Thursday, August 09, 2012

Reflection

Guidance has just been issued by the senior judiciary which specifically refers to blogging. For reasons that are obvious I shall read the documents carefully before making any comment, then take advice from friends and colleagues. So please be patient, but you will have my views in due course.

Bystander


84 comments:

  1. publish it so we can all see :)

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    1. Tiptop, scroll down to Sub Rosa's comment (Timed 18:42) on Bystander's previous post. That contains the text of the guidance.

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    2. "Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

      Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer (sic) holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

      The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.

      Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly."

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    3. The Guidance itself reduces my confidence "in the judiciary in general", because it indicates its attraction to totalitarianism.

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  2. Not sure if the actual guidance has reached you yet, Bystander, or if you're basing this on what you've seen in the comments to your last post, but 'the documents' won't take long to read: what Sub Rosa posted in her comment was not merely an extract. That's the entire text of the guidance.

    Look forward to reading your response once you've consulted with friends and colleagues.

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  3. Be bold. This excellent blog has been going for a long time with not the slightest evidence to suggest that any judicial impartiality has been affected adversely.

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  4. The Senior Presiding Judge's request does not allow any latitude for boldness, it would seem.

    But I can understand why you say that - this blog is a superb advertisement for the magistracy ; and I would have thought that anything that made the system more transparent and more human (without compromising public perceptions of the judicial process) would have been gratefully seized upon.

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  5. The text of this guidance is rather threatening. "Must remove and existing content which conflicts with it (i.e. the guidance) forthwith."

    The blogger may not identify himself as a member of the judiciary. Thus, the name Magistrates' Blog - Musings and Snippets from an English magistrates - is likely to fall foul of this "guidance" straight away.

    The there is the threat of "disciplinary action" whatever form that might take.

    How much better it would be to encourage sensible and responsible comment about the courts and the law. These days, one really fears for free speech etc. in this country.

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    1. Is that a change of tack from 17:15 ?

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    2. No change of tack but, if the guidance stands (hope not) then clearly the title of this blog is immediately in breach. Responsible and critical comment about the law ought to be permissible even from members of the judiciary no matter how low or high in the hierarchy. I fail to see why such comment would bring the judiciary into disrepute etc.

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  6. I'm in a "I see no ships" kind of mood about it all personally.

    This note currently has the status of tittle-tattle - as I understand it some person or person unknown have liberated it from an un-named password-protected location and put it into the public domain.

    This guidance has not been officially issued by anyone I work for so I will not be spending this evening redacting vast chunks of my blog.

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    1. Stan, it's reached me via email from an official channel (local advisory committee). I'm sure it'll reach you in due course.

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    2. Me too, although I thought it strange that it was not on Judiciary headed note paper. If the guidance stands i, and all JPs will have to adhere or risk the consequences.

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    3. Me too.

      And it came with another attachment which WAS headed on Judicial Office paper.

      By the way, are we all going to be disciplined for this?

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  7. A Magistrate I know has stripped his blog of all references to his activities in that capacity. He may have to blog his observations from the public gallery.

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  8. north bucks jp10 August 2012 09:51

    How far-reaching is this guidance - when we eventually get it? Does this mean the end of our participation in forums, such as on the Magistrates' Association's own website? And with what authority has it been issued?

    I notice that today's Times questions the authority of Lord Justice Goldring to bar magistrates from standing for police commissioners' posts or from assisting in elections, accusing him of "assuming the role of legislator and usurping the role of Parliament, which had not banned magistrates from becoming commissioners or sitting on oversight panels."

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  9. This seems to me a bad move. I'm inclined to write to the Senior Presiding Judge to seek to persuade him otherwise (which might be more effective that going on about it in blog posts).

    Do any of you guys know what address he can be written to at?

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  10. Free speech where art thou?

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    1. It got poisoned. Signed Juliet.

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  11. My response here: http://trevorcoultart.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/guidance-from-the-senior-presiding-judge/

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    1. That told them................NOT!!!!

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  12. Odd that Judges can openly criticise the law, sentencing and even recently the Government and yet lay magistrates are to shut up.

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  13. It seems fair enough, apart from the part that says you must not mention being a magistrate (or other member of the judiciary.)

