Saturday, July 26, 2014

There But For The Grace of God......

This Judge (in fact a Recorder, who has the powers of a circuit judge but sits part-time) has been reported to the authorities for apparently falling asleep on the Bench. The usual suspects have lined up to denounce him, and Vera Baird, who ought to know better, has just told the BBC  this casts the criminal system in a bad light, or words to that effect. She is reported thus: 
 Former solicitor general Vera Baird said she was shocked by the allegation.
"It's a pretty personally insulting thing for somebody when you're describing probably the most important event in your life.
"But also what does it say about the state, about judicial governance, about the criminal justice system?"
She added it would reinforce general views that the judiciary "are out of touch".
This is utter nonsense: what it proves is that the judiciary is made up of human beings, most of them well the wrong side of forty, and some a good deal older than that, and therefore prone to nodding off at times
Now if the unfortunate  Recorder  had bullied a witness or misdirected the jury, or committed any one of the judicial sins that amount to misconduct, then they are sins of commission. To fall asleep is a misfortune: I have sometimes felt drowsiness creeping up on me, particularly on a warm afternoon two hours in, in a court with ineffective air conditioning and being forced to listen to an advocate who thinks he is being paid by the yard. I sit with two colleagues, and as I am usually the one in the middle I keep an eye on the other two, and I hope that they will keep an eye on me.
I used to sit with a colleague, now retired, who was a local GP. In potentially soporific cases we agreed to monitor each other.
There cannot be many magistrates and judges who have never come close to dropping off.

I hope that the JCO cuts the guy a little slack. Unfortunately the rules will forbid him from ever disclosing his point of view.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Où Sont Les Flics D'Antan?

As one does. I devoted the occasional; lazy hour, glass in hand, during my recent holiday, to thinking about small issues, and one of the first to come to mind was that we had driven from the Thames Valley to a few km west of Quimper. without seeing a single traffic cop, English or French, in car or on bike.
The French seem to have followed the English lead in pretty much doing away with manned policing. When I first became a JP we dedicated one courtroom four days a week to traffic matters; today many of us do not see a traffic case in six months. The cost-driven move to a fixed-penalty regime means that many police officers make day to day judicial decisions.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Pi**-up Failure In Brewery

Today I wasted my morning, having got up an hour early, and driven into West London. Another magistrate did the same, as did a Circuit Judge, numerous court staff, learned counsel, and their supporting lawyers.

Due to the kind of sloppy preparation that is routine from today's slimmed-down CPS, we had neither of our two witnesses, and the prosecution papers were pathetically disorganised. It wasn't even clear what offences he had been convicted of, and whether the 1872 Act or the 1990-whatsit applied. The Bench trooped outside, as one does, and phone calls were made while we drank coffee. Ten minutes later we went back into court where the CPS threw in their hand and offered no evidence. Appeal allowed, conviction and sentence quashed, defendant's costs order made to be taxed from central funds. My colleague and I cancelled lunch and went home having achieved absolutely nothing at considerable public expense.

I fully understand the Government's overriding need to cut spending, and to sort out the deficit, but the cuts to criminal justice amount to classic false economy, at the level in which I work.

And by the way, all three of us on the bench were a bit surprised at the costs order but Hizonner looked up chapter and verse in the three-inch thick law tome that was in front of him, and yes we could, so we did.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ker-Ching! (Part 2 of a Never Ending Series)

The Times has a first class scoop today about a sophisticated tax-avoidance scheme that has been used by public figures. The Times sits behind its paywall but the Mail picks up the story this morning, under a headline that included doctors and judges among the would-be evaders. That is suspicious - for one thing the press are very free with whom they style a judge (eg Ms Briscoe) and the person involved might well be a deputy District Judge at Mudtown-on-the-Wolds County Court. Secondly, judges earn a fraction of the sums that the people named by the Times are pulling in. A Circuit Judge won't  bring in much more than £130,000, and that is petty cash to most of those named by the Times.

This story will run for a while, I suspect.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Cynical? Moi? Make it Realistic, Then

I first received the news of Rolf Harris' sentence when I was away on holiday, and it did not surprise me, but what did surprise me was the announcement, immediately after sentence was pronounced, that the sentence was being referred upwards as Unduly Lenient. I understand that such an application can be made by anyone within about four weeks of the pronouncement but this seemed to be extraordinarily swift.
Then it clicked:- just imagine that a tabloid newspaper had a reporter primed and ready to make the application in his private capacity, with a motorbike messenger on standby outside.
Commenters in the tabloids have shown their customary mixture of relish and sadism over the fact that a ruined man stands to die incarcerated. The law makes that unavoidable, but what do these people want?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hiatus

Sorry there isn't a lot going on, but I'm in Brittany, with just an iPad, and McDonalds' weefy to rely on. Back next week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So It's NFA Then........

This report speaks for itself. Perhaps in future those who rushed to condemn will think twice.

Here's what we said at the time

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That's A New One

We were listed to hear an all-day trial yesterday, but the defendant had returned to his Eastern European home town a week ago, where he sadly died, so that was the end of that.
We busied ourselves with a few Search Warrants, which are much more complicated these days, following High Court rulings that a warrant is a serious interference with the citizen's liberty. There is now a multi-page application form on which the judge or justice has to state reasons for granting the warrant. JPs who deal with warrants at home have to be extra careful these days.
 I have never dealt with an application at home because I live too far from the court, but colleagues who live a short way from the police station are well used to a nocturnal phone call from the duty clerk followed by a visit from an officer.
We then dealt with a couple of Pre-Sentence Report cases, both involving Eastern Europeans, and I was able to warn them that if they were tempted to ignore the financial penalties, such as costs and surcharge, the fact would come up on the Border Force computer every time that they came to the UK, when they could expect some cell time at the airport.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ker-Ching!

This article summarises planned increases to the maximum fine levels that may be imposed by magistrates. The press have mostly jumped to the conclusion that the maximum fine will become he usual fine. It will not - after all when did you last hear of a simple drink-drive attracting the maximum £5000 fine? Courts must impose fines that are commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, and within the ability of the offender to pay within a reasonable period. Really hefty fines are usually levied on businesses with deep pockets, often for Health and Safety or Trading Standards offences. In practice, our run-of-the-mill customer on JSA is unlikely ever to face a fine of more than about £250 , because deductions from benefits at £5 per week will take a year to pay off at least.

So in reality, not a lot will change. A whacking fine that is uncollectable simply makes a mockery of the system.