Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Dog That Didn't Bark In The Night

There has been a total lack of any significant debate on the criminal justice system in the election 'campaigns' so far.In a way I am relieved, since in the heat of a campaign the only ideas likely to emerge would be stupid or vicious or both. Instead the parties are trying to buy our votes with improbable amounts of our own (or our grandchildren's) money. Depressing.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Oaf Fait

A charmless young man came before us charged with assault, having punched the referee in a game of park football. Spectators on the touchline were shocked and someone called the police who duly arrested and charged the assailant.

Our colleagues at the early hearing adjourned the case for the preparation of pre-sentence reports, with a view to a community penalty. Twice he failed to turn up for his interview, then when he finally deigned to attend his behaviour towards the probation officer was so confrontational that she terminated he interview and submitted a so-called 'non-report' to us. His extensive list of previous convictions showed a propensity to violence,  so we took the precaution of putting him in the armoured-glass dock  in case he kicked off again.

We decided that there was no future in the community sentence route, so we sent him to prison for 18 weeks, reduced to 12 weeks as credit for his plea. I hope that he learns a lesson from this episode.


An election leaflet from my Lib Dem candidate dropped onto the mat yesterday. I had a glance at the candidate's details and was surprised to see that he claims to be a JP. When I was sworn in, we were told of certain basic no-nos, and high up the list was misuse of the JP status, including on any election literature.

I expect the hapless chap will be hearing from the Clerk to the Justices any time soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A New One On Me

We had a case of Outraging Public Decency in the other day - not an everyday occurrence in my court. A rather unsavoury looking woman of 22 admitted having full-on sex with a man on public transport, in full view of other passengers at eight in the morning. For some reason the man concerned had been dealt with a couple of weeks ago, so it seemed fair to give her the same sentence.

There is no specific guideline for this so we took a cue from that for Sexual Activity in a Public Lavatory, namely a fine. She had spent two days in custody, so we deemed the fine and surcharge served.

What's Going On At The MA?

The Magistrates' Association has puzzled a few of us in recent weeks.  I have been a member for about 30 years, dutifully coughing up thirty-odd quid each year. In recent years the MA website Members' Section has included a (passworded) forum. It has never attracted many contributors, but I have chipped in occasionally, as have luminaries such as Richard Monkhouse, the MA Chairman. Now, it has simply vanished, without any notice to readers and contributors nor any explanation as to why. My passwords for the Members' Section are now rejected.

This seems a shabby way to treat paid-up members. I cannot see that the Forum did any harm to anyone, after all.

Forum software is cheap and plentiful, so perhaps someone will set up a site where JPs can talk to each other and compare notes without fear of being got at by the tabloids.

Monday, April 13, 2015

On a Personal Note

Saturday's Boat Race (s) and tonight's University Challenge remind me of my 1950s childhood in the school playground. Menacing groups of lads (ignorant to a man of anything to do with universities) would question you whether you supported the dark or the light Blues. The 'wrong' answer would be punished. For whatever reason I supported Oxford.

Many years later my dear daughter got into Cambridge where she met my son-in-law. They married in the College Chapel, so I have to admit that I have changed my alliegance.

It doesn't mean a thing really. but it shows how small things can create loyalties.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

How Much Did That Cost?

(From Bystander N)

I recently spent time in a crown court’s public gallery.  I’m used to being on the bench with a judge or recorder, but not elsewhere in the court room.

My first two impressions were not favourable.  Much of the seating used by the advocates was ripped or badly worn and held together with masking tape.  The proceedings started about forty minutes late mainly because the prosecutor needed time to copy a summary for the jurors.  Why, I asked myself, wasn’t this done before the start of the trial?

The offence was sexual assault and definitely at the lower end of the scale.  A hand was alleged to have cupped a buttock, over clothing.  I was there on day two and heard that when the alleged victim gave evidence she said she hadn’t felt anything and hadn’t known an offence had taken place.  A friend who was with her said she had seen it.  I heard the defendant being examined and cross examined.  No doubt the judge, in summing up, would have told the jury that his having no previous made him more believable than otherwise. 

