Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just A Minute.....

The police are dealing with the horrible Bristol murder, and we ought to let them get on with their job. A man is in custody, and investigations continue. If there is enough evidence the CPS will authorise charge, and the justice system will take its course.

Partly because of the time of year and partly because the victim was a photogenic young woman the press have gone all the way to report who they (nudge-nudge) think did it. High quality full-face photographs adorn every front page.

I grew up used to phrases such as 'helping police with their enquiries'. Even before the current tight rules on identification evidence photographs of suspects were not printed for fear of prejudicing a jury. .

It may be unlikely in this or any case, but if the evidence turned on identification, a notoriously tricky area of law, how the heck could twelve jurors be found in Bristol who did not already know what the accused looks like?

It's a lost cause of course, as our system becomes more and more American.

(Later) The Attorney-General isn't happy either. Shame it's too late.

Update - Fat lot of good the AG's warning did: The Sun couldn't give a toss.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bit Strong?

Tim and Vic have both drawn my attention to this report. Of course Nor'nIr'n is different from England and Wales, but on the face of it six months seems a bit strong. I wonder how the appeal will go?

Which Is The Satire?

A) An Immigration Officer is presented with a passport bearing the photograph of a teenage white girl, who bears no resemblance to the middle-aged Asian male in front of him. He decides to admit the passenger with a warning to update his passport photo.

B) UK Border Agency (that's what they call Customs these days) staff at Heathrow receive an email asking them not to look too hard, or even at all, over the Christmas holiday for drug mules who have swallowed packets of Class A, because well, you know, staff have to have a break, and nicking swallowers is so, like, time-consuming, what with all the X-rays and the rummaging through faeces in the special toilet, so just wave them through, all right?

One of the above featured in a TV comedy show, and one is real. Depressingly, either could be true.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time And A Half?

The press is carrying some horrible reports of murder terrorism and general mayhem. It may be that there is a surge in these crimes but what is more likely is that the lack of political and celebrity news is forcing journos to give prominence to what they have.
Because the law requires those charged to be brought before a court at the earliest opportunity some members of the judiciary have been on standby over the holiday, as they are over every holiday. The new Chief Magistrate himself was dragged away from his cold turkey sandwiches to deal with a terrorism case yesterday. Every court has to have arrangements in place to deal with out-of-hours stuff, from a humble JP who signs a warrant at 3 am in his pyjamas, to the duty High Court judge to deal with the heavy matters. I live too far from my court to be of much use out of hours, but one (now retired) colleague who lived 300 yards round the corner from the police station became very well acquainted with the oh-my-god-o'clock phone call.
I used to do Saturday morning remand courts, and when I had the right clerk there was never any doubt that I would be able to get to my local by 12.30.
The security staff may get time and a half. The magistrates get their usual nothing. Luckily for the defendants, they don't get time-and-a-half at weekends.

Toad Beware!

Today's 'Times' third leader is about speed cameras. I can't link to it because of the paywall, but I am sure that nice Mr. Murdoch won't mind a couple of quotes from my printed copy of the paper:-

whether drivers should be forced to wear seatbelts was once an impassioned debate. Opponents believed a law threatened liberty and would make drivers more careless.......

A generation later, speed cameras are an enduring part of the roadside, having been introduced in 1992. Yet there is still a mythology that regards them as the invention of interfering politicians. This notion is as unjustified as the aversion to compulsory seatbelts: speed cameras save lives by slowing traffic.......

(re. speed awareness courses)..
So far from providing an easy option for dangerous drivers, the scheme would raise revenue for technology that saves lives. The courses would have high fees; these would in part fund the provision and maintenance of speed cameras.

The populist objection to speed cameras cannot withstand the results of scientific research. Some 800 people a year would be killed or seriously injured if speed cameras were decommissioned. But speed cameras do not raise money: the Treasury receives on average £4 for every £60 fine levied. Now that public finances are so constrained, imaginative ideas for raising money and spending it better are especially worth noting and acting on.

So may I counsel the petrolheads and speed freaks whom I am proud to count among my readers to avoid today's 'Times'. The arguments won't convince you, so why spoil a holiday week?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reasonable Doubt v Balance of Probabilities

The burden of proof is different in civil and criminal matters. This looks like an example of the different tests that are applied:-

Gadget is not happy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Year's Revolution?

Before I switch into Christmas mode (and how glad am I not to be travelling this year?)can I just send a signal to the Magistrates' Association, of which I have been a member for two dozen years?

Even (to quote the late and unlamented Robert Maxwell) a one-eyed Albanian can see that 2011 will bring unprecedentedly rapid change to the justice system. The MA is doing its best, as sincerely and with the same effect as King Canute. The fundamental problem is that most magistrates regard the MA as an irrelevance. The first move to tackle that has to be to dump the MA's structure with the same determination that the Government is bringing to the public service, and put in something with shorter lines of communication based on benches rather than absurd branches. A JP who sits at Harrow is a member of the Middlesex branch, most of whose meetings are in Bloomsbury. The sheer logistics of travel put most people off attending. The new London benches will mostly be around 450 strong, and will be viable units for the MA to build on.

The government is in a hurry, for understandable reasons. The MA needs to gather up its skirts and join in the rush to reform. If it fails, when the music stops there may be no chair for it.

Beanwatch - Update

Mr. Justice Bean is certainly being allocated a lot of high-profile and sensitive trials these days:- the BAe bribes case in which he had a lot to say about the prosecution's performance, the ground-breaking double jeopardy murder trial and, from earlier this year,
this sad case.

No Virtues In Virtual Courts

I hope that the nice people at Crime Line (link in sidebar) will forgive me for lifting the following:-

The virtual courts pilot has shown that the system is expensive and inefficient and should not be rolled out, says the Law Society after the Ministry of Justice's own report on the pilot showed it was more expensive than traditional courts.

Virtual courts, whereby the defendant remains physically at the police station instead of in court and instead appears via video link to the court room, was supposed to save money and prove more efficient, but the MoJ's review of the pilot says "the economic model reinforces the message that a roll-out based on the pilot’s performance and parameters is likely to cost more money than it saves."

The report also found that, rather than reducing the number of hearings per case, there were actually more hearings in the virtual courts pilot than traditional court hearings.

Law Society President Linda Lee says: "The findings in this report show that, in their present form, virtual courts will not achieve efficiencies. Any savings made were exceeded by the additional costs generated by the process, including high set-up and running costs for the virtual court technology and higher legal aid costs.

“Virtual court activity also placed additional burdens on police custody officers, case file handlers and, most significantly, Designated Detention Officers (DDOs), who were charged with overseeing Virtual Court hearings in custody suites.

“It would be wholly irresponsible for the Government to roll out an expensive and inefficient process when justice and the rule of law is at stake.

"The Society has, for some time, been opposing the virtual courts idea for a range of reasons, including the impact it would have on genuine access to justice. The report on the pilot confirms those concerns."

Read the report here:

I hope that the financial arguments do for the scheme, because nobody really gives a toss about the potential for injustice.

I spoke to a senior HMCS person yesterday, who nodded sagely and said "Yes - but they haven't pulled the scheme have they?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small World

The BBC has used a stock photograph in this report. Only two of the four people shown are really magistrates, and three of the four have been retired for some time.

End Of The Phoney War

With the end of the consultation period on court reorganisation and closures and the recent announcement of which courts are to be closed, the real hard graft is about to begin. The closure programme, coupled with redundancy of many staff and redeployment of many JPs will present the salaried and volunteer teams who run the courts' system with severe challenges - the timescale is short and everyone is going to have to show the utmost goodwill to make things work.
I have seen a paper giving the Judicial Office's thoughts on deployment of JPs after the round of bench mergers. I can't say too much because I don't think it's yet in the public domain (no Assange I, I don't have the kind of friends who could pony up a quarter of a million quid to get me bail) but it is going to be badly received in some places.
In London, most courts including my own are to be merged with two neighbours, and the benches merged to create a new Local Justice Area which will have, in our case, three courthouses of differing quality, while three smaller ones will be closed. That will give us a Bench of between 400 and 500 magistrates, and work is already in hand to discuss and to negotiate how it will work. There is likely to be one Bench Chairman, but there will have to be a Deputy at each courthouse in all probability. Key committees such as the Training and Development Committee that has the task of approving chairmen and monitoring appraisals and mentoring will need local sub-committees to retain the local knowledge that they rely on.
The rota systems differ between the courts, and will have to be sensitively handled. There has always been a tension between the need to keep the bench open to as many people as possible and the demands of running an efficient court. The rules insist that we accommodate those who can only sit for half-days (our attendances are always counted in half-day units) but that can mean a 'sitting' of just an hour or two. Someone who has made the minimum level of 26 sittings might in reality have had just 50 or 100 hours of court time in a year. That is not enough to build or to maintain competence. Some people can only sit on a particular day, which means that they are likely to see a limited range of work. If your half-day is every other Monday afternoon and that is when the bus-fare dodgers or TV licence defaulters are listed, your judicial life is going to be pretty dull. Half-day sitters will rarely see a trial, other than the simplest, because we can't take a chance of having to adjourn if the case runs over the lunch break.
Some colleagues are anxious about having to travel between courts, but that will sometimes be unavoidable, especially if JPs are to see a full range of work. With luck we may be able to leave people based at their home court, just sitting 'away' a few times a year. Some of us do that already when workloads demand it, but it doesn't suit everyone.
The touchiest subject is likely to be the redeployment of those whose courts are to close. In a minority of cases there might not be a suitable place to send them, at least in the short term, and that may cause understandable resentment among a group of public-spirited unpaid public servants. And of course there is an informal freeze on recruitment until matters settle down. The Advisory Committees are about to be restructured and we have been told to expect no new colleagues for at least a year. The existing deployment pattern of District Judges will also have to be altered to fit the new LJAs.
There is a huge task ahead, and that's just for the magistrates. Court staff are aware that nobody's job will be untouched. Some admin staff from west London are being transferred to Rose Court, near Tate Modern. For someone used to a fifteen minute commute it will be traumatic to be flung into the maelstrom of rush hour city centre transport. Legal Advisers will be trimmed in numbers, and some grades will probably disappear - at a time when legal jobs are pretty scarce.
You will hear a lot more from me as the process goes on. I think we will make it work, but it won't be easy, and there isn't a lot of time to do it.

