Friday, March 23, 2012

Speaking Out

This interesting speech by a very big wig indeed may appear to be well above the pay grade of a humble JP blogger but it does show how matters have moved on. When I started the blog in 2005 there was horror in some quarters that I was trying to cast a little light on the system that deals with nineteen out of twenty criminal offences.  I have been at a meeting when a senior person declared that the blogger had to be found and dealt with, no doubt with bell book and candle, while unaware that the 'guilty' party was sitting at the same table.

On another occasion I was less than a day away from filming a report for a BBC programme on a crime-and-punishment issue when I had a phone call from a senior wig who more or less said 'you are of course an independent member of the judiciary,so it would not be right for me to tell you what to do; that is your decision. But I would rather you didn't do it". So of course I didn't because in a hierarchical judiciary in which I inhabit the lowest tier I am used to deferring to those higher up.

I have not changed my view: the more that light is shed upon the processes of justice the better. 


  1. Long may you continue.

    You have done so much to educate us that it's not the courts who determine the meagre sentences that grab the Daily Mail pages, but the politicians who set the rules.

  2. The old 'I can't tell you not to - but I should make you aware it is possible things might go ill for you if this little chat ( which, if asked, I would deny) didn't leave you feeling free to change your mind.'

    "Oderint dum Metuant" - the universal motto of Pointy-haired Products of the Peter Principle.

  3. It is a good thing to shed light - even if it is a little light - on the system of law which regulates much of our lives. That's why we blog and also comment on other blogs. In a democracy that must be healthy.

    The legal system is unbelievably hierarchical. Many of those at the apex of the pyramid feel entirely free to make speeches. Lord Neuberger has merely suggested some "principles" which are, to be fair, basically commonsense. Essentially, it amounts to maintaining the objectivity required to sit in court and also not making statements which might lead others to conclude that the judge's mind was firmly fixed on certain issues. (Last year, Lord Sumption came in for some adverse comment when he stated in a speech at Lincoln's Inn his opinions about judicial review).

    In some jurisdictions (e.g. USA), high level judicial appointments are subject to confirmation hearings with the individual being asked questions (by politicians) about all manner of controversial issues - e.g. death penalty, abortion, etc. Most people do not wish to see that here. Lord Sumption certainly did not and said so in his (somewhat risque) speech. It is for this reason that a certain caution is needed when speaking.

    At the other end of the judiciary are the magistrates. I am afraid that there is something of a double standard at work and some lawyers are, I am afraid, very guilty of arrogantly seeing Magistrates as clueless incompetents. There is a view that Magistrates are supposed to keep quiet and just get on with being the judicial beasts of burden.

    Having said that, I well recall the days when half of many a bench were local councillors and were very active in both local and national politics. Local solicitors well knew the views of those magistrates. However, most of those people were well able to put aside their political views when dealing with their fellow citizens in court.

  4. Thanks for your nice writing. I like it very much.

  5. My wife is due to give evidence in the local magistrates court next week.
    We were sitting in the coffee house nearby with my 18 year old son and as a result of my reading of your excellent work, we were able to discuss the difference between a Magistrate and a Judge; where you would find them and in what ways the Magistrates Court differs from the Crown Court just round the corner.

    Thank you for "shedding that light" and be pleased to know that the illumination carries further than your direct readership.

  6. The big wig that delievered his little warning is a coward.

  7. Everyone is allowed to voice his opinion, even a High Court Judge. If you were truly independent you would have thanked him for his advice, and asked him why that was his view, so that you could come to a well-informed decision....

  8. @Tony Frost "... is a coward ."

    Not necessarily - but has provided the basis of a rebuttable presumption; that he has reached his 'Level of Incompetence'.

  9. As a volunteer in a justice system which pays even a District Judge the thick end of £100,000, you are entitled to have told the senior wig what he could do with his suggestions. Just what sanctions can a senior judge apply to a Magistrate?

  10. If the bigwig really did state that he would deny that the warning conversation took place, then it also demonstrates that a High Court Judge is willing to lie.

  11. Hang on a minute - nobody has suggested that the judge did anything of the sort. He has the delegated authority of the Lord Chief Justice, he offered me advice, and I chose to accept it. Even if I had been tempted to go ahead anyway, HMCS withdrew their permission to film on their premises.

  12. I believe the more transparent and knowledge people have of the system, the better it is for the entire system. People have to have a sense they have a working knowledge of the system they are living under. They may not know all the intricate details but generally they know what is going on. If not, they will not believe in it and will start fighting it in ways that will do away with it.

    1. GPWM. I've had a number of experiences in the system beginning with a CD10 for "being a prat in front of a bobby", 2 juries, an application for an injunction and possibly a future witness in a very nasty case, the subject matter of which is real foaming-at-the-mouth Daily Mail stuff.

      Bystander confirms what I've learned over the last 30 years, that the law is operated by and for human beings ("Some, indeed, can scarcely claim so high a rank"), and the more he gets his message out the less ill-informed ranting we'll have to put up with.


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