Friday, March 28, 2014

Old Bill Gets Cheapie

This report  is disturbing.

Like many JPs I have signed dozens of applications to seize criminal property. Over time these amount to a lot of money.

There must be something not-quite-right about authorising the police to seize money that is, or may be, the proceeds of crime, and then allowing them to keep half or thereabouts of the proceeds.

That is likely to tempt officers to skew their enquiries in the direction of stashes of cash, but worse, it is an encouragement to corruption once they have their mitts on the readies.

Seized cash should go into the Consolidated Fund, along with all the rest of HMG's petty and not-so-petty cash. Can anyone justify the present rules? Damned if I can.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It Wasn't Meant To Be Like This, Was It?

The trial on which I was due to sit yesterday illustrated much of what is happening to our justice system as resources are slowly withdrawn from it. The case was set down for trial in January and so we assembled at ten o'clock sharp. There were three magistrates, a legal adviser, a Crown Prosecutor (in fact a barrister acting as an agent) a defence solicitor, the defendant and his mother, sitting anxiously at the back. Three of the five witnesses had arrived and were in the Witness Care suite upstairs.
When a case is set down for trial the parties complete a booklet that lists the expected witnesses as well as any that can be agreed without the need to appear.. Dates are set for the prosecution to be directed to serve the necessary disclosure (statements, interview records, CCTV and suchlike) on the defence. Both sides sign to acknowledge their responsibilities.
Yesterday we heard that the CPS had missed the deadline for service by a good six weeks, and that most of the disclosure had been handed over at court last Friday. Inevitably we were asked for an adjournment and equally inevitably we refused (the rules of that game have changed irrevocably since the case of PICTON).
Without going into too much detail, what happened was that we gave the parties ten minutes to sort themselves out. We filed back in to hear the Crown offer no evidence, whereupon we dismissed all four charges.
Any magistrate will recognise this situation, and it has almost certainly happened in a lot of courts today as it will tomorrow. There will be no sanction on the CPS for a gross failure of its duty to cope with a simple bit of paper handling that just required a low-ranking clerical officer to look at it.
It's expensive, it's unfair, and it just isn't right.
I wish that I could feel that someone in the MoJ cares, but sadly they seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.


Just for the record:- You cannot be sent to prison for failing to buy a TV licence. Ever,

But you can be sent to prison for failing to pay any fine for any offence (but it's difficult, and the numbers are small). Inability to pay is not the same as refusal to pay.

I wish the press knew this.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

So That's All Right Then

I had a pleasant lunch today with some current and some retired colleagues. We meet as former members of the old Licensing Committee that used to consider licensing the sale of alcohol, betting and gaming, and suchlike.

Since licensing was taken away from local JPs and given to the Council the criteria for grant or refusal of a license have become a mechanistic tick-box exercise. Magistrates retain the right to consider appeals.

Our conversation inevitably drifted on to the changes, and one colleague made the point (and I paraphrase) that the town centre has seen a big increase in late-night drunken violence, while many of us are concerned about the pernicious effect that FOBT (roulette-type) machines in betting shops are having on the poorest and least rational of our fellow citizens.

Frank summed it up: "That worked all right then, didn't it?"

Way, Way, Off Topic

The quondam guru of PR and tabloid stories, Max Clifford, was for many years the go-to guy for any celebrity who was threatened with undesirable publicity. Clifford could negotiate with the press, usually with a successful outcome for the client.

So isn't it ironic that Mr. Clifford is now on trial (on which I have no view other than to leave it all to a jury) and that trial has thrown up allegations that he has a really small penis. What could he have charged a rich client to keep that out of the red-tops?

That's what I call irony.

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi (again)

A while back the MoJ released figures purporting to show the earnings of Legal Aid barristers. Not to put too fine a point on it, those figures were skewed: I quote (thanks Rupert, that's another one I owe you):-

"Ministers issued potentially misleading figures about barristers’ earnings to justify cuts to legal aid, the statistics watchdog has said.
In a critical letter to the Ministry of Justice, Sir Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, said that the department had effectively neglected lower estimates of barristers’ average earnings in favour of the higher calculation of £84,000 a year.
Figures published by the ministry in January represented the mean fee income from public funds for full-time barristers, but any barrister with a fee income of less than £10,000 was excluded, the watchdog said. Calculations also included VAT, which barristers must pay to the taxman, and expenses such as travel costs"

And that's from a Ministry that claims the word 'Justice'  for its letterhead. Disgraceful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thoughts From The Crown Court

I have a few Crown Court sittings on my current rota, in which I sit with a Circuit Judge or a Recorder, plus one other magistrate, to consider appeals from the lower courts. An appeal against conviction is by way of a complete re-hearing, whereas an appeal against sentence is much simpler.
A recent sitting gave rise to a number of thoughts, which are in no particular order.