Yes, Americans Are Different

This fascinating report could hardly come from anywhere else.

Thanks to our exotic friend Bogol for the link.

Stories That Make You Go 'Hmmmmm' - Part 27

No Comment

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now Look Here

I know that the Internet is a free and often unruly medium. I know that people sometimes say things through a keyboard that they would not say in real life. But I am getting fed up with having to go through the comments to weed out unnecessary abuse of other posters or bloggers.

This is not a democracy, it's my blog. I started it to try to inform, to entertain, and to stimulate debate about something I care deeply about. I am not having schoolyard abuse cluttering up the comments because they are not just tedious, but they drive off people with a serious interest. I have already set a number of commenters to be pre-moderated, which means that nothing from them will be posted until I have looked at it. Vigorous debate, wit, comment are all welcome. Mindless abuse is not. I will block the names and IP addresses of repeat or particularly obnoxious offenders, and they can go and play elsewhere. No appeals, no second chances.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anarchy! Anarchy! They've All Got It ......

In the current moral panic about misbehaviour on the streets of the capital, the ever-present 'outside agitators' and suchlike have reappeared, as they always do. My heart was warmed to read rants on Gadget's comments about soap and getting jobs. The old one about unwashed protesters is a right-wing standby. Ironically, the precious and spoiled-brat Charlie Gilmour probably spends more on grooming in a week than a copper earns in a month. Unwashed he ain't. Unwise, and intoxicated with the elixir of being young, pretty, loaded and famous he certainly is. He obviously fancies himself something rotten, as a member of the true aristocracy, the peers of rock'n'roll.

Anyway:- Do we remember a few years ago when a self-styled anarchist called, if I recall aright, Danbert Nobacon, tipped a jug of water over John Prescott (a common assault in anyone's book)? The day after this heroic attack on one of the few genuinely working-class members of the Blair government Mr. Nobacon flew off to sunny climes. I really wanted to ask him if his anarchic beliefs extended to Air Traffic Control and pilot training, but I think that I knew the answer.

The great Bernard Levin used to call his type 'fun-revolutionaries'. That will do me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More About Assange

The Wikileaks man has now been granted conditional bail, but remains inside while the bail decision is appealed. The CPS quite often appeals bail these days, but I have no idea of their success rate.

One slightly curious thing though - it appears that the District Judge imposed a mixture of a security (i.e. a cash deposit) of £200,000 with two sureties (promises to pay if he doesn't turn up) of £20,000 each. I have never seen a mixture like this, but I guess it has to be legal if the Chief Magistrate has done it. Looking at the financial status of supporters such as the Goldsmith heiress Jemima Khan, I can't imagine why their sureties wouldn't do, but readies are what is required.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

This rather pathetic neighbour dispute is the sort of thing that any magistrate will be familiar with.
Unfortunately for the Circuit Judge concerned, her job has pushed the story into the headlines. In the same way any small incident involving me could easily escalate into "JP in neighbour From Hell Row" when nobody would be interested in the story without the JP angle.

A long time ago I was a guest, in my business capacity, at a cricket club's annual dinner. The meal was followed by an 'exotic cabaret'. The current Australian tourists were present, and when the 'cabaret' started matters became raucous. I shall draw a veil over what happened next, but as one of the dancers became rather involved with a man from the audience I felt my survival instinct kicking in. "The JP, the Aussies, and The Strippers" is not a headline that I fancy being involved in, so I made my excuses and left for the bar, where I nursed a serious and solitary gin and tonic while matters took their course.

Years have passed, and my strongest recollection is of Merv Hughes calling out to the black dancer: "Come on darling, show us your pink bits".

Primus Inter Pares

Sitting in the remand court last week, I was flanked by two colleagues. At the lunch break it turned out that one court had run out of business, and that one of my colleagues really wanted to attend her daughter's school carol service. Matters were sorted out, and the carol service lady was able to leave while one of the people from the superfluous court came in to take her place. So far, so normal.
My replacement winger happened to be a very senior magistrate, only a year or so less experienced than me. The other magistrate, who has fewer than eighteen months in the job said "I think that I shall just keep quiet; you two are so experienced".
"No!" we replied in unison. "Your views are just as valid as ours, and your fresh viewpoint is important to keep us on the straight and narrow".

It is quite rightly one-man-one-vote on the bench. You have the same powers on the day before you retire as you had on the day you were sworn in.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back To The Future

When I first joined the Bench it was usual for a police sergeant to prosecute low-level crimes, and a constable to deal with lesser traffic cases. That all stopped with the introduction of the CPS. They started off using lawyers, often Counsel, but over the years they have come to do most cases themselves, appointing 'lawyer-lite' Associate Prosecutors to do the simpler stuff. HM Revenue and Customs prosecutions are now handled by the CPS, so this work has gone from being presented by warranted Customs officers, to Counsel, to CPS staff lawyers.
I recently sat on a Proceeds of Crime Act forfeiture application and was surprised to see that the applicant was a Met Police Detective Sergeant. The case was well prepared and the respondent who had had his cash seized managed to give three differing accounts of the money's origin; one when the police searched his home, another in interview, and a third in the witness box, so we had little difficulty deciding on the civil standard of the balance of probabilities that the cash was recoverable property.
After the case was over I asked the officer if we were likely to see police officers doing more of their own court work, at least in PoCA cases, and he said that was indeed the case, as it worked out a lot cheaper than using a lawyer. So the wheel has almost gone full circle, in a couple of decades.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Déja Vu Again (no 244 of a series)

If you go to the search box in the top left-hand corner of the blog front page and type in 'ASBO' you will find that these orders have concerned me for some time. Most people in the system recognise them for the populist claptrap that they can so easily become, although anyone who can be bothered to read through my archived posts can see that I think the orders have a part to play when properly thought through and sensibly formulated. Their usage is in decline.
This week one of our regular customers turned up for sentence on a handful of offences, and for consideration of an ASBO application. He is in his early fifties, but looks twenty years older, is an alcoholic with mental problems, and is a pain in the bum to the local population, when drunk. As it happened we had to put the case off because the psychiatric report that had been ordered by my colleagues wasn't ready. He squinted at me through his bleary eyes, and nodded his head as I explained S-L-O-W-L-Y that the case couldn't go ahead and that he has to come back in three weeks or so.

I shan't see him when he comes back. I have no idea what will be in the reports. I don't know what the answer is to a dim and confused alcoholic who staggers around, swears at strangers, and calls the fire brigade for no reason. But I do know that the answer isn't an ASBO, because ASBOs only deter those with the mental capacity to be deterred. At this point, I would implore any MOJ staffer who has access to Ken Clarke's inbox and who happens to read this stuff - and I know there are a few of you - to tell him that what's going to happen here is typical of the reason why prisons are cluttered up with inadequates.

He will be given an ASBO prohibiting various pain-in-the-arse activities. He will breach it within a few weeks. He will probably get a suspended 28 days or so. He will breach it again. He will go inside for, in reality, a few weeks. He will come out better fed and less smelly than he went in. Then he will breach again. JPs will get fed up with him and send him to the wigs for sentence. A Recorder with a busy list will glance at the guidelines and give him nine months. Guess what happens when he comes out? Go on; you know don't you? Breach, prison, and so on to the crack of doom. And the underlying offences, of drunkenness, Section 5 POA and the rest are all low-level fine-only jobs.

Clear him and his like out of the prisons, Mr. Clarke, and you will be well on the way to your 3000 reduction in the prisoner headcount. But you will have to find something else to do with them.

