Sunday, March 01, 2015

Dole Bludgers

Every magistrate will be familiar with cases brought by the Department for Work and Pensions against people who have claimed benefits to which they are not entitled. Sometimes it is a claimant who manages to get a job, and fails to declare it, sometimes it is failing to own up to living with someone else while claiming single-person benefits. Most people I have seen are women, ranging from young claimants who apply for nursing training and fail to declare the bursary to which they are then entitled to young mothers who allow lover-boy to move in on the quiet.
In no time at all the amount overclaimed runs up to some enormous figures, especially once housing benefit and suchlike is factored in. In suburban London a not-too-special one bedroom flat can easily cost £700 per month. A recent case involved overclaims of over £22,000 piled up over a mere 78 weeks.

We imposed a period of unpaid work as the only realistic option, and as often happens there was no claim for compensation because it is now policy for the paying authorities to carry out their own enforcement procedures. We imposed minimal costs, because there was no chance that they would ever be paid.

I let my house for a couple of years some time ago, and the tenant's business went bust after about eight months. Housing benefit was paid directly to me by the council, and that worked fine. I have no idea why the system was changed to give the cash directly to the tenant - it looked like asking for trouble to me.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Will Straw is the son of former Home Secretary Jack Straw. After being president of the National Union of Students, Jack went to work for the late Barbara Castle, and in due course he slipped smoothly into her seat in the Commons.

By an amazing coincidence, young Will has been selected to stand for the adjacent constituency of Rossendale and Darwen.. Well, I say coincidence, but I suppose something might have slipped under the radar, as the saying goes.

If you do a search for Jack Straw on this blog, you will see that I am not his greatest admirer. Will must be cursing his luck at this latest affair.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rich, Spoilt, Irresponsible Bastards

My wife and I have just returned home from from a lovely week in North Wales. Our cottage was comfortable with stunning views across Conwy harbour. Being out of the holiday season (although we were blessed with three sunny days) the roads were quiet and for once we travelled at our own modest speed rather than that of the cars in front.

The A55 runs east-west across the North Wales coast, and is of near-motorway standard. The other evening we were on our way back from a trip round Anglesey and my wife was driving at a relaxed sixty-something as I contemplated the dinner to come. Suddenly, with a blast of noise, we were overtaken by a Lamborghini, followed at a few car lengths, by a Ferrari. I do not presume to estimate their precise speed, but they appeared to be racing or in convoy, and their speed was, at a conservative guesstimate, well into the realm of double the national 70 mph limit.

Then they were gone. A mile up the road was a gathering of Heddlu cars (Welsh for police, I am told) but they would have had no chance of doing anything about the hooligans in their £150,000 worth of toys, even if their diesel Skodas had been up to the job.

All right, nobody died, but the drivers concerned took a calculated risk with others' lives. My magistrate's instincts kicked in, and I saw this as a clear Dangerous Driving matter, calling for heavy fines, and, most importantly, substantial driving bans. They can throw money at their cars, but it's loss of licence that really hits home.

I rarely do traffic cases since they have been hived off into special courts, but sometimes I would like a flip-up sign on my car saying "If you knew I was a magistrate you might not have done that".

Pure fantasy, of course.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Monday, February 09, 2015

Even Clouseau Was Better Than This

This is an outrage.

For one thing it is the sort of thing that the Stasi used to specialise in, and for another what the hell is going on in the command structure of this police force?

Friday, February 06, 2015

I Think You Are Right There M'Lud

I understand that Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice (so my boss) has expressed doubts about the practice in most criminal courts of putting the defendant into a secure glass dock. Unless there is a good reason to prevent escape, or assault on court staff, we never allow a defendant to be handcuffed, because that might prejudice him in the sight of the jury or bench. I have seen a handful of cases over the years in which cuffs were allowed, but in most cases there is no real need to lock the defendant in a glass cell, especially if he is unconvicted. Let's see how this turns out.

Only The Best

We sent a credit card fraudster up to the Crown Court for sentence last week. He had a string of previous convictions, and the latest set showed sophistication and planning. The totality of his offending pushed him past the Too Serious For Us test.

The total amount of the latest frauds was well over £19,000, mostly on travel to exotic places. I was struck by the fact that our man had chosen to fly  business class. Clearly he had no wish to rough it with the hoi polloi at the back of the plane. He is now in less-than-luxurious accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

It’s not all about guilty or not guilty.(by Bystander N)

One day last week my courthouse played host to a group of youngsters from a primary school in our justice area, under the auspices of MiC.  Magistrates in the Community gives magistrates a chance to volunteer to talk to groups of school kids, university students or adults, about the court system either at the court or outside court.

First the group went into a court room before the start of business; whilst two magistrates explained generally what happens in court, about the offences dealt with etc. etc.  Witness Support came and spoke for a few minutes about how evidence is given by young people and the measures taken to help them to prepare for giving their evidence, and about screens and video link.  They saw the cells and a prison van thanks to the Serco staff who went out of their way to be helpful and spoke to the group about some of their work.  I’m pleased to report the kids definitely had no wish ever to see a cell or the inside of a van again.

Then it was into a court room’s public gallery.  Unfortunately they then spent quite some time listening to a case management form being completed which was hardly the lively cut and thrust they might have wanted to hear but we were in the real world.

Finally there was a question and answer session.  It was amazing how much of the detail they had picked up during the case management and of the bail conditions so they were clearly listening intently.  They asked a lot of very sensible questions.  They knew about several offences but it came as surprise that if they decided to stop going to school and play truant every day, their parents could face prosecution. 

All in all a very well worthwhile morning’s work and the future suddenly seems a little safer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Not Always Exciting, This Job...

Today was a stultifyingly boring sitting at one of our outlying courthouses. We dealt with a couple of routine applications (that are of course important to the applicants) and moved on, after a good 20 minutes' coffee time, to a trial. Well, that was the plan, anyway. The CPS were not sure about how far the case had got and the court office was not too sure either. We hung around, as one does, and went to lunch.

My day then brightened up, because I was accompanied to the outlying courthouse by one of my favourite colleagues , a charming and amusing former teacher, who spotted the fact that the west London traffic had prevented me from buying a pre-packed sandwich en route. Bless her, she bought me a Greggs chicken-and-something sarnie and, as ever, refused to take a penny for it.

Back to the court: the prosecutor had a soft and even-toned voice that would lull  anyone to sleep ( in fact the usher did nod off) .

So we followed first principles and acquitted the defendant, following our guidelines to the letter

Heigh-ho, we can have another go in a week or three.