    A blog is merely a way of telling people things.
    You can tell people, in general, that you are a magistrate.
    Therefore, it must follow that you can tell people on a blog you are a magistrate.

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    1. (Formerly Penguin)
      ...Or vice versa. My first waking thought this morning (oddly) was that, if I can't say I'm a magistrate in a blog, then I can't tell the average bloke in a pub. In essence, all the MIC work we've done over the years has just been wiped out by the SPJ.

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    2. That is SO perceptive. Telling a bloke in a pub is literally identical to making a permanent record on the web searchable by Google.

      With a mind like that, you're a JP, right?

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    3. (Formerly Penguin) Seeing as I clearly mentioned MIC and the work WE'VE done, I can see that your intellect matches mine. With a mind like that, you're a great detective, right?

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  14. And the Law Commission has suggested repealing the law that seeks to prevent "The Scandalisation of Judges" because the commission seeks great transparency within the Judical System. Excellent timing from the SPJ !

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  15. "Publish and be damned" - usually attributed to the Duke of Wellington but still excellent advice.

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  16. See my blog entry on this issue:

    http://ofinteresttolwayers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/should-judges-blog.html

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  17. We only have Bystander's word for it that he/she is a magistrate. On this blog anyone can claim to be anything - how would you know. Clearly if I sign my posts using my full name, add the suffix "JP" and claim to be a member of a specific bench, or have a name sufficiently unusual, then identity isn't a problem and my link to or membership of the judiciary can be checked and challenged.

    More to the point, if I write about interpreter debacles, police commissioners, the treatment in our courts of those with mental health issues do I necessarily bring the judiciary (or even the Ministry of Justice, HMCTS or anyone else) into disrepute?

    What has the SPJ or HMCTS got to hide? As the paragons of efficiency, open government and all things good and wholesome, what could they possibly not want disclosed?

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  18. Not a member of the magistracy10 August 2012 19:25

    I like the soupcon of understatement in London Barrister's post.

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  19. The 'remove any existing content which conflicts' bit means you are going to be busy perusing seven years of blogs.

    But, from what I have read, it looks as though they are making such severe restrictions, any legal based blog will soon be a thing of the past.

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  20. Come on BS, grow some gonads and tell them to get stuffed!

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  21. You have 3 options.
    1) Delete this blog - this the right option.
    2) Resign
    3) Own up to the advisory Committee and allow a Disciplinary enquiry to be held where you can state your position.

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    1. (Formerly Penguin)
      4) Get Mrs BS to write it.

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  22. 4) Ignore this unlawful dictat and carry on.

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    1. 5) Ordinary retirement might supervene before they could track BS down and discipline him (which could be pre-empted by resignation at that later time, if needs be, anyway).

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  23. Anyone for a song in a Cathedral or similar?

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  24. Hizzoner is on very thin ice and I am sure he knows it. I have been reading your blog almost from the beginning and have never spotted anything inappropriate. Stick with it BS. I am sure you are made of the right stuff!

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  25. 4) Temporarily close the site and discuss this with the SPJ. He was flexible with regard to his other recent pronouncement and it would be useful to discuss some modifications to the instructions. However first you must obey the existing one.

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  26. Fred's suggestion is very sensible, but the future of The Magistrate's Blog is not the only issue, even if it is undoubtedly the most high profile. The identity of its author is already in the public domain, so anyone who wanted to try and establish a link between their case and one "reported" on the blog would not have a great deal of difficulty in principle, though BS is undoubtedly very careful about what he writes (the same is not necessarily true of all those who comment - and if he is to become responsible for checking every single past comment and redacting any that could possibly infringe the SPJ's startling diktat, the whole nature of the blog, and indeed the scale of his task would be fundamentally changed, and not necessarily for the better). But any discussion with the Senior Presider would also need to establish what his rationale and indeed justification for this ill-thought through and thoroughly unworkable edict was, why he didn't engage in any form of prior dialogue or discussion, and on what basis he has sought to restrict so startlingly any public expression of opinion by judicial office holders on the Internet, but to tolerate and even apparently encourage discussion of judicial issues by colleagues in other media. His knee-jerk and exceedingly clumsy reaction to the prospect (hardly a surprise, and something the MA apparently raised in tempore non suspecto) of JPs standing for election as Police & Crime Commissioners made him look inept; this further example of an ill-considered "policy" position could well be seen to call his judgment into question.