Wiki Leaker Locked Up

There have been a few comments about the bail decision in the case of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks figurehead. From the information available in the press, I don't think that I would have bailed him either.
Are there substantial grounds to fear that if granted bail he would abscond, commit further offences, or interfere with witnesses? We are dealing with the Swedish warrant alleging a sexual offence. He is clearly an international citizen without a job home or family in the UK. I have no idea how the Swedes deal with these matters, but on any analysis a conviction is likely to lead to a prison sentence, albeit in the relatively humane Swedish system. That must be an incentive to abscond. What conditions could address this fear? Sureties or securities from very rich people wh do not even know him don't mean a lot. If Ms. Jemima Khan (Née Goldsmith) were to lose £20,000, that would very likely be less than she spends on her hairdresser in a year. It might be a price worth paying to get her protégé on his way. So inside he must go, I'm afraid.

And this is the Swedish warrant. If America's rage and frustration turns to a determination to make an example of Assange, then he could be looking at 20 years or more in the barbarous hellhole of a Supermax jail. If that isn't an incentive to do a runner, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Known By The Company They Keep

This is not a political blog, but I can't resist commenting on the list of countries that plan to support China's boycott of the Nobel Prize ceremony, following that country's outrage at the honouring of one of its citizens who is an activist for human rights.

It said in a statement that the envoys of Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco would miss the event "for various reasons".

Not exactly a proud list of democracies that revere the rule of law, is it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Er - No.

Asil Nadir, the appropriately-surnamed 'businessman' who has recently returned to this jurisdiction following a long sojourn in extradition-free Northern Cyprus was arrested today, apparently for breach of bail. A newspaper reported:-

The businessman, who is on £250,000 bail ahead of a trial for multimillion-pound theft charges, was arrested at 2.30pm on Saturday.
But later the former Tory party donor emerged from Charing Cross police station in London without charge.

Well he would, since breach of bail is not an offence per se. A court faced with such a breach can either revoke bail and remand to custody, or re-bail on the same or more onerous conditions, so charges don't come into it.

Close Call

The sentence of a Conditional Discharge was spot on in this case. I wonder if anyone told the defendant that the DJ concerned rejoices in the nickname of 'Custody Cooper"?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Who Wants To Have A Go?

One of the MPs charged with expenses fraud has changed his plea to guilty.

Let's see your idea for a proper structured sentencing exercise, paying due regard to the Guidelines and giving your reasons, just like in real life. Assume no previous convictions - the rest is all in the news report.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Droit Étranger

Maitre Éolas, un blogueur Francais, to whom there is a link on the sidebar, has put this link on his Facebook page. I'm afraid it's in French, but being Le Monde it's the kind of French that some Anglais can cope with. It's a very moving and tragic story.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ex Metpol Semper Aliquid Novi

We saw a few applications for search warrants this morning. They came with the usual Inspector's Authority and two copies of the Information. For the first time in my experience each Information included a copy of an Infra-red image from the Air Support Unit helicopter. Even without the officer's explanation it was clear that each image showed one building that had a spectacularly different heat signature from those around it - cannabis farms of course, that will have had a visit some time this afternoon. The current cold snap will also reveal rows of terraced houses where just one roof is free of frost or snow. Despite all this, street cannabis is more available than ever, and of, I am told, excellent quality.

A Word To The Unwise

This blog is blessed with a following of people who read, comment, agree, disagree, query, quibble, and whatnot. Apart from my loyal following of Mr. Toad and his acolytes (who maintain silence unless I venture to suggest that some drivers treat the law too casually for my taste) I don't imagine that I have too many avid readers from the criminal fraternity.
So here, as an early Christmas present, are a few of Uncle Bystander's hard-learned insights into the sharp end of criminal justice:-
i) A life of crime is rubbish, even if you are good at it.
ii) It's no fun having a stash of gold bars buried under the patio if you lie awake nights wondering when Harry The Hatchet or (preferably) the Old Bill come crashing through the door to exact their particular kind of retribution.
iii) Most drug dealers live with their Mum and don't earn enough to fund their own habit. The blinged-up Merc-driving Mr. Big is largely a media myth. It's a dirty shifty business.
iv) Never trust your Co-D. 'Honour Among Thieves' is bollocks. You think he's your mate but after he has sold you down the river he will rob his Granny's purse.
v) Listen to your brief. He is smarter and better educated than you. He is very likely free, as well. If he tells you to plead, plead. If he tells you it's worth a run, go for it but don't forget the one-third off that you are gambling with. In court, shut up. Let him do the talking, you can do the time. Win or lose he goes home to his wife and kids.
vi) However much you hear about rubbish Government computers, don't forget that even the piss-poor ones have a really long memory. If you have had a result in avoiding capture for some piece of naughtiness, but the police have your DNA or prints or whatever - forget about that Ryanair cheapie with Angie-Leigh or Kayley. The airport computer will sort out a reception committee for you before you have left Kos.
vii) Think carefully before you elect for the Crown Court. A jury is easier to fool than a bench of JPs (who are, trust me, rarely as daft as they look) but if you come unstuck and you get the wrong judge you will get hammered. I sat next to one of the old school once as he sentenced a mugger. Even on a late plea, Hizonner weighed the man off for a nine, when the unofficial estimates were for five at worst.

Good luck, but don't push your luck.

Artful Lodger

Every now and again we would find ourselves faced with an application to 'lodge' fines for a serving prisoner. This is a process whereby outstanding fines would be converted into an appropriate amount of jail time, and added to the sentence, either consecutively or concurrently according to the nature of the offences that had attracted fines. If a defence brief is doing his job he should canvass this at the beginning of a sentence to allow the prison staff to deal with the appropriate paperwork. This doesn't always work out, so a bench may have to sort things out later. Unfortunately, lodging is time-consuming and involves a lot of writing, so these days we are more inclined to remit whatever amounts we think appropriate; the effect is the same but it is simpler. The underlying principle is the old-established one that a prisoner should be released with, as far as possible, a clean sheet, although we will often leave compensation to be paid.
Last summer we came up against three slightly out-of-the-ordinary cases, because the men owing fines had all served long times on remand but had not been imprisoned at the conclusion of the matters.
So we had A, owing £340 for a bit of public order and criminal damage (sum includes £150 compensation for the damage) who had spent 18 months on remand for an offence of which he was acquitted.
B owed £275 for failing to pay his bus fare (!) and had spent 4 months on remand for a matter that resulted in a community order at the Crown Court.
C owed £460 out of fines totalling £475 for a bit of motoring and some personal-use drug possession. He had spent 7 months on remand for GBH and the Crown offered no evidence.
The clerk told us that we could not properly lodge these sums, since they were not serving prisoners, but rather on remand. So we looked for a just and common-sense solution. We remitted A's fines, but left the compensation alone, since a member of the public had suffered a loss that A would have to make good. We remitted B and C's fines, since we felt that they had been in prison for more than long enough to cancel them out.
It was all a bit untidy, but we felt that we had been fair, and that is what we are there for, after all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Plain Daft

Over the weekend I was, as usual, blowing the froth off a pint in my local when I spotted a familiar face. Philip (a solicitor) and I recognised each other immediately; he has appeared before me many times, although I don't often see him these days. He had dropped in to the pub on his way from advising a client in the police station, and we chatted about the way things are going. He mentioned in conversation that fewer than 50% of those detained in the police station accept free legal advice from an independent and impartial solicitor.
Just read that again:- Free. Independent. Impartial. Yet so many say "no thanks".

"I don't need a lawyer because I've done nothing wrong"
"Only those with something to hide need a lawyer"
"Let's get on with it -I want to go home"
are just a few of the reasons why people refuse free professional help that might affect the whole of their future life.

So if it happens to you, take the lawyer's advice. Tell them an old magistrate said it was a good idea.

Could You Run That By Me Again Please?

The Magistrates' Association website has a poll asking:-

Regarding magistrate applicants, does the key quality of social awareness cover the need for local knowledge?

In the nearly two weeks that the poll has been online 52 out of the MA's 20,000-plus members have replied, and they are split 25 to 27.

I am one of the thousands who have no idea what the question means.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Are In The Wrong Job, Guys

This report of the not-too-bright pirates who picked on a US Navy warship rather than the expected merchant ship reminded me of this post from a while ago. In Ealing Broadway or off the coast of Somalia, the commonest characteristic of criminals is being rather thick.

Could? - Yes. Will? - No

'I'm sorry': Teenager could face five years in jail after admitting throwing fire extinguisher during fees protest

So reads the Daily Mail's headline. It is of course misleading, and the journo who wrote it and the editor who told him to write it know that it is.

Point 1 - The maximum sentence is for the worst possible case, following conviction after trial.
Point 2 - The early guilty plea ensures a discount of one-third on the sentence.
Point 3 - If the offender has no previous convictions he must have credit for that.
Point 4 - Prison is likely, and the young man will be lucky if it is suspended.
Point 5 - The saloon-bar experts and the Gadgets will deplore the sentence as soft.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This case in which a woman teacher seduced teenage boys in her care is, like so many cases we see, full of irony.
The teacher's actions were selfish and irresponsible, and the sentence she received reflected the imperative to protect children.
On the other hand, she is herself a mother of young children, and the incarceration that is intended to protect others' children will inevitably damage hers. No winners here, I'm afraid.

