Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Money, Money, Money (or private affluence and public squalor)

I sat in my crumbling courthouse a couple of months ago, having edged past the permanently-stuck gate on the justices' car park, and made my way up the nearly-new lift to the assembly room. It is a handsome room, built in 1907 but has sadly not seen a lick of paint in the last decade-and-a-half and more.

Everywhere are signs of decay and neglect - but no matter. I understand the desperate need for the government to bring expenditure under control, even if that means denying resources to the public service that I have served unpaid these thirty years. There are still biscuits (amazingly) and most of the lights come on when you press a switch. There is some mysterious  kit that we think might be for use in the new all-electronic courthouse. It still bears the protective film that we see on expensive audio visual stuff to protect it on its long journey from a Chinese sweatshop.

I have recently received an email from  www.gov.uk/annual-tax-summary setting out the tax that I paid in the last fiscal year setting out the tax that I paid (direct tax only, so forget the taxes on consumption such as liquor duties and Council Tax (fifty quid a week on my modest Thames Valley bungalow).

Much more interesting is the breakdown of where it went, revealing how little our fellow citizens know of what is done with the country's collective cash.

Not that much goes on the justice system.

And Another Thing.......

The TV news tonight interviewed various locals who oppose the proposed new runway at Heathrow, some of them in an emotional state. One lady said that she had lived in Harmondsworth for over twenty years - but the airport opened in 1946, since when anyone who cared to elevate their gaze might have deduced that there was an airport across the Bath Road.

Tasteless - Moi?

When the current third-runway project was in its first flush of 'yes we can, no we can't' I said something rather tactless to my then Bench Chairman. I grew up near Heathrow (although I knew it as London Airport, but we shall let that pass).

To a Hayes boy, who went to school in Uxbridge, the way to the airport on spotting days went through the unprepossessing suburbs of Sipson and West Drayton. The airport brought great prosperity to the area, but its hinterland remained grim.

My then Chairman lived in Sipson, in a house that had been purchased on generous terms by the airport people, but which stands (as it still does, but for how much longer I cannot say) and is at pretty much the exact point where the airliners' wheels will meet the tarmac, with that puff of blue smoke from the tyres. So in my rather thoughtless way I ventured the opinion that most of West Drayton and Sipson would be improved by a thick layer of ferro-concrete. He sniffed and walked away.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What's In A Name?

The House of Commons has just refused to allow pardons to men convicted decades ago of sex offences that are no longer illegal. The issue has stirred up the inevitable hornets' nest of Twitter and Press comments, and we are left with the illogical situation that those men (yes, all men) who have died will be pardoned but the living remain with a stain on their character.

I suspect that the furore is largely a matter of semantics; a 'pardon' has a defined legal meaning, but in common parlance it has different implications. If I offend someone, or tread on their toe in error, they my well pardon me for the wrong that I have done them, and that is that. However, a pardon for  a crime looks to the layman as if the offence was indeed committed , but the Queen will overlook it. That is not at all what the convicted men are looking for, but rather an apologetic wiping clean of the slate. Only the archaic concept of a  royal pardon looks to be possible in law, unless legislation can be changed.

Common compassion suggests that the huge shift in public attitudes to same-sex relationships should be reflected in the law. It is a small  matter in the great scheme of things, but means a great deal to the men affected. Parliament is rammed to the doors with lawyers: surely a couple of them could draft a swift form of words to clear up this relatively minor injustice? 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Something And Nothing

I sat today in a bench of two with a liked and respected colleague who is to retire in a couple of months when she reaches seventy (although you would never guess it)..Before the off, we fantasised about how bulletproof we felt, as disregarding the guidelines could at worst result in ejection from the bench that would take longer than we have left to sit.

We dealt mostly with breaches of community orders: the miscreants were mostly addled by drugs, and immune to letters or calls from probation. I was obliged, several times, to explain in plain language that it was the defendant's reponsibility to stay in touch with probation, rather than the other way round.

Our powers are limited in these cases, so I went home doubting that we had achieved very much.


My bench recently arranged its AGM at a nearby Crown Court, in accordance with the sensible policy of using HMCTS property assets whenever possible.

Unfortunately the IT that we use to display documents and suchlike proved to be incompatible with the Crown Court kit. Surprised? Me neither.


As some have noticed, I haven't put on too many posts of late, due mostly to my slightly dodgy health and to family commitments.. In addition I am weeks away from my enforced retirement as a JP when I hit 70 at the end of October.

I shall keep the blog going as long as people click on to it, and I shall take the chance to say a few things that might have got me into hot water as a magistrate. 

Stay tuned, and it might be worth your while. If not, at least it's free!