Sunday, February 03, 2013

Not Revolutionary (But Commonsense Anyway)

The bush telegraph tells me that there is to be a change in the way that District Judges will sometimes work in future.

Hitherto lay and professional benches have been kept firmly separate. Tim Workman, who was the previous Chief Magistrate, set his face dead against mixed benches with the single notable exception of a case in which the defendant was a High Court Judge, and the chief sat with two JPs, presumably to avoid any hint of an old-pals-act stitch-up (and I hasten to add that Tim W is an impeccably fair judge).

My understanding is that in certain circumstances, such as when a DJ's case has gone short, a mixed bench can be convened to deal with other work and that will be a one-man-one-vote bench, just like a lay bench, although the DJ will take the chair.

This will avoid the frustration of sending lay magistrates home to allow their work to be passed to the DJ, who needs, at well over a hundred grand a year, to be kept busy. Another likely benefit is to sit JPs with DJs to help improve their case management skills. With pressure on court time and resources it is vital to manage cases firmly and fairly to avoid waste and delay, so these skills are vital. 

A minority of magistrates (but not I) cleave to the conspiracy theory that DJs are set to replace the lay bench, and these latest measures may go some way towards building trust.

16 comments:

  1. Magistrates Courts - Sharing the Burden

    http://obiterj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/magistrates-courts-sharing-burden.html#more

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  2. I think sitting with a District Judge (magistrates court) is of limited value in improving case management skills. DJ's work in a different way; they have access to the case files before court; have far stronger knowledge of the rules of evidence and the law than lay magistrates require; can risk being far more forceful with advocates than we can; and don't need to consult.

    I have watched our DJ's in court on many occasions.; I can probably manage a remand court nearly as quickly as they do. But it would not be appropriate for a lay chair to do so.

    I am more than happy for DJ's to do matters requiring complex case management with legal issues to be decided. That is their forte. We are better used as finders of fact: that is the forte of a mini jury.

    I don't hold to the conspiracy theory either: after all, with no lay benches, who would do the TV license courts, the CSA courts, the council tax avoiders, the utility warrants, the statutory declarations and all the other exciting matters we deal with!

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  3. Sorry to disagree with you BS but there is a willingness within HMCTS to replace JPs. The fact that DJ's salaries come out of a totally separate budget gives HMCTS more lee way to use them. I recently heard the Chair of the JCS trying to scotch this rumour but not very successfully. I do, however, like the idea of sitting with DJs.

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  4. The DJs on our Bench are in my view friendly and accessible and make a point of sharing a cuppa when they can in the Assembly room. Always interesting with them to chew the cud.

    We sit with Crown Court judges on appeals cases - excellent idea to sit with our DJs. Wonder what they'll think though......?

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  5. @Anonymous 14:07. I am not sure I agree with two of your assertions - rather, I am sure I don't agree.

    (1) : you say "(DJs) can risk being far more forceful with advocates than we can". Why so?

    (2) : you say "I can probably manage a remand court nearly as quickly as they do. But it would not be appropriate for a lay chair to do so". Why not?

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  6. I would look forward to the occasional sitting with a DJ chair if only to see just how different their perspective is. I have certainly chat with experienced and, shall we say, confident chairs who are quick in their case management and certainly not inclined to cede control of proceedings to counsel of any stripe.

    As to case load, in my bench area there is a solid policy of not discriminating between DJs and lay mags, except that lengthy trials tend to be given to DJs because they are more likely to be able to turn up for a few days together.

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  7. Just as we used to do in Youth Courts. Worked well and we all learned from each other (yes, DJs do learn from 'lay' justices) but it was not liked by the DJs themselves and stopped a few years ago. As for the HC Judge case, well, I could comment on that case, but better not................

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    1. When I first starting sitting as a magistrate in the 1990's, there were few DJs. We routinely heard multi-day trials, and there was a rota for those who wanted to sit for three consecutive days, followed by a month off and then two days. It worked for years.

      I cannot think of many legal issues that a competent legal adviser could not distil sufficiently for a bench of magistrates to rule on.

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    2. Further to y comment regarding DJs; there is something of an art to gaining consensus with a bench of three whilst ensuring all are properly heard. This takes time and experience to develop. DJs never practice this. I am not suggesting they can't but there is no reason to suspect they will be any better at it than a lay chairman. Having sat on appeals, my experience of the circuit judiciary is that their skills in this area also vary a great deal. There is no point in having a three person bench if any of them are not properly heard.

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  8. I think MoJ would like to replace the volunteer bench with stipes, but my usual soft pencil and back-of-fag-packet suggest that the idea wouldn't cut much ice with Gideon.

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    1. Time reveals all things.

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  9. But it will, it will. What happened to Justices' Clerks? Look at the long term savings made. Now for the legal advisers. Then all the admin, training costs, space costs etc etc associated with 'lay'justices. Long term savings very substantial and even though a DJ may cost well over £150K including oncosts, they require minimal admin costs. Combined with greater proportion of out-of-court disposals, it won't even be necessary to continue to enlarge the District Bench. Do you really believe that mag courts will be 'manned' by lay members in 10 years time? Look at what has happened to so many other types of tribunal during the past decade.

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    1. "even though a DJ may cost well over £150K including oncosts, they require minimal admin costs. "

      Really? not in my experience.

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    2. One downside of using DJs for trials is the anomaly that a DJ running a trial is effectively a one-man judge and jury. A defendant may elect to go to the Crown Court to have a trial by a jury of 12, or he may elect to stay in the Magistrates' Court where he might assume that a bench of three will give hima fair hearing. What he may not be aware of is that if the trial is later listed to be placed in the hands of a DJ, he is heard by just one person, with no room for dissension or discussion by a tribunal when considers the verdict.
      But I am a strong advocate of occasionally using a DJ as a chairman on a bench of three, so the wingers can learn from him, just as we do from sitting with Hizhonour at Crown Court appeals.

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  10. I see another downside - I don't think the DJs will like it. In the past, our bench had a great rapport with the DJs. The current batch seem to be detached, have no interest whatsoever in their colleagues (ie us though I suspect the do not see us as colleagues) and not a one of them can even be bothered to attend Bench Meetings any more.

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  11. No, they don't see us as colleagues. The Chief DJ(MC) not so long ago, in public, recalled his early days as a defence representative in front of a bench of well meaning,but not very competent do-gooders, with the lady justices wearing gloves in court. Clearly his recollection of many many years ago yet it still coloured his views and I suspect that of many of his (then stipe) colleagues. I wonder if the current crop of DJs feel very differently.Yet among my colleagues have been professionals in the fields of mental health, domestic violence, the emergency services, road traffic, drug treatment, police monitoring, forensic science, retail management, surgery; all relevant to some of the cases we deal with. So we can have a bench with such expertise, local knowledge and varying degrees of bias , properly advised by a legal expert, who are not dependant upon the State or the Senior Judiciary for their salaries or their advancement. But hey ho.

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