Just Think On

The tabloid press and the gobby bloke in the pub each like to cast contemptuous remarks on judges when a decision fails to meet the standards of the baying mob that they pander to. Here is a case of which I know nothing other than what is reported. It is a heart-rending case, involving a so-called mercy killing, a concept absent from English law. The judges go through the legal and the other issues carefully and deliberately.
This case elicits emotions from each side of the argument about mercy killing or assisted euthanasia or whatever you want to call it. You may agree with the judges or you may not. But these learned and experienced men came to a verdict that took account of emotions, morality, and the law. But in accordance with their duty, they chose the law,and interpreted it.
Next time you hear some fool ranting on about out-of-touch judges, and the rest of the idiocy of the system that he doesn't understand, just think about the judgment above. It's well thought out, isn't it?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We shall have to get used to news like this, in which a promised reform or improvement has had to be shelved because of TJNML (There's Just No Money Left). The only consolation I can find in this is to thank my lucky stars I am not in Eire.

One quote in the article struck me as odd:-

It will also propose ending a defendant's right to change a not guilty plea once a trial has begun, in a move designed to encourage earlier guilty pleas thus saving the cost of trials.

How is that going to work then?
Jimmy "The Blagger" Murphy is on trial for a robbery, not for the first time in his life. He goes Not Guilty, as he always does, relying on his latter-day Rumpole's skills with a jury, and hoping that one or two key witnesses will develop amnesia on key bits of evidence, with or without 'encouragement' from his mates. The Crown opens its case. To Jimmy's chagrin, all of the witnesses appear to have turned up, and the forensics don't look too good either. Down in the cells, he has a chat with his brief. "I think I'm buggered" he says. Rumpole agrees. He asks to see the Judge in Chambers with the other counsel. "I am instructed to change Murphy's plea" he tells Hizonner.
"Oh no you don't" replies the one in the purple dressing gown, putting his teacup down firmly on the desk. "We have to go through to the bitter end". "But I will not cross-examine any Crown witnesses, nor challenge the forensics, and when my man gives evidence he will cough the lot to the jury. All that's left for me is to mitigate". "Quite" says the learned Judge. "Daft, isn't it? Shall we get on now?"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Joyce Stuck

Yes, I know they do things differently in Scotland, but when this MP was dealt with for drink-driving (failing to provide, to be exact) he was fined £400. The Guidelines have this as a Band C fine, so after one-third discount for his plea he would pay one week's RWI (relevant weekly income). MPs make about £65,000 per year, or say £1300 a week, so he paid a lot less that he would have done down London way. Perhaps he'll put it on his expenses.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Court Tweeting

Lord Judge has spoken of the threat to the fairness of jury trials from thoughtless use of new technology. In a trial, all that may be taken into account is the evidence presented in the courtroom, but it is only human for jurors to want to know more. At the least damaging level it could amount to looking up a map of where something is said to have happened. At worst it could involve research into the background of the defendants or witnesses or, as is said to have occurred, an electronic poll among your pals as to 'whether he dunnit'. Not too long ago a jury is said to have used an Ouija board to resolve its doubts.

It's not just jurors; I have had to rebuke a colleague who was texting from the bench (not, I hasten to add, about the case) and the retiring room is loaded with i-whatsits, laptops and all the other gadgets at lunchtime. I have used the Net during a multi-day complex trial, but from home, and only to look up a point of law. I have to admit that this is frowned upon because we must rely on the legal advice from our Clerk. In mitigation, I was sitting with a Circuit Judge on this case, so I was just trying to clarify something he had said about an area of law that was new to me.

We shall hear more about this, I suspect.

My Last Word On The Airport

My piece about airport security has stirred up dozens of comments, many of which assume that I personally devised or approve of the security checks. What I said was that people who give the security staff a lot of attitude may well come to grief, and that if you find yourself facing a court it will do you no good to assert that the rules are silly. Perhaps they are, but they are the rules and airport staff have no option about applying them.
Can you imagine the furore if something nasty got onto an aeroplane, and security said "we thought it was a joke so we let it through"?
A lot of the remarks seem to express indignation that important travellers can have to speak to oiks in uniform. Those 'oiks' don't make the rules.
It's a bit like the pompous fools who react to being stopped for speeding by asking the officer why he isn't out catching burglars instead of harassing motorists. The officer won't answer the question, but he will be more likely to write a ticket than he was before it was asked.

Later:- That was my last word, but this link from the comments (thanks JK) is spot-on


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sergeant Cleared of Assault

A police sergeant who was convicted of assaulting a woman prisoner and imprisoned for six months has had his appeal allowed. The original conviction and sentence was in front of a Deputy District Judge, and the appeal was, as usual, at the Crown Court. The judge was Mr. Justice Bean, no less, and he will have been sitting with two magistrates (not that any paper I have seen mentions that fact). It's quite an interesting case; tried in front of a deputy DJ, rather than a bench of three, then an appeal heard by a High Court judge with two lay justices.
(I'm now not too sure about that as today's list doesn't mention justices)
I have blogged about Bean J a few times, as I think that he is destined for great things. My first thought was that he had once again been brought in for a sensitive case, but the court list for tomorrow shows him sitting at Oxford again with two JPs.
Here is what I said about him previously.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


A few people have commented on my assertion that

Of course, anyone who mentions the word 'bomb' at an airport check-in deserves all he gets

In these post 9/11 days airports are special because they may be targets or launching pads for terrorist attacks. Airport security staff are not overpaid, nor subject to particularly high-level training. They work to a tightly-drawn set of rules and those who slip up are soon shown the door.

So when some tired or drunk or just arrogant passenger decides to treat the operative with sarcasm and scorn, the operative must, following his orders, call the cops - and that's what happens. So Mr. Smart-Ass who sneers that his baggage contains dynamite ("What do you think?" is the common riposte) will find himself face down, handcuffed, looking at the nasty end of a Heckler and Koch MP5 pointed at his ear. He will also miss his flight.

So don't even think about it. There will be no sympathy from the police or the courts. It's just too important.

Not-So-Cunning Plan

The previous post reminded me of a tale that I heard from my good friend John Cochrane, whom I have known since my early days on the bench. John is an experienced old defence brief, who has seen a few things in his time, and who knows most of the ne'er-do-wells on our patch, which is not surprising as he is into representing the third generation of some local families.
John is a family man who lives quite close to the court and the police station. His lively and charming sons had used a discarded fridge in the garden for a bit of spray-painting practice before going on to use the sprays as part of a school art project. Time passed, and the fridge found its way out to the front drive to await collection by the Council. As happens, neither John nor his wife got round to making the call to the Council, so the fridge lingered on the drive, a daily reproach to its owners.
One fine day John returned home to be greeted by his beaming wife. "Darling" she said. "I've got rid of that old fridge." "Great! said John. "How?" "Jimmy the Pikey came round looking for odd jobs, and I gave him £20 to take it to the dump".
John did not react with the expected elation. He stood and thought. "I have cocked up darling, haven't I?" she asked. "You may be right" replied John.
Sure enough the phone rang next day. It was a neighbour from a couple of hundred yards down the road. "John" said the neighbour. "I couldn't help noticing that old fridge that your lads had sprayed. It was in your drive for a while. Well now it's blocking my garage door".
John apologised and made a phone call. The offending fridge was swiftly removed for a further £40.

Cunning Plan

My daughter lives in a street of Victorian houses that is shared by families, students, and a variety of people of varying prosperity. As is common in some areas residents who want to dispose of sound but unwanted goods may put them in the front garden, perhaps with a note saying 'help yourself'. Last month one of her neighbours put out a serviceable fridge that had no place in her new kitchen. It lingered sad and unwanted for about a week until the neighbour's husband had the brainwave of putting a notice on it saying "For Sale - £25".
It was gone in two hours.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sledgehammer 1, Nut 0

I can't add much useful comment to the torrent of opinion on the web and in the papers about the Twitter 'bomb threat' that sounded like nothing of the sort, and the absurd overreaction to a man's expressed irritation at Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's BBC radio interview.

Of course, anyone who mentions the word 'bomb' at an airport check-in deserves all he gets, but these two cases both seem to be way over the top to me. There is a world of difference between a phoned-in bomb hoax and a light-hearted not-very-funny gag on Twitter addressed to your mates. And as for Ms. A-B; come on love, do you really, in your heart of hearts, think that anyone was going to pelt you with stones? Really, that is?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Whoopee

The latest issue of 'Magistrate' magazine includes an application form for tickets to attend a reception on the 20th of May 2011 in Westminster Hall, to mark the opening of an exhibition to commemorate 650 years of the magistracy.

With tickets at forty quid a pop, not including travel costs up to the big smoke, I shall not be one of the expected 950 JPs joining in the fun.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More On That Demo

Thugs who hurled fire extinguisher off roof on to police during student demo may be charged with attempted murder

By Daily Mail Reporter

Wanna bet?

