the pistol from the gutter and handed it to one of the Blairs' armed protection officers. In doing so he may well have committed a strict liability offence carrying a minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment. Let us hope that he gets on better than this chap.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rather Him Than Me

The Anonymous Prosecutor is sticking his neck out and inviting questions.

Go on, have a go.

Later:

There's some good stuff on there. Have a look.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Little Temptations

I am as sure as I can be that my 29,000 colleagues are incorruptible in their day-to-day duties. Even a cynic would have to admit that the practice of sitting three people on a bench makes it all but impossible to suborn the court.

We still need to be careful about the little things, though. A few weeks ago an old friend approached me in the pub to certify a copy document - a simple and routine procedure for any JP. He handed me colour photocopies of two passports - I know both of the holders and I had not the slightest doubt that the copies were fine. "Can I just see the originals?" I enquired. "Oh, they aren't here. But you can sign anyway, can't you?" "Er- no" I said. "But why?" he asked. "You know me and you know these two". "Yes" I said, "but I have to sign that I have compared the originals with the copies, and I haven't". "Come on", he said, "does it matter?" "Well yes it does" I replied. "I kind of promised the Queen that I wouldn't tell fibs, even small ones. So no".
We left it there, and I was reminded of the time that another old pal, who had previously asked me, brought along his renewal form for a shotgun certificate. "But it's blank, Reg" I said. "Don't worry", he replied. "Just sign it and I'll fill it in later".
"No bloody fear" I thought. "Sorry, mate" was what I said, while asking the barmaid for a pen that Reg could use to fill in the form. It took him 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

It's Not Just Here Then

I am sometimes accused of being a bit harsh on some of the day to day managerial and operational decisions taken by the police and prosecution authorities. I continue to hold the view that a lot of low-to-medium level policing could be improved by a bit of old-fashioned commonsense management. But look what the Aussies are up to.

Isn't there someone out there with a bit of rank and access to a telephone who can deliver, as forcefully as possible, the message that the police have more important things to worry about?
It reminds me of this nonsense a while ago.

It's the telly, isn't it? How long before somebody gets arrested for something to do with 'Strictly Come X-Factor' or 'I've Got Talent Get Me Out Of Here' or any of the other depressingly popular drivel in the same vein?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Oo-Er Missus!

I have ruffled the occasional feather on the Mags'Association forum (passworded, members only, not too much traffic).

There are a couple of crackers on tonight, viz:-
the clumsy posturing of the Magistrate's blog.
and
Just because the person's a fellow JP doesn't place them above any criticism. Smug, self-satisfied and sanctimonious are but three of the adjectives that spring to mind.

Well, you can't please everyone can you?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Plus Ca Change - One Of A Series

I have just watched BBC4's broadcast of the Nureyev/Fonteyn Romeo and Juliet, to the stunning Prokofiev score.

Okay, it's set in Renaissance Italy, to a tale by an Elizabethan Englishman from what was to become the Black Country (well nearly, anyway) but what struck me in the quiet bits, when I was sent to put the kettle on, was how many of the human follies on display are to be seen in our courts four centuries later. Stupid, pointless blood feuds among young men, their testosterone overload overcoming any common sense they ever had. We worry about knife crime: this lot carried swords and daggers. Perverted ideas of family 'honour' have come back to haunt us in the 21st century.

Every mistake that a human being can make has already been made by someone else - yet we still have to find out the hard way for ourselves. Shakespeare could warn us about most of the pitfalls - if only we were not too proud to listen.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Not As Simple As It Looks

The Policeman's Blog has started to highlight 'mad judges' as it calls them. The latest rant refers to this report. The Judge's sentence is described as 'ludicrous' - but is it?
The woman's offence was utterly despicable. She systematically stole from her aged relative, in as gross a breach of trust as you are likely to find. Reading the report carefully, it seems that she pleaded guilty, and was given a Community Order with 200 hours unpaid work (effectively the maximum on a plea of guilty) as part of a Suspended Sentence Order of 52 weeks' imprisonment. The hearing at which she was ordered to pay £5 was a separate POCA hearing in which the prosecutor told the judge that Price had no assets, and therefore invited him to make a nominal order - which is what he did because he had no alternative, all of the stolen money having been spent.
So let's have a look at the substantive sentence. The culpability and seriousness passed the custody threshold, as most people would agree. There is no guideline for forgery at the moment, but if you look at theft in breach of trust you find at (g) on page 100 that if a custodial sentence is justified consideration should be given to whether it can be suspended.
So it was a tricky one to deal with and the judge dealt with it within the guidelines and within the constraints forced on him by the fact that the defendant was broke. You can argue about whether the sentence should have been suspended, but 'mad'? I don't think so.

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