Thursday, February 09, 2017

New Stuff

A friend recently asked me to cast an eye over a summons she has received for a speeding offence. She was going too fast for a speed awareness course or a fixed penalty, and was duly reported. She is going through the Single Justice Procedure, which is a new one on me, but I expect that it consists of one JP sitting alone with a clerk, dealing with the simpler cases. In days gone by I used to sit alone on Saturdays when I could usually expect about ten or fifteen cases, mostly remands or discharges. My maximum power was a penalty of one pound or one day's imprisonment, which could fill the bill for he usual overnight drunks and nuisances. The real work was deciding on bail, and that is a serious matter when you are on your own.
I shall be interested to see how the new procedure works in practice; no doubt my one-time colleagues will be able to fill me in.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dog Days

There was a news item this week about the sentencing of some people who organised dog fights, with large sums wagered on the result. I saw one such case a few years ago, and it needed a strong stomach to look at the evidence. The fight took place in an abandoned farm building and at the end the whitewashed walls were heavily bloodstained. We simply remanded the two defendants, and my colleagues sentenced them a few weeks later after reports were prepared. The aggravation was considerable; organised for money, dogs had to be destroyed, and so on so. They received the maximum six months each and were banned from keeping animals for ten years. In this latest case numerous social-media comments have complained that the six month sentence was not enough, but as usual that raises the question of just how long is enough? All sentences have to fit into the scale somewhere; for example can it ever be right to impose a higher penalty for cruelty to animals than to people?

Here's the Guideline:-

http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/item/animal-cruelty/

Monday, December 26, 2016

In The Nick

Prisons are in the news again, following recent outbreaks of disorder. This is an excellent piece from the Telegraph

I have been to Hollesley Bay a couple of times; it had a completely different culture from closed prisons such as the Scrubs, with a target of getting inmates ready for work on release.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Supreme Chicken?

The Supreme Court is now considering a crucial case that will clarify the power of the judiciary vis a vis that of Parliament. Many of the country's finest legal minds will focus on this matter, and a verdict will be handed down. In the long tradition of European matters dividing our nation, some unscrupulous parties are attempting to discredit the Courts, in particular by focusing on individual judges and any perceived bias they may have. This is an appalling piece of vandalism, the worst offender being the Daily Mail. Recently that paper has given space to the risible Ian Duncan Smith, a failed Tory leader.  IDS' opinion reminds us how lucky we were to be spared his presence in Downing Street.

He repeats the now-customary jibe that judges are unelected. Of course they are, but then so are brain surgeons and airline captains, and we expect and receive a professional and disciplined service from them. Electing judges would fatally damage the public's confidence in the judiciary's utter impartiality.

We are blessed with a judiciary that is incorruptible, and that is why many foreign litigants choose to have their cases heard in London.

All judges and magistrates take the same judicial oath:-

 “I, _________ , do swear by Almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second in the office of ________ , and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”

That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Out of The Ordinary

The right-wing fanatic who is accused of the murder of Jo Cox MP has opted not to give evidence nor to call any witnesses in his defence. The jury will be directed by the judge as to how to deal with this.

He is of course perfectly entitled to remain silent, just as the jury is perfectly entitled to draw the inferences that it finds proper from his decision. In times past courts sometimes had to decide whether the accused was 'mute of Malice' or 'mute by Visitation of God'.

This is a situation that I have only faced a few times in court. We gravely retired to consider, and I took the bench carefully through the decision making process as if we were assessing a real defence. We then took great care to prepare our reasons for our blindingly obvious decision, reading them out slowly and carefully before handing them down to the Clerk for the file. It all felt a bit unreal, but it is in odd cases such as these that everything has to be done just so.

Guilty it was then, to no one's great surprise.

Joined Up?

According to the news on my radio today there are calls to make the wearing of military decorations that have not been legitimately earned punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine. Of course we must treat our old soldiers with dignity and respect their awards, but is this really a sensible use of the scarce and costly prison system?

Since I joined the Bench in 1985 the prison population has soared to its current 85,000 or so. Posing as a decorated old soldier is more sad than evil, and there is no tangible victim involved. Expose the perpetrators in their local paper for the pathetic poseurs that they are, but prison? No.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Priorities

I am afraid that my mind has slipped off matters legal today, since my new granddaughter Martina was born at 1am GMT  today, in Bogota, Colombia. Congratulations to parents Matthew and Tata.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Fancy Having A Go?

The MoJ's planning for recruitment to the bench is no better than their usual planning, unfortunately. When I was sworn in in 1985 I became one of about 29,000 JPs in England and Wales; today the Bench is more like 19,000 strong, the drop being largely due to the increase in out-of-court disposals such as fixed penalties and cautions. In the meantime numbers have gone up and down, and during the years of amalgamating benches just over five years ago there was a virtual freeze on recruitment for some time. Now the system is struggling to recruit enough JPs to do the job. Nowadays, the biggest obstacle is the reluctance of many employers to allow JP employees time off. This even applies to public services such as the fire brigade, who used to be known for being relatively generous with time off for public service, but are now more niggardly.

I shall not fill the blog with the minutiae of how to apply, because the website  (www.gov.uk)  is very good, but I can say that if you are even slightly interested in the justice system you should consider applying. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and your chances are probably better than you would expect

Monday, November 07, 2016

Senior Wig Writes

I have just had a letter on lovely thick straw-coloured letterhead from the Royal Courts of Justice in which a Rt.Hon.Lord Justice thanks me for my 31 years' service on the bench. 

That's nice, and I shall pass it on to my granddaughters in due course. Both of their parents are solicitors. My impending third grandchild will have two journalists as parents, so that's nice too.

Name Drop

The current Press coverage that has featured Lord Chief Justice Thomas reminds me that I met him a few times, and heard him speak on several occasions. A rubicund Welshman with tufts of silver hair, he came to my court during the formative phase of HM Courts' Service. and was always full of accurately targeted questions.

As part of the process of setting up HMCS I attended a large meeting at the QE2 Centre in Westminster, representing benches in my part of London. Thomas was part of the platform panel, and I shall never forget his reaction when an HMCS Regional Director got to his feet and asked why, given his responsibilities, he could not be a member of the local Justices' Issues Group (as I was). Thomas delivered a devastating reply, which touched on the independence of the judiciary and the need for the new Courts' Service to get on with its job, rather than interfering in judicial matters. We all sat there spellbound, never having seen such a demolition of a public servant. Thomas' immaculately reasoned speech ended with him steepling his fingers, his elbows on the table, and stating with finality: "and furthermore, I shall not permit it."

We all breathed in again, but it wasn't over. The unfortunate RD still had the hand held microphone, and he got back to his feet as we all cringed, thinking "stop digging" but he raised the mike and said "Thank you". He looked squarely at the platform and said "I'll take that as a 'no' then" He brought the house down.

I mused in the train on the way home about His Lordship. As a schoolboy he must have developed a pretty robust style, having been given the name of 'John Thomas'.