Recreational Mayhem

Today's headlines about yesterday's demonstration that got out of hand induced a few minutes' nostalgia here at Bystander Towers. I was at university in 1968 when radical students were mostly Marxists or Trotskyists, and the big issue was the Vietnam war. Across the Channel the 'Évenements' of student and worker protest caused a few lively nights in Paris, and the workers at Renault welded the gates of their usine shut. President DeGaulle took the precaution of squaring the generals before deciding how to handle matters.
A few coachloads of students went from my university down to the big Grosvenor Square demo and the ensuing scrap with the police led to the same sort of headlines that we can read this morning. Then, as now, there was concern, there was anger, there was indignation, but above all, the whole thing was tremendous fun for the participants.
Whether you are a member of the Bullingdon or a militant Trot, the sound of breaking glass is deeply satisfying to a young man, and today, as in 1968, the press reports will be avidly scanned by the protesters. Politicians and columnists will huff puff and fulminate, and in a week or two the whole business will be forgotten.
The leaders from 1968 must be feeling nostalgic too. Jack Straw, still a student in the second half of his twenties now a right-wing Rt.Hon., Tariq Ali (comfortable media person) Daniel Cohn-Bendit (aka Danny Le Rouge) (Eurocrat) Anna Ford, then President Manchester SU, (media celeb) will all be able to get out their press clippings and have a good old wallow. From Right-on to Rt.Hon is quite a leap.
Ironically, mine was the most spoilt and indulged student generation ever, with grants, new facilities, plenty of academic staff, and firms eager to snap up the four per cent or so of young people with degrees. Now where's that photo album?

Sunday, November 07, 2010


From The Independent, quoting a PA report:-

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A haul of cocaine, believed to have a street value of up to £3 million, was seized following a crime squad operation, police said today.

Nine kilos of the class A drug were uncovered by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (Ersou) on Thursday.

The commonly accepted street value of cocaine, allowing for no more than the usual adulteration, is £40 per gram, or £40,000 per kilo. So 9 x 40,000 equals 'up to £3 million'?

Saturday, November 06, 2010


The scenario that led to this High Court judgment will be familiar to most JPs. Legal Advisers have a delicate path to tread, most particularly when a Bench decision looks a little eccentric on the facts, or, most treacherously, on mixed law and fact. A perverse conviction can always be put right by the Crown Court, but if the LA suspects a perverse acquittal, he or she might be tempted to trespass on the justices' territory and nudge them in the 'right' direction. That's when the Chairman will earn his salt, and decide whether to invite his colleagues to have another think or whether to thank the LA politely, send him back into the courtroom, check the written-down reasons, file back in, and announce the verdict. I know that most of my LAs read this stuff, but I am not trying to curry favour when I say that their professionalism is invariably impeccable.
Their Lordships said a few kind words about the LA involved, who must have passed a few deeply uncomfortable months. Let's hope that the principles are taken on board and he will be able to flourish in his career.

The final submissions regarding costs make, as ever, an interesting postscript.

Hail To The Chief

We have a new Chief Magistrate.

I have linked to the Press release because I know nothing whatever about the new man.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Worth A Read

Joshua Rozenberg, one of our most experienced legal commentators, deals in his recent Guardian column with, inter alia, the Louise Casey debate about whether certain lesser offences ought no longer to be triable before a jury of the Crown Court, and the alleged conduct of one of the police officers who shot Mark Saunders dead when giving evidence at the barrister's inquest.

I agree with the good Mr. Rozenberg on both issues - read his piece here.

Miss Casey's appointment as Victims' Commissioner, announced a short time before the recent election, was a stroke of luck for her, as her style (remember the 'Respect Agenda' that wasted so much time and money?) probably has little appeal to the more hard-headed Coalition, being redolent of the Blair bright-ideas-from-the-sofa years.

She was appointed to look after victims and witnesses. Mission creep is already under way, and she is using arguments about victims to widen her brief to comment on the wider justice system.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Going For A Song

If this disturbing report turns out to be true it will lead some of us to suspect that the discipline and management of London's armed police needs to be looked at.
Police officers who are armed and authorised to kill do a potentially dangerous job in all of our interests, and they usually do it well, but the corollary of their accepting that job must be iron discipline and an awareness of their responsibility. Some of the evidence presented to the inquest seems to reveal an esprit-de-corps that went too far and descended into arrogance. To lard evidence about the death of a man with song titles, in front of a High Court Judge is utterly unforgivable, and it must be right that the officer has been removed from firearm duties.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two Toads In A Hole

This case speaks for itself.

Let's wait for the cries of 'unfair'.

A few months ago I was a guest on a BBC radio phone-in. One of the callers was a biker who proudly told us that he had recently kept up a speed of 130 mph for about an hour on public roads. He reacted scathingly to my suggestion that his behaviour was dangerous and anti-social. Given the death rate among bikers, he may solve the problem himself in time. I just hope he doesn't take anyone else with him.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not As Nice As She Looks

This interesting article caught my eye because
he was ordered to appear in court on December 3 charged with displaying contempt towards a public servant, an offence which is punishable with a prison sentence of up to a month and a €10,000 (£8,700) fine.

It goes to show how wide La Manche still is. If contempt towards a public servant was an imprisonable offence here, we would need a lot more prisons - perhaps ten times as many.

Still - there are a few regulars on this blog's comments who might benefit from a month in chokey.

Pragmatism Can Pay

We have had a few recent comments on defendants who spend more time on remand than they eventually receive as a sentence (not to mention those acquitted and freed after many months of incarceration). A defence brief with whom I am on drinking terms tells me that when people turn up at a UK port having disposed of their passports and ID before claiming asylum they will often be charged with a 'Section 2' passport offence. The higher courts' guidance to magistrates is imprisonment of 2-5 months, or in reality two to ten weeks inside. As unidentified foreign nationals these people are unlikely to be granted bail so anything other than a swift guilty plea is likely to result in a pre-trial delay that will exceed the real likely sentence. If Crown Court trial is chosen, the delay could stretch to three months or more. So a pragmatic solicitor will usually advise his client to plead, even if there might be a possible defence in the background. Apparently these cases have tailed off recently due to a Human Rights decision. They always struck me as a bit pointless anyway. If you are prepared to uproot from your home friends and family and travel halfway round the world to an uncertain future in the UK, a few weeks in prison are unlikely to be a deterrent.

Rearguard Action

I have blogged previously about my continuing campaign against advocates' habit of mangling the English language and of introducing barbaric neologisms.

We heard a cracker the other day; the CPS prosecutor referred to the accused's 'Adeptitude' at something. There are lots of Google hits on the word, but I have never heard it used before. It's a super compression of aptitude, adeptness, and attitude. I suspect it was a mistake though - this is the same fellow who used 'angst' as a synonym for 'animus' for a few days until someone had a quiet word.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Irony Malfunction

A trio of very drunk Eastern Europeans tried to pick a late-night fight with a group of workers who were on their way to have an after-work drink.

"Fucking Pakis" they shouted, in accented English. "Why don't you fuck off back where you came from?"

As it happens, the people they were yelling at were Cypriots.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Long Remand

We saw a man last week who was charged with an either-way offence that is often met with a prison sentence. He had been held on remand in custody for nine weeks, and came to court and pleaded guilty. We knew nothing of the bail decision and the reasons for it, and when we assessed the seriousness of the offence we decided that it did indeed pass the custody threshold but that the right sentence was four weeks. So that is what we decided, and I told him that he would be released straight away.
That prompted reactions in the public gallery from helpless sobbing, to arm waving, bowing, and mouthed thanks to the court. We were blessed loudly by a couple of old ladies, who were relieved to be getting their relative back to rejoin his wife and children.
It is unfortunate to say the least that a man has served longer on remand than his offence is worth, but it happens, for all kinds of reasons.

Two More Views On Court Closures

Are in this article.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Simple But Very Important

It's been a really busy week, much of it sadly too fresh to blog. There was a day with media people - fascinating, but no, I can't tell you about it. There was a day in the remand court, dealing with about fifty varied cases, and there was a day of appraising a trainee chairman.
In amongst that lot was a simple little trial that turned out to encapsulate a lot of the basic principles of how a trial should work.

A bit of vandalism occurred in the early hours of the morning. A neighbour of the victim heard something and looked out. He saw someone whom he recognised walking away from the scene. He phoned the neighbour whom he suspected to be the victim (as he was) and they went downstairs to investigate. Police were called, but as happens with such a low-level crime, they did not attend until the next day, when they arrested a suspect, took him in for a taped interview, and took statements from the victim and the witness.
The independent witness was one of the best I have ever seen. He had been a neighbour of the suspect for ten years and more and he gave his evidence clearly and confidently. Under cross-examination he was unshaken, and courteously dealt with each challenge put to him by the young blonde defence barrister.
When the defendant came to give his evidence it came down to a flat denial that he was there or had done the damage. He was unshaken in cross-examination.
So we had a very credible independent witness who knew the accused by sight, and a flat denial from that accused.
The defence summed up:- yes,the witness seemed sure. But it had been dark (although she accepted the witness' evidence that the lights were good). The damage happened, but the witness had not seen it happen - the evidence was circumstantial even though some debris was found close to the defendant's only available route home.
As I expected she then raised the Turnbull guidelines that come up in every case involving identity issues. The nub of Turnbull is that an honest and sincere witness can be mistaken. She then, very properly, drew our attention to the fact that our man had no previous convictions, which means in law that we must have regard to his good character. The legal adviser popped up on her feet to confirn this to be correct.
Out in the retiring room we soon agreed that the defendant was more likely than not to have done it, but that the lack of direct evidence of his actions, plus the Turnbull caveat, plus the good character rule meant that we could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt. We decided to say something to reassure the witness (who was still in court) that we did not doubt him, but rather that he had not seen enough for long enough.
So we trooped back in and I read out our reasons, finishing with the words "Not Guilty" .