Many magistrates feel that we are at the back of the queue for resources, and that the Crown Court gets better treatment. In my limited experience things go awry for Hizonner nearly as often as they do for the humble JP. My latest sitting was scheduled for two full days and was over by the lunch break, leaving my colleague and I an unexpected free day, and the court staff the task of finding one and a half days' work for the Recorder. A Recorder is a solicitor or (usually) a barrister who sits with the powers of a Circuit Judge for a few weeks a year. Since they get about £500 per day it is as well to keep them busy.

Lunch in the judges' dining room can be fun, but it is a far cry from the popular conception of silver service and post prandial port. Whatever food you have ordered is found in the heated or chilled cabinet at the end of the room, and you help yourself.. A few years ago there was an influx of female judges, and it was decided to improve the healthiness of the food. As a result there is a rota to act as Fruit Monitor, and the designated judge has to bring in a selection of fresh fruit on a Monday morning. To offset this, there is a goody box of assorted chocolate bars and suchlike. I really like the idea of a QC acting as Fruit Monitor.

Since the Resident Judge was appointed as an Honorary Recorder he now gets to wear a red robe, and is addressed as 'My Lord'. It hasn't gone to his head from what I can see.

Some Recorders are used to practising civil law, and don't know much about low-level crime, or motoring offences, so that's where a couple of JPs can come in handy.

Even if you have been dealt with by a district Judge below, any appeal will be heard by a bench that is made up  of two-thirds lay justices, so the lay element remains embedded.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Name Gone

In these days of criminal record searches and the slow and unplanned death of the old Rehabilitation of Offenders' principles, a criminal conviction can now have devastating and long-lasting effects. A drug conviction, for as little as one spliff, can disqualify the offender from most jobs that require a security clearance, such as working at an airport or on the railways. You have to declare criminal convictions to an insurer, and may then be refused cover, or offered a restricted version at best.

So it was sad today to have to sentence a 50-something year-old man of previously good character who had succumbed to temptation by stealing from someone who trusted him. He produced a thick sheaf of character references , and his close family all came to sit in the gallery to support him.

In formulating the court's pronouncement we took care to avoid excusing or making light of the dishonesty involved, but we expressed our view that it is a terrible thing for a man who has gone through life honestly to have to admit to his family  that he had been dishonest. He must have gone through hell, but his woes were self-inflicted.

I can't say much more, but it is safe to say that his guilty plea pushed the sentence down by a level or two.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


Thanks to the Times for the following letter:-


The address for Merseyside Police’s Camera Enforcement Unit is “Liverpool, PO Box 1984”. Most apt.

Frank Greaney

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Now That's a Crackdown

Colombia has introduced a draconian new drink-drive law that can lead to fines from $880 to nearly $15000, along with a ban of up to 25 years for the worst repeat offenders. Beer sales (on which SAB Miller have a near-monopoly) have unsurprisingly plummeted. 

Just A Thought

Investigations are under way to establish the cause of the loss of a Boeing 777 in the Far East. Given that the 777 is a sophisticated modern aircraft, operated by an airline with a good record, there is already suspicion that foul play might be involved, especially as it appears that two of the passengers were travelling on stolen passports.

However, forged and stolen passports are an everyday occurrence at major airports, and I would hazard a guess that if you went through all of the passengers travelling on a single day, most aircraft would be carrying at least a couple of dodgy documents.

These are early days, and the truth will come out in due time, as it did with the Air France disaster a few years back.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Thoughts From The Lord Chief

Lord Thomas has been speaking about the continuing cutbacks in the courts.Harsh as these have been, there are many more to come, and the next few years are set to see cuts of more than a third.

It will be surprising if the courts' system is recognisable in ten years' time, and nothing appears to be off limits. Good luck to my younger colleagues who will have to adapt to some very different standards and practices.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Quality Public Service

I was recently inspired to respond to my county's fire service website and to request a free fire safety survey on my home. Today a full-sized fire engine turned up (by appointment) and the very helpful crew gave us advice and installed new smoke detectors with 10-year batteries. As the leader completed the forms, we asked if we could get our 83 year-old neighbour added to the waiting list. "We'll do it now, while we're here" was the response, so my wife and the firemen (they were men) went next door. While they were in there I rang the doorbell of the house over the road, to alert six year-old Bradley to the big red machine that was blocking the bridleway on which we live. The driver invited Bradley and his young sister up to sit in the cab, and explained what some of the equipment was for, Bradley was fascinated in his six year-old way. As the crew left, I thought what a splendid example of public service this was. The crew were on call, with their radios switched on, so the machine was still available for its main task. Well done.