Saturday, July 26, 2014

There But For The Grace of God......

This Judge (in fact a Recorder, who has the powers of a circuit judge but sits part-time) has been reported to the authorities for apparently falling asleep on the Bench. The usual suspects have lined up to denounce him, and Vera Baird, who ought to know better, has just told the BBC  this casts the criminal system in a bad light, or words to that effect. She is reported thus: 
 Former solicitor general Vera Baird said she was shocked by the allegation.
"It's a pretty personally insulting thing for somebody when you're describing probably the most important event in your life.
"But also what does it say about the state, about judicial governance, about the criminal justice system?"
She added it would reinforce general views that the judiciary "are out of touch".
This is utter nonsense: what it proves is that the judiciary is made up of human beings, most of them well the wrong side of forty, and some a good deal older than that, and therefore prone to nodding off at times
Now if the unfortunate  Recorder  had bullied a witness or misdirected the jury, or committed any one of the judicial sins that amount to misconduct, then they are sins of commission. To fall asleep is a misfortune: I have sometimes felt drowsiness creeping up on me, particularly on a warm afternoon two hours in, in a court with ineffective air conditioning and being forced to listen to an advocate who thinks he is being paid by the yard. I sit with two colleagues, and as I am usually the one in the middle I keep an eye on the other two, and I hope that they will keep an eye on me.
I used to sit with a colleague, now retired, who was a local GP. In potentially soporific cases we agreed to monitor each other.
There cannot be many magistrates and judges who have never come close to dropping off.

I hope that the JCO cuts the guy a little slack. Unfortunately the rules will forbid him from ever disclosing his point of view.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Où Sont Les Flics D'Antan?

As one does. I devoted the occasional; lazy hour, glass in hand, during my recent holiday, to thinking about small issues, and one of the first to come to mind was that we had driven from the Thames Valley to a few km west of Quimper. without seeing a single traffic cop, English or French, in car or on bike.
The French seem to have followed the English lead in pretty much doing away with manned policing. When I first became a JP we dedicated one courtroom four days a week to traffic matters; today many of us do not see a traffic case in six months. The cost-driven move to a fixed-penalty regime means that many police officers make day to day judicial decisions.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pi**-up Failure In Brewery

Today I wasted my morning, having got up an hour early, and driven into West London. Another magistrate did the same, as did a Circuit Judge, numerous court staff, learned counsel, and their supporting lawyers.

Due to the kind of sloppy preparation that is routine from today's slimmed-down CPS, we had neither of our two witnesses, and the prosecution papers were pathetically disorganised. It wasn't even clear what offences he had been convicted of, and whether the 1872 Act or the 1990-whatsit applied. The Bench trooped outside, as one does, and phone calls were made while we drank coffee. Ten minutes later we went back into court where the CPS threw in their hand and offered no evidence. Appeal allowed, conviction and sentence quashed, defendant's costs order made to be taxed from central funds. My colleague and I cancelled lunch and went home having achieved absolutely nothing at considerable public expense.

I fully understand the Government's overriding need to cut spending, and to sort out the deficit, but the cuts to criminal justice amount to classic false economy, at the level in which I work.

And by the way, all three of us on the bench were a bit surprised at the costs order but Hizonner looked up chapter and verse in the three-inch thick law tome that was in front of him, and yes we could, so we did.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ker-Ching! (Part 2 of a Never Ending Series)

The Times has a first class scoop today about a sophisticated tax-avoidance scheme that has been used by public figures. The Times sits behind its paywall but the Mail picks up the story this morning, under a headline that included doctors and judges among the would-be evaders. That is suspicious - for one thing the press are very free with whom they style a judge (eg Ms Briscoe) and the person involved might well be a deputy District Judge at Mudtown-on-the-Wolds County Court. Secondly, judges earn a fraction of the sums that the people named by the Times are pulling in. A Circuit Judge won't  bring in much more than £130,000, and that is petty cash to most of those named by the Times.

This story will run for a while, I suspect.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Cynical? Moi? Make it Realistic, Then

I first received the news of Rolf Harris' sentence when I was away on holiday, and it did not surprise me, but what did surprise me was the announcement, immediately after sentence was pronounced, that the sentence was being referred upwards as Unduly Lenient. I understand that such an application can be made by anyone within about four weeks of the pronouncement but this seemed to be extraordinarily swift.
Then it clicked:- just imagine that a tabloid newspaper had a reporter primed and ready to make the application in his private capacity, with a motorbike messenger on standby outside.
Commenters in the tabloids have shown their customary mixture of relish and sadism over the fact that a ruined man stands to die incarcerated. The law makes that unavoidable, but what do these people want?