We did the right thing, I am sure. I don't suppose that the victim or the helpful neighbour feel that way, and I expect that the local coppers put this one in the 'silly old magistrates' box.

But we were right, and I want people to know what we did and why we did it.

That is after all why I started this blog 1600 posts ago.

Friday, October 22, 2010

True Story

A barrister of my acquaintance, who specialises in family and children's law, was recently briefed to deal with a matter in court. He prepared the case, and as sometimes happens the hearing went ahead but ended rather earlier than expected.

Blessing his luck, my learned friend joined some friends for a round of golf in the afternoon. As golfers do, the party laid little bets on longest drive, nearest the pin, and suchlike harmless nonsense.

At the end of the day, totting things up, our man discovered that he had made more from his wagers than he had been paid for his professional services.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

That's A New One

From the Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday:-
Overall, the Home Office budget will find savings of an average of 6% a year. The Ministry of Justice's budget will reach £7 billion by the end of the four year period - with an average saving of 6% a year. A Green Paper will set out proposals to reform sentencing, intervene earlier to give treatment to mentally ill offenders, and use voluntary and private providers to reduce reoffending.

This must be the first time in political history that an announcement about sentencing policy and the treatment of offenders has been made by the minister responsible for finance, rather than one responsible for justice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cash In The Kitty

The now-notorious 'cat bin lady' has been sentenced by (sigh) a District Judge. The DJ imposed a fine of £250, which seems about right to me, assuming middling income and credit for the plea, the inevitable Surcharge (that gets nowhere near victims) and a costs order of a whopping £1171.
If the CPS had prosecuted this, their costs for a plea would have been around £70. But the CPS did not prosecute; the RSPCA did, so they applied for all the costs that their legal department could think of.
This is an anomaly that we see with 'private' prosecutions from such as local authorities, the Health and Safety people, bus and train operators and the like. Prosecutors claim costs as if the case were civil, where costs, as the briefs say, 'follow the event'.
This is often unjust; an evaded train fare of £3 or so can attract costs of £100 plus. That isn't fair because it isn't proportionate to the offence.
So why does the RSPCA have special status as a prosecutor? Why can't they assemble evidence and hand the case to the CPS to be dealt with?

(Addendum) Here's the Guidelines' take on costs:-
1. Where an offender is convicted of an offence, the court has discretion to make such order as to costs as it considers just and reasonable.
2. The Court of Appeal has given the following guidance:
• an order for costs should never exceed the sum which, having regard to the offender’s means and any other financial order imposed, he or she is able to pay and which it is reasonable to order him or her to pay;
• an order for costs should never exceed the sum which the prosecutor actually and reasonably incurred;
• the purpose of the order is to compensate the prosecutor. Where the conduct of the defence has put the prosecutor to avoidable expense, the offender may be ordered to pay some or all of that sum to the prosecutor but the offender must not be punished for exercising the right to defend himself or herself;
• the costs ordered to be paid should not be grossly disproportionate to any fine imposed for the offence. This principle was affirmed in BPS Advertising Limited v London Borough of Barnet in which the Court held that, while there is no question of an arithmetical relationship, the question of costs should be viewed in the context of the maximum penalty considered by Parliament to be appropriate for the seriousness of the offence;
• if the combined total of the proposed fine and the costs sought by the prosecutor exceeds the sum which the offender could reasonably be ordered to pay, the costs order should be reduced rather than the fine;
• it is for the offender to provide details of his or her financial position so as to enable the court to assess what he or she can reasonably afford to pay. If the offender fails to do so, the court is entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to means from all the circumstances of the case;
• if the court proposes to make any financial order against the offender, it must give him or her fair opportunity to adduce any relevant financial information and to make appropriate submissions.
3. A costs award may cover the costs of investigation as well as prosecution. However, where the investigation was carried out as part of a council officer’s routine duties, for which he or she would have been paid in the normal way, this is a relevant factor to be taken into account when deciding the appropriate amount of any costs order.
4.Where the court wishes to impose costs in addition to a fine, compensation and/or the victim surcharge but the offender has insufficient resources to pay the total amount, the order of priority is:
i) compensation;
ii) victim surcharge;
iii) fine;
iv) costs.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bill From "Bill" To Old Bill

It is reported that the Met Police have bought all of the police uniforms used in making the long-running cop series 'The Bill' to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals and fraudsters. So far, so sensible.

But considering that the Met inspired and sometimes collaborated with the programme makers over many years, and considering the strain on police finances at the moment, wouldn't it have been a decent and public-spirited gesture to just hand them over for free?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Doesn't Look Too Good Does It?

This report in The Guardian claims to reveal leaked details of proposed cuts to the Justice budget.

There isn't much point in my saying a lot since we shall know the facts by Wednesday, but if the leak is even near accurate, the justice system faces changes that are likely to leave pretty much everyone unhappy - except for the thousands of offenders who will be let out of jail, and given (you guessed it) really tough community penalties. Where have I heard that before?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Welcome Newcomer (Part 2)

One of our regular commenters has set up his own blog here. His comments under the nom-de-keyboard of Phatboy were always worth reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In the retiring room, or the bench meeting, or the Legal Aid solicitors' meeting,or the court staff meeting, or the Probation staff meeting, or the Justices' Clerks' meeting, or the (contracted-out) minimum-wage security staff meeting, or the tea-room meetings of the thousands of people who work in and around the courts, the usual cheerful gossip has given way to an awkward silence. The proposed changes, cuts, what-you-will, are bruited to be of an entirely new order, far surpassing anything we have previously experienced. Nothing is sacred, nothing is too important to be unceremoniously dumped.
That the axe will fall is a given. Where it will fall is unknown, except to those on the inside.
Jobs will go of course. That is a blow to a part-time clerk whose spouse has a decent job, but a catastrophe to the poor sod manning the front desk who relies on his couple of hundred quid a week minimum wage to support his family. Courts will close. Tea ladies will have to look for something else to do. Bewildered semi-literate and not even half-educated people charged with an offence will have to hack their way through the undergrowth of the law without professional help. High Street solicitors who have slogged away for years at the down-and-dirty end of the law, earning a fraction of the money that their glossy colleagues make, will face the closure of their firms. Small niceties and common decencies will be swept aside by otherwise nice people, who murmur "there's no money, you see" as they ease people out of the door and turn the key with a sigh that is more relief than regret.
I haven't the heart to post too much day-to-day court stuff, because the landscape may be so very different in the not so distant future, that what I write may just look absurd - a bit like being the amusing entertainer on RMS Titanic.
As one of nature's optimists, I am sure things will sort themselves out, and a different but still worthwhile justice system will emerge.
But it's pretty scary right now.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Veil of Tears

This is a situation that most JPs and court clerks will have thought about. Every case stands on its merits, but I suspect that I would have taken the same view as my East Midlands colleagues.

MA - Not Quite There Yet

A week or two ago the Mags Association asked to confirm my email address, as they intend, very sensibly, to communicate a lot more via the Internet in future.

Today I received an email over Chairman John Thornhill's name asking my views on the optimum size for a bench. I excitedly clicked on the link, eager to play my full part in the MA.

It didn't work.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Desperately Sad

The jury in the Mark Saunders case has returned its verdict. So be it.
We must accept that the killing was lawful, but I beg to question whether it was necessary.
This article in a conservative newspaper deals with many of the relevant issues.

(later) Here is Max Hastings' view in another conservative newspaper.

And here is what the Coroner has said.

Here's a fellow barrister's comment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New Boy Hits The Ground Running

A few weeks ago I gave a mention to a new blog by a probation officer. The author has got off to a cracking start, and I truly feel that every sentencer ought to read his blog with care.
Until I read the blog I had no idea that the probation officers who serve our courts are not all the professionally qualified people that we used to know - the difference between a PO and a PSO is as broad as that between a PC and a PCSO. There are some jobs that are so central to public safety that they should never be given to second-line part trained staff.
Our author will never get the readership of, say, Inspector Gadget, because he prefers to look at things in depth, rather than simply sloganise. But his postings add real value to the criminal justice debate, and that's worth more than all the ranters put together.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Fair Enough

The Judicial Studies Board has published a new Guide to fairness that every judicial office-holder and all regular court users should read. At first sight it seems to be common sense; I shall read it with interest.

Tale Of Two Emails And One Bulletin

Two emails have arrived from HMCS addresses this evening. One is an 'organogram' whatever that may be.

The second has been expected for some time: funding for biscuits has been withdrawn.