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    1. Fred's idea is a prescription for procrastinated permanence of proscription. The Justice won't give a toss about some blogging magistrate, and would probably like an example to make out of someone.

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  27. The identity of its author is already in the public domain

    Not according to "the google". Do you have a source for that?

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  28. Interested Party11 August 2012 17:09

    As BS has approached "people" at court and talked about postings, it is possibly one of the worst kept secrets 'West of Ealing Broadway'...

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    1. Plus many associated with aviation will also have been able to put 2 and 2 together and work it out.

      True anonymity is close to an impossibility on line, as I found out to my cost when an unscrupulous AAIB employee decided to unmask my (employer required) pseudonym on another on line forum where he was a contributor a few years ago.

      BS may recall that event, which included very useful input from a well-known aviation lawyer (now a judge) who roundly condemned the said official.

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  29. "Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

    Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer (sic) holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general."


    For what it's worth, I've been reading this blog for over five years and I've never once read one single word of yours that so much as bends that guidance.

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    1. I totally agree about the quality and integrity of the blog.

      The problem is with 'identifying themselves as members of the judiciary'. At first this appears to mean BS cannot say he is a magistrate anymore. But could it also be interpreted as no more than 'you must not say exactly who you are (e.g. by giving your real name), if you are a member of the judiciary'.

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  30. Interested Party12 August 2012 07:48

    Sorry Jake, but I must disagree!

    The guidance seemingly imposes a two-stage test: the first being not to identify yourself as a member of the judiciary; and the second being not to make comments that would adversely affect people's confidence in them or the system.

    Whilst the second stage is arguably open to every reader's interpretation and upon which everyone will have their own views, the first stage is crystal clear and as BS's profile identifies himself as a magistrate, let alone the many blogs about what BS did in court that day, the blog and many of the posts clearly DO fall foul of the new guidance and that is beyond doubt.

    Whether the new guidance is proportionate to address the perceived mischief caused by such blogs is a separate matter and another one on which we'll all have our own views...

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  31. Personally BS, I would ignore the 'advice.' I am sure you won't do that and so the question is, what is more important to you? The perceived social standing and importance that being a JP gives to you in your real world or the adulation of like minded souls on this blog?

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    1. That's not the question.

      And even if it was, those would not be the answers.

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    2. Your chip is showing I'm afraid.

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  32. I'm watching this discussion with some trepidation - virtually my entire readership comes via this blog!

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    1. That's certainly how I discovered it. But once I had found it, I have regularly returned (On Probation Blog).

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  33. Replies
    1. The SPJ has twice had to "clarify" his guidance about magistrate candidates for the PCC roles within 7 days of issue, so perhaps there will be some movement on the blogging issue?

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  34. Is the judicial blogging ban contrary to article 10?

    http://ofinteresttolwayers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/do-judges-have-right-to-freedom-of.html?spref=tw

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  35. Interested Party13 August 2012 06:08

    ...which is only a qualified right, not an absolute one!

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  36. north bucks jp13 August 2012 08:45

    Interesting timing in that that the latest edition of 'Magistrate' is recommending that members should make use of Pink Tape, a family law blog...

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  37. http://trevorcoultart.wordpress.com/

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    1. I can only hope that you won't be quite so obliging, BS.

      One would like to think that this is an issue on which the MA would have strong, considered and viable views.

      And yet to look at the Forum there seems to be a far greater interest in dry cleaning expenses. Which is a bit of a shame.

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    2. Hi, Biker, yes, I can see that I've been very 'obliging' in my response. But watching the debate on here and elsewhere I'm intrigued to see what others - particularly Bystander - do.

      My blog has, in any case, never been *about* being a magistrate, as anyone who's bothered to look will see. It merely *mentions* it on a few occasions. And I'm in a very different position to others as I do blog, tweet etc in my own name.

      Keeping quite for now, though. But maybe not for ever.

