Saturday, January 29, 2005

Alphabet Soup

There is something about the law that attracts acronyms and jargon. As Latin slowly disappears from everyday use in the courts it is more than replaced by impenetrable sets of initials. There is supposed to be a drive on to improve the clarity and transparency of court proceedings, and I have made it something of a personal campaign to see that everyone who appears before me leaves the court knowing what has happened, why it has happened, and what will happen next. There is a craze for renaming things that are currently well understood so that they are not understood in the future. That is why when I sentence someone to a Community Rehabilitation Order, I add "that's what used to be called probation" - and everyone knows what that is.

Jargon causes misunderstandings, even offence. It is usual to refer to a driver who has accumulated twelve penalty points on his licence as a 'totter' because of the so-called 'totting up' procedure. Unfortunately a 'totter' is also London slang for an old fashioned rag-and-bone man (or junk collector). One day my clerk told a respectable driver who had broken the speed limit once too often that he was a totter. "Excuse me Miss" he said. "I have come all the way from Devon to be here today. I'll take my punishment and I'll pay my fine. But I didn't come here to be insulted".

The Lord Chancellor's Department is now the Department for Constitutional Affairs, or decaff to those in the trade. The lady of a certain age who used to be the secretary to the Clerk is now the Justices' Liaison Officer, or J-Lo. Probation and prison services have merged into NOMS - National Offender Management Service. We have, just in my court which has about 50 staff, a BLM, a BOM, a JLO, and a PLO as well as some CPS. The police now have the CPS in the CJU. The Chairman of my bench has to go to JIG and AJF and LCF and NBCF and CCL and CUG meetings, to name but a few. Some meetings are at the GLMCA and some are at Region which was going to be renamed Sector but is now going to be Area. The latter change was, believe it or not, to avoid confusion!

We see a defendant whose previous record used to be a 609 before it became an MG16 (and even the police didn't know what that was). It's been renamed again but we call it a 609 anyway. It is read before a PSR can be done, of course. Indictable-only stuff goes upstairs under Section 51 Narey, even though that's not the real name of the enactment. The usher comes in and says "Just a couple of 158s Sir, then there's a 152, then you might have time for a cup of tea".

Drivers with dodgy cars get a VDRS and drink drivers may be offered the DDRS, although they might have a CPO as well. And we have to tell DVLA about that.

When the Justices of the Peace Act was passed in 1361 (it's still in force) things were rather simpler.

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