The Judiciary email that arrives every Friday this week carries some good news for judges, who are to have their laptops replaced, and will henceforth have a choice of three types. So that's all right then.

Monday, October 04, 2010

New Term

Every bench is obliged to hold its AGM about now, to transact the important business of electing its officers and committees, and drawing a line under the old year as we look forward to the next. Those elected take office on the 1st of January. This year my bench has elected a new set of faces, as last year's officers have all stood down. There are differences of practice across the country, but our setup of a Chairman and three deputies is pretty common. Only one of the four has previous experience of being a Bench officer, which will allow a fresh start to face the challenges of a year of likely radical change. The new Chairman will go on a three-day residential course run by the Judicial Studies Board at Madingley near Cambridge. The course is made up of lectures discussions and practical exercises to prepare the new Chairmen for their duties, many of which are laid down by law, and there is an important opportunity to socialise and discuss current issues with their peers - and there are a lot of current issues.
Everything will now be in limbo until the Government announces definitive spending plans later this month. We have a pretty good idea of what is likely to happen in London and the new boys will have to devote themselves to making the whole thing work. As an old hand I shall offer my full support to my new Chairman but take good care not to get under her feet.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


The mouse-finger on my right hand is suffering from the 650-odd emails that I have had to get rid of today.
Normandy is great at this time of year (and "les St Jacques sont arrivées" is a sign to lift the soul).
Random thoughts are the best that I can manage today, so here are a few:-
The French have changed the number plate format on their cars, (for new and resold vehicles). They are now in the pan-European format; another nail in the coffin of regional differences.
I had a decent bistro lunch in Pont l'Éveque (and of course I bought the eponymous cheese). We had a look round the church, and saw a small display of old photographs including one of what was left of the church in 1944.
The church appears to have been destroyed in one war or another on a regular basis over about 700 years, and I was reminded of the argument that I tend to produce in the pub when some Daily Mail reading oaf starts to bang on about the EU. Of course there have been some absurd rules from Brussels about straight bananas and suchlike, but too many of us have forgotten that the founding fathers of the Community wanted to ensure, through economic interdependence, that land wars in Europe would be a thing of the past. And it worked. France was invaded by German troops three times in about 70 years; millions died. Since 1945 - peace. That alone justifies the whole EU in my view.
France is very expensive these days. A modest lunch for two can easily run to £35 with just one small drink each, and that will more than double if you hit the a la carte and buy a bottle of wine.
And as for wine........
The supermarkets all have a 'Foire des Vins' on at the moment. Stacks of wooden cases cover the floor next to laden shelves. Weighty tomes from the likes of Gault-Millau are on hand to guide the punter. I leafed through a few, and I still haven't got a clue about wine. I have glugged a drop or two over the last 40-odd years, and these days most of what I buy is from any country but my beloved France, because, mes braves, you will tell me the producer and the terroir and the domaine and the cru and the appellation, but what you never tell a poor thirsty Anglais, is what it tastes like, and whether I will like it.
The label is no guide, nor is the price, nor is Gault-sodding-Millau. Sharpen up mes amis, or the antipodeans will have you for petit déjeuner.

Friday, September 24, 2010


We're off for an autumn break just over the Channel next week, and I am leaving the technology behind. I'll be back online in a week or so.

Mind how you go, now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Good Site

Thanks to Mike for pointing me towards the website of the Scottish Judiciary. I particularly like the listing of judges' sentencing remarks; these rarely appear in the press, but are crucial to understanding the how and why of sentencing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Classic Jury Point

A recent trial is an example of the sort of issue that is best resolved by a good solid jury.


The more strident commentators in the tabloids love a good Health and Safety (always suffixed by 'gone mad') story. "Why oh why?" demand the headlines.
The dull and predictable response, that H & S laws are about keeping people alive and uninjured, cuts no ice in the saloon bar when I am on the defensive on a Sunday lunchtime.
An hour or two ago a neighbour hammered on my door, shouting for me to call an ambulance. I did so, and went to find out that an Eastern European worker engaged in demolishing the house next-door-but-one had been injured. After a nerve-racking delay (that can't have been more than eight minutes) the ambulance turned up, and we all relaxed mentally as the calm efficiency of the ambulance crew took the weight from our shoulders.
Once the injured man had been taken away, a neighbour pointed out that he had been wearing no safety equipment, not even a hard hat, and that he and his colleague were, to put it bluntly, cowboys - but cheap.
I have no idea about the details of the incident, and I trust and hope that the injured man recovers quickly. But when the smart-arse commentators sneer at 'Elf'n'Safety' in future, I shall remember that for every jobsworth who bans a kids' egg-and-spoon race there is a cowboy contractor who lets his employees risk, and sometimes lose, their life or health.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye To All That

The last decade has seen London's Magistrates' Courts undergo fewer fundamental changes than some of our colleagues elsewhere - but we have been buggered about nevertheless, the most recent bright idea being clustering of courts to save money on administration.
The proposed reorganisation (which will be about the fifth that I have seen) will cut down the existing 28 Local Justice Areas (mostly coterminous with London's Boroughs) into 9. The proposed mergers, which are highly likely to go ahead despite localised opposition, are, for the record:-
Camden, Islington, Enfield and Haringey to be combined as North London Local Justice Area.
Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Stratford and Waltham Forest to become North East London LJA.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge to become East London LJA.
Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham to be to become South East London LJA.
Croydon, Lambeth & Southwark and Sutton to become South London LJA.
City of London, City of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham to become Central London LJA.
Kingston, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth to become South West London LJA.
Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow to become West London LJA.
Barnet, Brent and Harrow to become North West London LJA.

Given the depth of he financial hole in which we find ourselves, most of these groupings seem to be plausible. Of course transport links and the like will be argued over,but think how much better-off we are in London than our rural cousins in benighted outposts such as East Anglia and Wales.
If this all comes to pass the civil servants will get on with trying to rationalise the admin, and magistrates will have to start working out the details of bench mergers.
Because magistrates ran their own affairs for over 500 years there are wide differences in day to day practice across the country. Rotas are drawn up in differing ways, by differing people, and on differing principles. For example some courts rota their JPs in half-days, as the rules say they should. Most courts don't because it's just too difficult to cope with. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Then new merged benches will need to have a single Chairman for 4-500 magistrates, but a deputy chairman for each courthouse will be a must. Hallowed local practices such as sitting on the same day each week will have to go. Hard work and goodwill are going to be needed to make this function. But function it must. I have seen badly organised mergers, leading in one appalling case, to two benches who share a courthouse (but not their biscuits, for God's sake!) and declining, when finishing early,to assist their colleagues on the 'other' bench by taking on some of their cases.
As I have said, goodwill, good humour and common sense are going to be at a premium while we sort this out. Failure is not an option.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pros and Cons (2)

I blogged a long time ago about the ECHR ruling that serving prisoners should no longer be deprived of their vote.
The issue has resurfaced (typically, the last government quietly ignored the issue for years)and Nick Clegg is apparently going to speak about it at the LibDem conference.
As I said five years ago, it's hard to get too excited about prisoners' votes. The simple solution would be to allow a postal vote in the prisoner's usual constituency, I imagine. I have a suspicion that a large proportion of the criminal underclass neither registers nor votes, and that the remaining number of inmates would have a negligible effect on election outcomes.
I also suspect that such influence as there might be would veer towards the conservative. Prisoners are notoriously hard-line on law and order, especially on such transgressions as grassing, and want to see harsh measures against nonces. Legalisation of drugs would put many hard working dealers out of business, and the black market in mobile phones drugs and tobacco on the inside is a classic example of everyday free-enterprise.
Here's the Mail's take on it. For the umpteenth time lads, the ECHR is quite separate from the EU. And the court decision that binds the UK government was made years before Clegg was anywhere near office.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Headlines 'R' Us

I have never met District Judge Bruce Morgan, although I have seen his name in the press from time to time.
Try a Google search on his name. He certainly gets more media mentions than most judges or magistrates.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poisoned Chalice

This reminds me of the first-class advice I received from a police officer before I made my first visit to a prison:-

"If you don't watch the tea being made, don't drink it".

is a principle I have adhered to ever since.

Welcome Newcomer

It's good to see a new blog by a Probation Officer. Probation is an essential but under-appreciated part of the justice system, and as an organisation has had to suffer a total change of direction from a social-worker approach ('advise, assist, befriend') to becoming part of the punitive apparatus.
The probation people who work out of my court include a couple of real stars; dedicated, professional, tough when they need to be and sympathetic when that is called for. Others are less good - sometimes reports show the inexperience of their author, as well as the prescriptiveness of the system, and occasionally they reveal dangerous levels of incompetence.
The blog is here. Give it a go, and wish him luck.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yet More Code

I was recently in the Crown Court to hear an appeal with a Circuit Judge and a fellow JP.
There were some procedural problems, and after submissions from the two sides the judge summed up the situation in a neat few sentences, the effect of which was to leave counsel for the appellant in a very weak position.

"What do you say, Mr. McCarthy?" asked the judge. "Is that correct?"


"It could be levelled as an argument, Your Honour".