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  38. but not unusual. During the time when the role of magistrates has been decimated either by transfer to local councils (now recognised even by some former ministers as a mistake) or transfer of responsibilities for management of the courts to civil servants or transfer of judicial work to paid judges, what has exercised the MA and many members most? Expenses !

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    1. Trivialising the work done by the MA on the issues of real import does nobody any good, and not only misrepresents the truth about the activities of the Association, and especially of its officers (of which I am not one, I should make clear) and of its standing committees, which spend their time on matters of real substance. That individual magistrates, not involved with "policy making" have been understandably exasperated by the contradictions, inconsistencies and "messages" sent out by the successive edicts on capping mileages whilst pleading with magistrates to sit in courts 60 miles away to avoid trials going down, to give but one example, is not a sign of disinterest in the bigger picture, but simply a natural reaction to mismanagement and its fallout on court staff and JPs alike. I can certainly confirm that all the other issues you mention have occupied the attention of the Association in recent times, and continue indeed to do so.

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  39. Does anyone know if a Magistrate's dog would be constrained by this guidance also ? Would the disciplinary action involve getting slapped across the nose with a newspaper and the withdrawal of sofa privileges ?

    Woof.

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  40. A typically adult and restrained view form The Probation Blog...

    http://www.probationmatters.blogspot.co.uk/

    I'm still hoping that the Magistrates Association has something to say. Even if it's just a bit of punctuation.

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  41. It would be very sad if your blog had to come to an end. I feel that it enhances the reputation of the bench and the judiciary as a whole. It shows the difficulties they operate under and the enormous amount of thought and consideration that they apply to their judicial tasks. It very carefully anonymises the parties involved and steers clear of controversial comment on sensitive issues. It is the sort of blog a magistrate ought to write.

    There ought to be more of this sort of thing. Not less. Or indeed none. What is the SPJ thinking?

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  42. Interestingly this is getting some good exposure on Twitter - and this blog gets a mention too!!

    http://t.co/zjZQkKyb

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  43. "We select judges for being thoughtful, careful people and it follows that those who dip a toe in the waters of blogging are likely to do so with appropriate caution and forethought (and in my experience they do so). We pay them to think before they open their mouths. So why not trust their judgment?"
    A quote from the blog "Pink Tape" on this subject. In which I would include magistrates and to which I can only respond, "Precisely."

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    1. Have a read of http://thejusticeofthepeace.blog.co.uk - including adverts?

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  44. And another:

    http://t.co/2q21mGjQ

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  45. The Pink Tape on the subject is really highly recommended. Blows big holes - in a constructive way - in the Guidance.

    http://pinktape.co.uk/courts/judgment-without-opinion/

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  46. Does anyone know an email address for Lord Justice Goldring, the Senior Presiding Judge, so that interested readers can contact him and explain the value that they get from this (and other similar) blogs? I've been reading this blog on-and-off for years and it has very much improved my opinion of lay magistrates, both when I was a police officer and now that I research crime and policing issues.

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    1. via

      simon.parsons@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk

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    2. Thanks! Done.

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  47. Despicable nonsense, and it is to be hoped that the Magistrates' Association take up cudgels.

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    1. Not a peep from the MA so far.

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    2. Have a look at this...

      http://meejalaw.com/2012/08/17/should-judges-blog-a-little-more-detail-on-the-new-guidance/

      Not so much a peep, more a close-up.

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  48. Surely a revision (withdrawal) is on its way.

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  49. Buenos dias,

    There is a room in my embassy from where Bystander is welcome to blog with impunity.

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  50. Was there ever any progress on this matter? I presume not as thanfully) you're still blogging!

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    1. Nothing further since last summer, and you will note that we have changed to a team approach. The wigs are worried that I may cast doubt upon the impartiality of the bench. If anyone can find anything to that effect in the 2000 plus posts so far, good luck to them, but I can't be bothered to look.
      And if I were kicked out, that wouldn't stop the blog, of course.
      The next thing to look at is whether we will fall under the new press regulation umbrella. If we do, and it all goes bad, it's an open secret that my modest house and modest hatchback won't cover a million pound costs order.

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Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.