Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sorry

This is a brief apology for the recent lack of postings on here. The first reason is that I have just had a visit from my son and his newly-pregnant wife who live thousands of miles away and the second is the absolutely amazing news agenda of the last couple of weeks. As one who has closely followed politics since my early teens, I have just been riveted by events. Oh yes, and I spent a couple of days in hospital being tended to by efficient and charming staff, most of whom were Polish.

I hope to return to something like normal this week, I see that the old idea of sitting courts in pubs and suchlike has resurfaced, so perhaps I'll have a look at that..

Friday, June 17, 2016

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi

In the aftermath of the appalling murder of an MP some commentators are looking at the occasionally poisonous comments made about politicians. The received wisdom of the public is that politicians are dishonest, but that is almost invariably a misreading. If MPs and others had to answer every question frankly, life would be impossible. Most of the usual questions would have to be answered with "I don't know" or "well, I hope that A happens but it might well be B for all I know." The Paxman figure would then rip the interviewee to shreds. So let's give them a break shall we?

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Change of Routine

Some of the most common trials to face JPs nowadays are the Section 172 cases that arise from the ubiquitous speed cameras. Some people (such as Christopher Huhne) simply lie about who was driving the speeding vehicle, and others claim not to know the ID of the driver, but the consequences of being caught can be nasty. These cases tend to be listed in just a few courts, which can be pretty tiresome for the bench members. As it happens these cases are a rarity in my court, so this week the S172 that appeared on my list was the first that I have ever done, in about 30 years on the bench. The evidence was pretty thin, and we acquitted. The clerk told us later that these cases often fail to stick.

They are a tidy source of revenue for the various loophole specialists in the legal profession, as many people will cough up a hefty sum to keep their driving licence.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Nasty

A colleague whose court has jurisdiction over a major airport tells me that she has recently dealt with a case from 'Operation Jigsaw' the Met Police team that handles repatriated sex offenders.

She told me that a man with 120 and more convictions, many for sex offences, had served time in an antipodean prison, and had been put on a plane to the UK on his release. The magistrates made a highly restrictive order about his future conduct, and he was returned to police custody for the time being.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Auld Lang Syne

Reading of the planned closure of Southwark Crown Court took my mind back to the day when I was sworn in there as a JP. The court is situated on the South bank of the Thames, just by the moored HMS Belfast. In fact the ship fills the windows of the jury assembly room.

I shall retire from the bench later this year, but the swearing-in will be a lasting memory.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Charmless

This, from a respected colleague, speaks for itself:
I was in court three and one pleasant git shouted at a very pregnant prosecutor 'I hope that baby doesn't get born'.  She collapsed in floods of tears as he was taken out of the secure dock and into the cells.  He did come back and apologise but not before insulting his own nice lady rep (who then refused to act for him)!  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Crime And Punishment

For the last few weeks the media has given extensive coverage to the Hillsborough disaster. The release of the report saw emotionally charged interviews with the bereaved that were understandable, especially given the drama-soaked circumstances. It transpired, as so often happens, that some of those crying loudly for 'justice' had revenge in mind, and that led me to think about the justice that I help to administer. Seriousness and culpability come near the top of our list of things to consider, so let's take a cool-headed look at Hillsborough.
The police commander made an error of judgment in opening the gates to the terraces, a relatively low-level error but one that had devastating consequences. The response of he police and other services was inadequate, and many deaths resulted.
So what would be justice in this case, given the finality of all those corpses?

It appears that the police commander might be liable in law for negligence (although I am not at all qualified to comment on the legal aspects) but what good would it do to punish him?

The nearest parallel that I can think of is in the field of aviation safety. Pilots are able to report incidents fully and truthfully, without fear of being punished. This is by far the best way to build a body of experience to avoid future disasters.

However, and it is a massive however, there are suggestions that there  was a cover-up at all levels, including, incredibly, the methodical editing of police statements. That is what should attract condign punishment, rather than one man's catastrophic failure of judgement.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From Bystander T

From Bystander T ( a wise and experienced old beak)


Back in the day,  the Press would have someone sitting at the back of the court quite regularly.  Sometimes it was one of the old hands, looking for a warm place to rest; sometimes a junior, sent to cut their teeth, practising the art.  Rarely would a week go by with no reporter appearing in court.  In recent times reporters seem to appear only for celebrities or other high profile defendants. 

Then earlier this week, with a mixed list in the remand court, what do I see but two reporters sitting at the back.  Examining the list I see a rather nasty sexual assault case, on a girl of 16.  It is at the nastier end of the spectrum so is to be sent to ‘hizonner’ up the road.  That must the case which has attracted the hacks attention? 

But no.  On consulting she who must be obeyed (the usher) we discovered that the case they wanted to see was a traffic matter.  Some misguided youth was seen driving round with  a blue light, à la politzie and had been stopped.  It was his prosecution that brought back the reporters. 

May I be forgiven for thinking this a sad reflection? 



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Timely Reminder

Lord Justice Fulford, who is a very senior wig indeed,has reminded benches to be cautious when agreeing to vary the terms of  a curfew order to suit the defendant for whatever reason. There can be cases where it might be appropriate , such as a life-or-death family crisis, but these need to be exceptional.  Further, the words used in court need to be chosen with great care, because the press will take interest in any suggestion of the bench being a crew of silly soft-hearted old duffers, and the Indignant Tendency that infests social media will make the most of it.
I think that the message translates to "if in doubt, don't".

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

No, I'm Not Surprised Either

Thanks to The Times for this (don't worry Rupert, I pay a full sub)

Criminal court tech reforms 'a disaster'

Reforms to move paper-based criminal courts into the digital age have been beset by failings with lost computer discs, systems that "do not talk to each other" and "numerous mistakes", inspectors have found.
Their damning report finds that despite the multimillion-pound programme to modernise the courts, many still heavily rely on paper and manual processes such as scanning documents and producing hard copy of digital images.
This is to compensate for the "lack of a wholly intuitive digital capability", the inspectors say, a situation that causes wasted costs, increased risk of error and undermines the benefits that could come from full digital working.
More than 90 per cent of criminal cases are sent to the Crown Prosecution Service from the police electronically but there is a "high level of user input and processes to make paper documents electronic", the report finds. "This is not wholly digital working or an efficient process for transferring case information from the police to the courts."
Despite previous recommendations by inspectors that a reliable data-sharing solution is needed for CCTV, 999 records and interviews of suspects and others, it is a "disappointment", inspectors say, "to find this has yet to be established".
As a result, computer discs containing evidence still have to be physically sent to the CPS and many are lost, they say. "It was of concern to learn that a widespread issue existed, concerning the misplacing of discs by the CPS."
Other problems include a limit on the size of data that can be transferred across the system, "having a negative impact on the transfer of police data to the CPS".
There is difficulty in sending papers digitally to defence representatives. "Commonly the CPS prints off a paper copy for the defence representatives and sends this via courier to the court." The transfer of case evidence between police and the CPS "still suffers from numerous clerical mistakes".