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!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Glad This Wasn't Me!

A judge who was verbally abused by a defendant reciprocated at a court hearing where he was being sentenced for breaching an antisocial behaviour order.
John Hennigan, 50, who had breached the order by using racist language towards a black woman and her two children told Chelmsford crown court judge Patricia Lynch QC that she was “a bit of a cunt”. And Judge Lynch replied: “You are a bit of a cunt yourself.”
When Hennigan screamed back “Go fuck yourself”, the judge replied: “You too.” He reportedly also shouted “Sieg Heil” – a pro-Hitler chant used in Nazi Germany – and banged the glass panel of the dock as he was jailed for 18 months.
Hennigan, from Harlow, Essex, has dozens of previous convictions for offences including drug and firearm possession and common assault.
An asbo was previously imposed on him in 2005 when a swastika was discovered daubed on the front door of his council house.

I can understand the Judge's  reaction, but I have never used that word in court, other than in direct quotation from the evidence.

Perhaps a quiet word from the circuit presider might be in order here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Enough, Already!

This is not a political blog, although politics inevitably creep in to discussions of matters legal. I have followed politics since I was at school, although I was never elected to anything. The current situation beggars belief, and I imagine that today's crop of journalists will shake their heads in their old age, and say "but you should have been there in the summer of 2016; everything seemed to happen at once. " I am now even more convinced that my belief in the iron Law of Unintended consequences is the right one.

I have had to cut back on my sittings of late, as I am awaiting an operation to give me a new knee joint, and although I can get around in the courthouse it isn't always easy. As I am due to retire from the Bench in late October I have excused myself from getting to grips with some of the more complex innovations that have recently been introduced, such as iPads on the bench. I own a couple of iPads and I am comfortable with using them, but inevitably any government-issued software is over-engineered and the last thing from user-friendly.

My court has a few boxes that contain the iPads as well as charging them overnight, but those JPs who wish to use them have to submit to training as well as an elaborate procedure to keep them secure. It is worse for judges of course, but then they are paid £130k and more to cope.

Given my impending retirement, I cannot summon up the enthusiasm to get stuck in to this 21st century stuff  (albeit the technology is a decade old).

I am trying to avoid becoming what old Army types call demob-happy so I shall concentrate on justice before bureaucracy.

Sunday, July 03, 2016


This is a brief apology for the recent lack of postings on here. The first reason is that I have just had a visit from my son and his newly-pregnant wife who live thousands of miles away and the second is the absolutely amazing news agenda of the last couple of weeks. As one who has closely followed politics since my early teens, I have just been riveted by events. Oh yes, and I spent a couple of days in hospital being tended to by efficient and charming staff, most of whom were Polish.

I hope to return to something like normal this week, I see that the old idea of sitting courts in pubs and suchlike has resurfaced, so perhaps I'll have a look at that..

Friday, June 17, 2016

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi

In the aftermath of the appalling murder of an MP some commentators are looking at the occasionally poisonous comments made about politicians. The received wisdom of the public is that politicians are dishonest, but that is almost invariably a misreading. If MPs and others had to answer every question frankly, life would be impossible. Most of the usual questions would have to be answered with "I don't know" or "well, I hope that A happens but it might well be B for all I know." The Paxman figure would then rip the interviewee to shreds. So let's give them a break shall we?

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Change of Routine

Some of the most common trials to face JPs nowadays are the Section 172 cases that arise from the ubiquitous speed cameras. Some people (such as Christopher Huhne) simply lie about who was driving the speeding vehicle, and others claim not to know the ID of the driver, but the consequences of being caught can be nasty. These cases tend to be listed in just a few courts, which can be pretty tiresome for the bench members. As it happens these cases are a rarity in my court, so this week the S172 that appeared on my list was the first that I have ever done, in about 30 years on the bench. The evidence was pretty thin, and we acquitted. The clerk told us later that these cases often fail to stick.

They are a tidy source of revenue for the various loophole specialists in the legal profession, as many people will cough up a hefty sum to keep their driving licence.

Friday, June 03, 2016


A colleague whose court has jurisdiction over a major airport tells me that she has recently dealt with a case from 'Operation Jigsaw' the Met Police team that handles repatriated sex offenders.

She told me that a man with 120 and more convictions, many for sex offences, had served time in an antipodean prison, and had been put on a plane to the UK on his release. The magistrates made a highly restrictive order about his future conduct, and he was returned to police custody for the time being.