Thursday, August 11, 2016

Glad This Wasn't Me!

A judge who was verbally abused by a defendant reciprocated at a court hearing where he was being sentenced for breaching an antisocial behaviour order.
John Hennigan, 50, who had breached the order by using racist language towards a black woman and her two children told Chelmsford crown court judge Patricia Lynch QC that she was “a bit of a cunt”. And Judge Lynch replied: “You are a bit of a cunt yourself.”
When Hennigan screamed back “Go fuck yourself”, the judge replied: “You too.” He reportedly also shouted “Sieg Heil” – a pro-Hitler chant used in Nazi Germany – and banged the glass panel of the dock as he was jailed for 18 months.
Hennigan, from Harlow, Essex, has dozens of previous convictions for offences including drug and firearm possession and common assault.
An asbo was previously imposed on him in 2005 when a swastika was discovered daubed on the front door of his council house.

I can understand the Judge's  reaction, but I have never used that word in court, other than in direct quotation from the evidence.

Perhaps a quiet word from the circuit presider might be in order here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Enough, Already!

This is not a political blog, although politics inevitably creep in to discussions of matters legal. I have followed politics since I was at school, although I was never elected to anything. The current situation beggars belief, and I imagine that today's crop of journalists will shake their heads in their old age, and say "but you should have been there in the summer of 2016; everything seemed to happen at once. " I am now even more convinced that my belief in the iron Law of Unintended consequences is the right one.

I have had to cut back on my sittings of late, as I am awaiting an operation to give me a new knee joint, and although I can get around in the courthouse it isn't always easy. As I am due to retire from the Bench in late October I have excused myself from getting to grips with some of the more complex innovations that have recently been introduced, such as iPads on the bench. I own a couple of iPads and I am comfortable with using them, but inevitably any government-issued software is over-engineered and the last thing from user-friendly.

My court has a few boxes that contain the iPads as well as charging them overnight, but those JPs who wish to use them have to submit to training as well as an elaborate procedure to keep them secure. It is worse for judges of course, but then they are paid £130k and more to cope.

Given my impending retirement, I cannot summon up the enthusiasm to get stuck in to this 21st century stuff  (albeit the technology is a decade old).

I am trying to avoid becoming what old Army types call demob-happy so I shall concentrate on justice before bureaucracy.

Sunday, July 03, 2016


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


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


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?