Translated, that means:- "Bugger! You have got me there".

Appeal abandoned.


Here is another non-story from the Mail, intended to add to the 'soft on crime' agenda. Sure, maximum sentences are rare. The maximum is set to give a wide discretion to the sentencer to allow for the infinite variation in offences and offenders.
How many drink drivers do you think got the maximum last year (6 months prison plus a £5000 fine plus an unlimited driving ban)? No, I don't know either, but I imagine there wasn't even one. How about Common Assault (6 months plus £5000)? Nary a one, I bet.
Unfortunately this is the kind of rubbish that sticks in the public consciousness - a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I posted this a while ago, and forgot it. I was reminded about it today, did the same Google search and found myself at no.1.

Hurt doesn't come into it. Devastated, more like.


I am a busy boy at the moment: apart from family commitments I keep on picking up sittings that nobody else is willing or able to do - a consequence of my being, as they say in the stats, 'economically inactive' (come to think of it I am also a NEET).
This blog has moved on from its origins, and the comments are widely read, as well as serving to enlighten me. Because I am busy there are a couple of topics that I haven't had time to kick off:- the CRB culture and the concomitant death of the Rehabilitation of Offenders principles, and the widespread suspicion that District Judges are going to replace JPs, at least for the interesting stuff.
So just imagine I'm not here and I will try to rejoin the fray when I can.

Cell Door Goes "Wham!"

This Telegraph piece sympathises with George Michael, who has been given a short prison sentence by DJ Perkins. In my view the sentence was inevitable: it is in reality quite hard to receive a prison sentence from a Magistrates' Court, as we all follow our guidelines and use a community sentence or (if the offence clearly passes the custody threshold) a suspended sentence wherever possible. But look at Michael's record, and at this offence:- not just a repeat offender, but someone driving so stoned that he lost control and crashed in a busy urban area. Mercifully, nobody was hurt or killed. To cap it all, Michael is extremely rich, so he was well able to afford a driver. The offence can't go up to the Crown Court unless you kill someone, so he got something well up the tariff.
Before anyone gets too excited about this case being dealt with by a DJ, Highbury Corner is one of the Central London Courts that has a high ratio of DJs to JPs. I have met John Perkins, and he is a decent and sensible type. I have also sat at Highbury, a few years ago, and I have no wish to repeat the experience, since the courthouse and its surrounding streets are pretty grim. And the biscuits are rubbish.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Twists And Turns

It's often the simple-looking cases that turn out to conceal an unexpected twist, just like the one we saw last week. Section 5 Public Order Act is one of the commonest charges we see (and on top of those there are many fixed penalty PNDs handed out). It is a summary-only offence and the only available penalty is a modest fine.
Our defendant had pleaded Not Guilty, and when we heard that he was represented by Counsel we realised that he was sufficiently aggrieved to be prepared to lay out a considerable amount of money for his defence; he lives some way away, so his travel costs for what was by now three hearings would come to a tidy sum too.
We sat down for a briefing from the Clerk, and she handed each of us a substantial bundle of legal arguments and decided cases, nicely prepared by Counsel, and foreshadowing an Abuse of Process argument. I can't say too much about the nub of the argument, but we settled down with some coffee to read our bundles. My two colleagues were a mentor and her protégée, so before we started I had to do a quick run through 'Abuse of Process - What's That About Then?' as the new JP was making notes on her mentoring form to record what she had learnt today - we were in no hurry as we had been told that the defendant had been delayed en route.
Twenty minutes later, the Clerk reappeared. "You won't need the bundles, Sir. While you were reading, CPS and Counsel have got their heads together and are going to ask for a bindover". So that gave me a chance to brief my colleagues on Bindovers, allowing the newbie to fill in a bit more of her form, this time about a bit of law that dates back to 1361.
So when our man arrived the CPS offered no evidence, I dismissed the substantive charge, and bound him over to keep the peace for 12 months in the sum of £200. I carefully explained what this meant and emphasised that it is not a conviction. All that was left was to call in the witnesses, thank them for attending, and release them, along with the defendant and his Counsel.
Counsel got his fee, the defendant kept his clean record and my new colleague got some training. The defendant probably got a bill for something over £3,000, but looked happy enough anyway.

(extract from the Guidelines:-)
• The court has the power to bind an individual over to keep the peace.
• The order is designed to prevent future misconduct and requires the individual to promise to pay a specified sum if the terms of the order are breached. Exercise of the power does not depend upon conviction.
• Guidance on the making of binding over orders is set out in part III.31 of the Consolidated Criminal Practice Direction, as amended in March 2007. Key principles include:
(1) before imposing the order, the court must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a breach
of the peace involving violence or an imminent threat of violence has occurred, or that there is a real risk of violence in the future. The court should hear evidence and the parties before making any order;
(2) the court should state its reasons for making the order;
(3) the order should identify the specific conduct or activity from which the individual must refrain, the length of the order and the amount of the recognisance;
(4) the length of the order should be proportionate to the harm sought to be avoided and should not generally exceed 12 months;
(5) when fixing the amount of the recognisance, the court should have regard to the individual’s financial resources.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ahhhh -poor love!

Just as Tom Lehrer declared that satire died when Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize, I have to add my five-penn'orth: Jeremy Clarkson has redefined 'hurt'.

In an interview, Clarkson said that he was "hurt" after he discovered that Collins, a racing driver, had been writing a book detailing his seven years as Top Gear's mythical character.

The Top Gear presenter said: "it was a shock. It was horrible, actually, because I liked him. He came round to my house and had drinks, and all the time he was writing a book, so I feel a bit hurt really."

This from the uber-yob who has piled up millions from massaging the adolescent fantasies of petrolheads of all ages, and written a book or two in the process.

Collins seems to be looking to make a few quid out of his anonymised fame (be fair - would you seek réclame while swathed from head to foot in Nomex overalls)?

Jeremy - if the hurt becomes too much to bear, spend ten minutes with your bank statements, count up your houses, and try not to begrudge a minor player's attempt to accrue a fraction of your fortune.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's Looking Good.....

This blogging barrister quotes yesterday's announcement about clamping on private land.The cowboy clampers (who seem to make up a good proportion of them) have pushed their luck too far and their golden goose is to have its neck wrung.
The real scandal here is the indifference shown by the previous government to this unjust extortion that was allowed to go on for years.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Be My Guest

The comments on this blog give a lot of pleasure and a deal of enlightenment, Just one thing though - if you post as Guest, can you just put some distinguishing detail, because these days we often get more than one guest on a thread.
As administrator, I can see the IP addresses of all commenters, but the general reader can't.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Justice In Camera

This is an unpleasant story about an experienced police officer, who has been convicted of assault. As ever, these incidents are never completely straightforward, and I suspect that the victim was no angel; she certainly doesn't look compliant in the pictures, but of course that cannot justify her being assaulted, as the court found. It is not just extraordinary that the Sergeant completely lost his professional cool, for whatever reason, but the oddest thing is that this custody suite,like most others, is covered by CCTV that is always on, so the officer would have known his actions would be recorded.
Whatever his motives on the day, he is likely to pay a high price, including the loss of a decently-paid job.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Doleful Dole Dodger Discovered

This report, apart from the cheat's profession, is of a pretty common crime that most magistrates see a few times a year. Guidelines steer us towards fines in most cases (often the offender has little cash anyway), but a feature of recent years has been the prosecution's refusal to apply for an order to repay the money. Every court has to consider compensation in every relevant case, but a DSS (as was) prosecutor explained to me, as kindly as possible, that the Department is far better at recovering money than the clumsy courts' system. That makes sense when you think about it as virtually everyone gets some sort of benefits throughout their lives, even if it's only the state pension, so money can be recovered from that in due course.

Unpaid Skiving?

Tonight, 2nd September, at 7.30 on ITV try not to miss the half-hour exposé (or so it is trailed) of sloppily-run community punishment projects.


I am sure that it came as no surprise to anyone in the system to hear that a number of projects are poorly managed and casually supervised. I have been writing on here for years about the dozens of times that governments have promised 'really tough' community punishments. On the whole it hasn't happened. There are myriad problems, starting with Probation's chronic under-funding, the legacy of its social-worker 'advise, assist, befriend' culture, the burden of health and safety and other rules that make much meaningful work out of the question, the lack of real sanctions against (mostly) disaffected young men who just want to doss about, as young men do. Offenders cannot be allowed to do work that would usually be done by paid employees, as the state has no business putting people out of work.

Louise Casey had the effrontery to sound cross about the shambles that ITV showed us: as the person who cooked up the bogus 'community payback' brand and insisted on orange jackets being worn she might have had the decency to rebrand it 'community layback'.

Quite a few of us on the bench prefer, when the choice is available, to impose a tagged curfew. It can be imposed without the delay of a report, it is a real punishment that amounts to house arrest, and it is managed by contractors that are professionally managed, so once you are tagged it is comply, or face breach proceedings.

For years the argument has been that courts will only use community service if it is properly demanding and properly enforced. Many of us suspected it was not, and we may well have been right.

If you misssed the programme you can catch it at ITV player.