Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tempora Mutantur...

This article gives a professional's view on our courts today.

Swearing Stuff

It is reported today that pressure is being applied to the Duke of York to make a statement about allegations of sexual misbehaviour that have been made against him. Interestingly the statement 'should be on oath'.

In today's resolutely secular Britain a vanishingly small percentage of people would feel that their chance of going to heaven might hang on whether or not they lied on oath. These days I would guess that around half of witnesses choose to affirm rather than take a religious oath.

Anyone who has spent much time in a Magistrates' Court will be well aware of the blithe way in which many people who have sworn to tell the truth go ahead to lie through their teeth.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Prince Andrew has denied press allegations that he has had sex with an under-age girl .

Where is Mandy Rice-Davies when we need her?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

No Praise For Appraisal

The Law Gazette carries this piece about the quality of magistrates' training.

It's a complex subject, because furnished as we are with  a qualified barrister or solicitor as legal adviser, we only need to know the basic principles of law and procedure. Appraisals take place every three years (my next one is in February) and are carried out by an approved fellow magistrate. Unfortunately, the legal adviser was removed from the process some years ago, to save money.

Appraisals must be frank and honest, not always an easy task when the subject is someone you have known for a decade.

As for routine training, it has withered over the years, and only a token amount takes place, usually on new appointees and new chairmen. There ought to be more, and the appraisals should be tougher, but it's the money, you see,

Monday, January 05, 2015

Here We Go Again

One of my most cherished possessions is a leather diary cover that I was given when I was sworn in in (ahem) 1985. It bears, in faded gold embossing, the legend "Justices' Year Book" and the proud arms of the ancient county of Middlesex. It remains in daily use.

I was appointed to the Commission of the Peace for Middlesex and at the swearing-in at the then newly-built Southwark Crown Court we were shown the Commission itself, sumptuously lettered on vellum, and assured that this was the document, signed by Elizabeth R and sealed with wax, from which we were to draw our authority to deal with the scoundrels and ruffians (I paraphrase) of Her Majesty's county of Middlesex.

I have the diary before me, and for the last ten years and more I have had to buy my own refill (best part of a tenner with postage). In earlier times we were given a diary insert ( a sad, cheapo thing) and a directory of our bench colleagues. That went too, in a panic about confidentiality.

So I opened the diary today and entered my allocated sittings, along with the usual family reminders,

So what will the year hold? I have a bad feeling about the inevitable May election. If the recent opening shots in the campaign are any guide the level of argument is likely to descend to sloganising at best.

Mercifully, no party seems so far to have lit upon the criminal justice system as grist to the populist mill. Cross your fingers, friends, and let us hope if not for the best but for the least worst.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

So That Wraps It Up For 2014 Then

After a late night visit to Heathrow to see my son off on his 5,500 mile flight home, I was on the rota to sit today. We only used three of our five courtrooms , all of which were dealing with overnight custody cases and suchlike, no trials being listed. We sat a bench of two in Court One, and I was pleased to find that my colleague was a sensible and well-liked lady, and that we were clerked by a very experienced and senior legal adviser in whom I have total confidence.

The list was the usual holiday-time mix of domestic violence, shoplifting (usually to buy drugs) and suchlike. There was one case of prostitution (like most others today, the Romanian lady in the dock pleaded guilty) and a couple of referrals from our resident mental health worker. One of her customers was assertively flaky, full of demands to know this and that, despite having rejected free legal advice.

The new electronic system of shifting documents from the police to the CPS, to the court appears to be creaking,  causing a lot of delays. The freezing temperature in the court did not improve our patience either.

We had to allow a couple of breathers for lawyers to look up the ins-and-outs of some newish law. Then it was away by about 4.15.

I must have upset someone, because I am also on the rota for New Year's Day. Ho-Hum. That's another  year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Back to the Important Stuff

Things may quieten down round here for the next little while. I shall be off to join my family on Christmas Eve in a small village on Exmoor. Although my daughter and her husband are both lawyers, we hope to avoid any legal talk, but rather to enjoy the views, and the company of both of my children and my delightful granddaughters.

Thanks for putting up with my views this year. I am days away from the tenth anniversary of the blog and I shall thank my son (who has travelled nearly six thousand miles to be with us, and has to go all the way back next week).for giving me the original idea. The old stuff is still on the Law West of Ealing Broadway but the comments were lost in the changeover from the old comment software. It caused a furore at the time, even getting a Page 3 story in The Times. We have had the best part of four million hits since then, and I have survived the disapproval of a Very Senior Judge. I am now within a couple of years of enforced retirement, so I hope that I am now not worth powder and shot to the top brass.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gas Bills

There will be a few MoJ apparatchiks who do not sleep all that well for the next week or two.

When setting the rates for JPS' travel expenses, the amounts were traditionally adjusted each year, usually with reference to the price of petrol, When petrol shot up  a few years ago, the MoJ rate remained stubbornly fixed. Finally, new costs forced the mileage rate for a 1600cc car up to  its present 58p per mile , which is on the high side these days. But if the MoJ wants to lower the rate in response to the oil glut, it will have trouble refusing to do the converse when the market moves, as it one day will.

Fair and Square?

Some papers (inevitably including the Mail) have rushed to criticise the lawyers who represented people who claimed to have been brutalised by British troops.

There is a gulf of understanding between the public and the legal profession. One of the questions that any defence brief  will hear regularly is "how can you defend paedophiles, or rapists, or whatever is tabloid monster of the month?"

Of course the answer is that anyone, however heinous his crime, is entitled to have his defence put professionally and thoroughly. I am often asked what crimes anger or upset me personally, and I always answer that emotion has no part to play in my job, and that my colleagues and I must consider the evidence solely on its merits.

In some countries, especially dictatorships, being a defence lawyer carries risks. In many cases those risks can involve physical harm. Compared to that, a slagging off in the Mail is small stuff, but the principle is the same.