Thursday, July 02, 2015

Legal Aid - A Look At The Reality

This article goes some way to correct the continuing untruth that criminal defence lawyers are little better than their clients.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Old Joke Revisited

This story put me in mind of a case where I was sitting with  a colleague who has an irrepressible sense of humour.

The defendant was driving too fast in an uninsured car that he had no right to drive anyway, and when the inevitable crash occurred he was said to have demolished a length of garden wall along with a front gate. We reached a swift decision, which I announced in my best Pronouncement Voice.

My colleague leant across, and muttered "Did he want any further fences to be taken in consideration?"

I maintained my composure, with difficulty.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Double Standards

The law lays down strict rules about the treatment of children in court, be it as witnesses/victims or defendants. Although I do not sit as a Youth magistrate, I sometimes see a case that has to be sent off to what is flippantly called the Kiddy Court (usually by lawyers).

When this happens I have to make an order under the Children and Young Persons' Act that forbids the publication of anything that might serve to identify the young person concerned.

You will often read a press report that says 'we cannot name the young person involved for legal reasons', and that is as it should be.

But then I look at the current case of a foolish mother, blinded by what she sees as love for her son, who defies a High Court judge and flees with the boy. The court will make a decision on Monday, but today the boy's face is all over the tabloids. When a celebrity is photographed for the popular press, it is the practice to pixellate the faces of the children, but this lad has no such luck.

Just a couple of points, because the drift of the media's coverage is to sympathise with the mother:-

A High Court Judge will have made a decision based on the law, having regard to all the facts, and with the benefit of comprehensive reports from professionals about the case. We have only heard one side of the case, but the tabloid- reading public has been nudged into the conclusion that a mother's love trumps the considered judgment of the law (cue 'out-of-touch' jibes).

Of course, it's a good story, and good stories sell papers, but can we put this one to rest, and allow this little boy and this sadly warring couple a little peace and anonymity?

Friday, June 12, 2015


We were down to deal with a dozen or so sentencing cases last week, most of them with the help pf pre-sentence reports from Probation. Inevitably, a good proportion of the cases were drug-related; either possession (not supply, that usually goes off to Hizonner) or acquisitive crime committed to fund an expensive habit.

Somebody on £65 a week benefit or thereabouts cannot fund a £20-a-day Class A habit without thieving, and for the addict the most usual target is any self-service shop. High-value low-bulk stuff is the usual loot, so we are well used to seeing top-line razors, Duracell batteries, and the inevitable bottles of spirits.mentioned on the charge sheet.

One of our customers was a young woman of 23 or so, a serial drug user an shoplifter. We considered the case carefully, and could not avoid the conclusion that she would have to go to prison (not for the first time).

The report said that she had grown up in care, and that she had been with four different sets of foster parents. That alone would have added to her insecurity, and that is sadly a pointer to going off the rails.

So we did what we had to do, and gave her 12 weeks, of which she will serve 6. It won't do any good, of course.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


If anyone here knows Andy Coulson, could they ask him if I could have his lottery numbers?

Of course a court's verdict must be final, as I accept, but Mr. C. must have a guardian angel somewhere.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I was due to sit yesterday, as chairman of a GAP court. Yes, it's new to me too, but it stands for Guilty Anticipated Plea, which gives the court and the CPS an opportunity to allocate the proper resources without wasting too many people's time.

I was unavoidably delayed on my way to court, and since we had a full list of cases, it was decided to carry on with one of my wingers in the chair until I could arrive.

Turning up late is never easy - just popping your head round the door with a cry of "hi, guys" isn't right, so I despatched someone to warn the legal adviser that I was there. So far, so fairly normal, and the bench retired to reconvene with yours truly in the middle chair.

The morning proceeded with its busy list of sentencing and allocation cases, and then we had a break while the new-fangled computerised displays proved too much for the CPS and the usher (to be fair their training was pretty sketchy).

My colleague K who had sat in  was greatly relieved to see me, but when I spoke to the other winger and the clerk, they both said that things had gone just fine, including a couple of tricky cases. So over coffee I gently asked her why she had never put her name forward as a chairman. "Oh" she said "I have never had the confidence". Her 40 minute leap into the deep end has changed her mind, and she will now apply for chair training.

Twenty years ago it was practice, in a quiet (perhaps traffic) court to put a winger in the chair straight after lunch with no warning, thus giving them no time to become nervous. Rules now forbid that, but that was probably a retrograde step.

I have informed the Justices' Clerk that there is a potential chair taker among us, so it is now out of my hands.  I wish her well.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Raving Mad

I have just received an email from the Thames Valley Constabulary asking me to keep a good eye out for illegal raves over the Bank Holiday. Various pointers to rave-type activity are listed, and I am urged to tip off the Old Bill if anything happens in my locality.

But hang on a minute - of course raves are a Very Bad Thing at which people, most of them decades younger than I, listen to loud (and to my ears discordant) music, drink copious amounts of alcohol, smoke dubious cigarettes, and indulge in enthusiastic carnal activities. Of course, I would not want them at the bottom of my garden, and I pity householders who are subjected to a couple of sleepless nights, but really, is that the worst that the police have to worry about?

Throughout the years, nothing has enraged the comfortable middle-aged more than the fear that somewhere young people are having fun.

Shakespeare called it 'wronging the ancientry' and Milton spoke of the 'sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine' .

Relax, folks , it will all be over well before Wednesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Banged Up

When I was sworn in in the mid 1980s there were something like 40,000 people in prison. Today there are about 85,000, so it must be worthwhile to think about how and why this has happened.

Here is an article by an ex-MP who has done time and in common with other well-known ex-cons has decided to pass on what he has learned.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Telling It Straight

I never thought that I would say this, but I was impressed when I stumbled across Teresa May's speech to the Police federation today, on live radio, and I was struck by the way in which she reminded the assembled Federation members of their track record of  alarmist claims that they trot out every time that they have a Home Secretary on their platform.

Report Here

Because the police are a disciplined force with a strong rank structure, some of them find it impossible to resist the temptation to yah-boo very senior people from the comfort of anonymity at their conference.  Well, as Ms. May said, it does them no credit.

As a part of the public service that is unprotected from present and future cuts, the police share with the courts and the prisons the prospect of things getting tighter still. We shall have to make the best of it, but constructively, so that when we point out areas where cuts have gone too far and have damaged justice, we can be taken seriously.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Top Tip (one of a series)

If you decide to take up burgling people's houses as a lifestyle choice, you will someday need to find a way of disposing of your loot. Cash is simple, but other stuff can be difficult. Things are so cheap these days that a telly that would have fetched £100 in the pub ten years ago can now  be bought for that on the Internet.

There is always Cash Converters, a 21st century pawnbrokers-cum-money shop that is run on spotless lines, that would have appealed to Fagin.

The chap we saw today was a regular client of  CashConverters, which is where he disposed of much of his stuff. The firm takes the precaution of requiring ID from its downmarket client base, and in addition takes a full face photograph of each of them, as well as snaps of the pledged valuables.

So the stolen stuff was traced to our man, and his mugshot matched the police database. Hardly Sherlock Holmes is it?