To give just a little of the background the defendant said the incident started when a small group of teenagers on his bus seemed to him to be talking about him and laughing at him.  He told them to behave themselves.  Based on his evidence, the CC TV from which I could not see any offence committed, and what I heard of what the other witnesses had said I felt the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  I came away with a question though.

I knew by lunch on day two that there were three civilian prosecution witnesses, the defendant and the officer in the case who I also heard give evidence.  There were some agreed statements.  The officer’s evidence left questions in my mind over the way they had dealt with it, but I digress.  I worked out that if held in my court the trial should have been set for a day.  I would be surprised if a magistrates’ court had declined jurisdiction and it was more likely that the defendant, or rather his solicitor, had opted for crown court. 

In those august surroundings, three days had been allocated.  What did that cost, whoever ended up paying, compared with what it would have cost in my court?  No wonder the justice system is short of money.

Monday, April 06, 2015


Comments to this blog are always welcome, and are moderated with a light touch. However I have just had to hold a couple that go into detail of someone's case. Unfortunately the blog is not the place to go over old individual cases. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Callous and Destructive

This is the latest atrocity to be imposed on the courts by the ministry that calls itself "Justice" with no sense of irony.

Whoever dreamed this scheme up must not only lack any empathy with fragile human beings, but also lack any kind of experience of what day to day life is like in the lower courts, and the rough estates.

Most of our defendants are poor and many are ill-educated and close to unemployable. A high proportion are in receipt of benefits.

Now, in addition to the courts' sanctions we must, without judicial discretion, impose large financial penalties on those who appear before us. We may not take account of ability to pay, which has been an underlying principle for as long as I have been on the bench.

The impositions are unlikely to be collected (Blood/stone principle) and the amount outstanding will rapidly escalate into the multi-millions.

So much for the fine principles of rehabilitation.

When our revolving-door druggy shoplifter is released from his latest prison sentence, along with his release grant he will be handed a bill for potentially hundreds of pounds to pay out of his princely seventy-odd quid a week benefit. What is he likely to do?

 Go back to crime, of course.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

More From Bystander N

Magistrates don’t usually know until arrival what the business will be of the court room we are allocated to, or who we will be sitting with for the day.  It could be remands, trials, breaches of orders or other work.  Recently, for me, it was sentencing.

Over the day we completed our list of about a dozen or so cases and helped out another busy court with some of theirs.  We agreed with most of the report recommendations and changed a couple.

At the end of the day I asked my colleagues if they had noticed anything unusual about the day.  They hadn’t and perhaps they were right but it had struck me that every single one of the reports we had read said that the defendant had a mental health problem and in several cases we had an extra report from a mental health team worker.  One offence took place in a hospital in which the defendant and victim had been admitted as a result of acute mental health problems.  In another, and with no extra report, I was far from convinced it was true but in many cases we didn’t even need the extra report to recognise the blindingly obvious in front of us. 

Probably the most notable, but in the scheme of things totally unremarkable case was the drug addicted alcoholic before us who stole a pack of four cans of lager.  He got two out of their plastic top cover but was stopped on leaving the store.  He hadn’t opened any of the cans, they were repacked in the supermarket and put back for sale, but he was arrested.  We had no idea why the store didn’t just tell him what for and send him on his merry way but I suspect they knew him of old and had simply had enough.  Many shops have a policy of calling the police when they stop a thief, regardless of the value of what was taken.

He pleaded guilty and appeared to be sober when we saw him.  I pointed out to him that this would be the ninetieth offence on his record and you can imagine what most of the previous offences were.  He has been to prison many times for theft.  In mitigation we heard that he had no home and had been an addict for a long time.  His life revolved around going to his chemist for his heroin substitute prescription, and finding ways to get alcohol.  He looked at least twenty years older than his true age. 

He had been arrested almost twenty four hours before appearing before us so we fined him, deemed it served as he had no money, and ordered that he be kept in the cells until they closed later that afternoon.  At least he would then go away having had a meal, back no doubt to hanging around his chemist and anywhere stocking alcohol.  I resisted the temptation to say goodbye and see you soon, but no doubt I will.