Sunday, September 14, 2014

Way, Way Off Topic (again)

Chatting with a colleague on the phone today, the topic turned to the Scottish brouhaha that will come to its climax this week. He was pretty fed up with the situation, and went on to discuss the what-happens-next scenario.

Among his wilder ideas was a boycott of Scottish things. I offered to support him, and decided to boycott porridge, whisky and Aberdeen Angus. Rather than rush things I decided to start with porridge, and then see how things go from there.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nonsense (ii)

(Scene:- the Old Bailey, a Red Judge presiding, the law showing its full majesty)

"You have been convicted of an appalling series of crimes resulting in death and injury to innocent people. The offences are aggravated by the factors that I have already mentioned. You will go to prison for life, and I recommend a minimum term of forty years before you may be considered for parole. Oh yes, and there will be a victim surcharge of £120. Will you pay by cash or cheque?"


Nonsense (i)

We had a man in today for Drive Disqualified. He asked for an adjournment to run a Special Reasons argument because he was disqualified in his absence, and claims that he missed any letters from court because he moved house twice.

Despite the firm advice we have had from the Justices' Clerks' Society and others I am solidly against disqualifying in absence for two reasons: firstly because the defendant can claim not to have known about the ban (and could even be right) and secondly because the moment that you are disqualified your insurance becomes void, and that can have an adverse impact on innocent third parties such as you and me.

Why do courts do it (and I won't) ?

Because it's cheap of course,

Tough Stuff

Today, among a list of some twenty cases in a remand court, I had the job of telling a man that he was going to prison for sixteen weeks. I can't say too much about the case, but it was obvious from the pre-sentence report and the man's previous convictions that we had to face up to the unpleasant decision to send him inside.

His solicitor made a strong case to either suspend the sentence or to impose a community penalty, but when we went outside to make our final decision we agreed that we could not avoid custody and neither could we sensibly suspend it, as he had previously breached a suspended sentence.

We called out the clerk, ran the decision past her to make sure that we had got the law right, then after a call had been made to the cells to get a couple of officers to our courtroom we went back in and sat down. I delivered the bad news (to which he showed no surprise) crisply, and gave the legal reasons for our decision. He went with the officers without a word, while his partner sobbed her eyes out in the gallery. Our usher quietly passed in one of the boxes of tissues that we keep handy for these occasions, then that was it.

He is in Wormwood Scrubs as I write this, in the first-night cells. Most people find the admission to prison horrible, but our man has seen it before so may cope better. His partner will be alone in bed in their cramped flat.

Will it stop him reoffending? I have no idea.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Penny Finally Drops

I have just had an email about the rules for claiming expenses, and, praise be, we can now file them electronically. In fact, we were filing them on email a good few years ago, until some nitpicking penpusher decreed that we had to submit a wet-ink signed copy by post or by leaving it at court. In the five years or so that this has been the practice I must have bought about 60 first class stamps - for two pins I will claim for them on my first electronic form.

There is also a rumour that magistrates' sentencing powers will be doubled, to keep cases out of the Crown Court. That is an obvious win, because the cost of sending stuff to Hizonner is vastly more than leaving it to humble JPs. The figures show that a good proportion of the cases that are sent up are dealt with within the power of the lower court. My hunch is that too many magistrates are wary of dishing out sentences to the top of our range, sometimes abetted by a nervous clerk.

I will believe this one when I see it.

Monday, September 01, 2014

I Quite Agree, Your Honour

Here is part of a report of a tragic case concerning the death of two cyclists.

I can only agree with the Judge's comment about the Victim Surcharge.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Beyond Satire

Thanks to Martin B for bringing this splendid story to my attention. Even the immortal Beachcomber would have found it hard to surpass this tale.

Congratulations M'lud

A few years ago I mentioned Sir David Bean , a High Court judge whom I expected to go far. He has just been elevated to the Court of Appeal as Lord Justice Bean, or Bean LJ as he will be known in the law reports. Humble congratulations from a member of the lesser judiciary to a member of a very high level indeed.

Thanks For That

I read that the UK's terror threat level has been raised from "substantial" to "severe".

That's interesting, and I do not doubt it is true,but what, exactly, are we supposed to do with the information?

I am to sit in court tomorrow morning.I shall just have to take my chances, I suppose.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


When I walk into the assembly room on the morning of a sitting day, I never know what awaits me, other than whether I am to be a Chairman (as I usually am). Sometimes one courtroom is down for non-CPS work, such as local authority, TV licences,  RSPCA or suchlike. I am afraid that these sessions can sometimes be very boring, especially the TV cases where 90 per cent of those summonsed do not turn up, so we hear the case in absentia, which makes the whole business rather mechanical.

The other day, in among the Council's failure-to-attend-school cases we were faced with a Fail to Comply with Enforcement Notice matter. It turned out to be a Beds in Sheds case; where a suburban semi had acquired a substantial unauthorised outbuilding that was being rented to recent immigrants for £650 per month. I can't say too much about it, but we imposed a five-figure fine and added on an amount to reflect the gain from illicit use over a couple of years. The defendants were pretty unhappy once they added up the bill, complete with costs and surcharge, and the council added to their woes by serving an assessment for Council tax, backdated two years.

Aerial surveys show these outbuildings to be a large and growing problem. There have been a number of fire-related deaths in these cases, so the council does need to keep a close eye on them.