Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Only Way To Travel?

I had an excellent cold lunch today at my daughter's house in Bristol, washed down with some very nice wine. After saying fond farewells to my daughter , my son-in-law, and my lovely granddaughters  we took the M4 eastwards. As we approached Chippenham I felt my eyelids drooping, so I allowed sleep to overcome me. My wife was driving of course, and I woke up at the Junction 8/9 exit. What a way to travel!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Just a note to wish a happy Christmas to all of you, and to hope that we never meet professionally.

Friday, December 20, 2013

More Schadenfreude

I have to remind myself to keep a straight face and suppress my glee when I read a tale such as this.
A lot of rich dupes were fooled into buying worthless 'investment' wine, seduced not by the wine, because they had no plans to drink the stuff, merely cellar it and gloat over their illusory profits.
I am reminded of a line from 'The Magnificent Seven' when Eli Wallach ,playing the bandit Calvera explains to Yul Brynner, crossing himself, :
If God had not meant them to be shorn, he would not have made them sheep

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Suffer Little Children

There is a piece in the Times (sorry, there's a paywall) about the continuing tragedy of young people who live in the 'care' of a local authority until they reach the age of eighteen, when they can be more or less on their own. Although the staff mostly do their best, and are certainly not overpaid' the simple logistics of running a care home mean that the children see different adults as shifts change, and rarely have the chance to form meaningful relationships.
Add into the mix the fact that many of the children taken into care have already suffered emotional damage, and it is hardly surprising that so many young and not-so-young offenders have spent time in care
There are plans to provide additional support up to the age of 21 in appropriate cases. That must be better than what happens now. I once chatted with an officer at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution who told me that when he talks to the lads during recreation time, he sometimes finds that he is the first adult male that they have ever spoken to for more than a couple of minutes at a time. 

I hope that Rupert will forgive me if I insert a direct quote from the article:

 " Less than 1 per cent of the population has ever been in care, but they account for between 15 and 25 per cent of the homeless, 24 per cent of adult prisoners and — according to the Home Office — 70 per cent of sex workers. Only a third get five good GCSEs, compared with four fifths of their peers, and 6 per cent go on to higher education, whereas 23 per cent of their age group do. Whatever society is doing as substitute parents, our record is a lousy one".

Cock-up Or Conspiracy?

Serco, one of the firms that dominate the custodial services market, is to repay the staggering sum of £68.5 million that it has overcharged for tagging services. The Serious Fraud Office will decide in due course if this results from malice or incompetence, but there are also serious questions about the role of the MoJ. Did they really shell out nearly seventy million quid of our money without rigorous audit checks?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Battery Charging

For some time now it has been rare to see a charge of Actual Bodily Harm, as the CPS has often opted to charge even nasty assaults as Common Assault, which avoids the cost and inconvenience of the defendant opting for a jury trial, albeit the maximum sentence available is then six months. Unusually we saw a couple of separate up-tariff assaults yesterday, one a Section 18 GBH with intent, the other a Section 20. Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps the CPS are having a rethink about under-charging.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Some time ago, the Times exposed the identity of the police officer who blogged (very successfully) as Nightjack. Many of us were uncomfortable about this, and the question that lodged in my mind was "why?". Nevertheless there arose a climate of uncertainty among bloggers and not everyone fancied taking a chance.

Since then several police bloggers have disappeared from the Interweb, notably the stimulating if often infuriating Inspector Gadget. I can only sympathise; it is all right for the likes of me to irritate the authorities, but this blog doesn't pay my mortgage or feed my kids (if only...).

It turns out that the Times obtained its information in  a dubious  manner (as did so many Murdoch staff at that time) and now the Times lawyer has come to grief with his professional body.

I believe that there is a Chinese aphorism that if you sit beside the river for long enough you will eventually see the bodies of your enemies float by. I am still watching that river.

Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago or so I dealt with a memorably high-level drink driver. The young woman had burst two tyres by hitting the kerb, and a member of the public called the police. She was arrested at 9.30 am, and on arrival at the police station she blew 171 in breath, as against the limit of 35. I don't know what happened to her as we adjourned the case for reports and a different bench dealt with her.

Last week, in a grim coincidence, we saw a man who had blown 171. In his case, members of the public had called police, who stopped him to find a nearly empty bottle of vodka on the passenger seat. This level clearly reaches the custody threshold so we adjourned for 'all options' reports, imposing an interim ban as we did so.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Salami Tactics

This is not a political blog (albeit politics and the law overlap much of the time) but I have to express severe reservations about the Chancellor's recent announcements. According to the Law Society Gazette the MoJ budget is about to be cut by another 148 million pounds.

I fully understand the need to reduce the deficit, but I am also aware, week by week, of the drip-drip of financial cutbacks on the justice system. On a superficial level our courthouses are becoming increasingly shabby, as maintenance is cut back. My home court has heating and (partial) air conditioning that works erratically if at all. In cold weather courtrooms have plug-in electric heaters here and there, and when it is warm there are cheap supermarket fans keeping the air moving. The lift from the car park can no longer make it beyond the second floor, and the pleasant little tea bar that used to be run at no cost to HMCTS has now been closed for two years for 'strategic' reasons, which I read as making it easier to flog off the whole building in due course.

Although the volume of work is dropping steadily, the managers are obliged to try and cram as much work as they can through the courtrooms. Now it's easy to scoff at judges and magistrates who call it a day at about 4.30, but that is not motivated by anything other than the quality of justice. Spending a day concentrating on evidence, if another trial is dropped in our laps at four o'clock, means that it's unavoidable for that bench's concentration to flag. By half past five thoughts might easily drift to getting on the road before traffic gets out of hand.

Foul-ups in the provision and service of documents have become the norm for the CPS, and it is a rare trial that starts on time with prosecutor briefed, witnesses ready, and everyone's ducks in a row. This is the inevitable consequence of fewer staff trying to run the  CPS' vital back-office functions.

Priorities are for politicians to decide, of course, but I think that they will be very unwise not to keep justice well up their list.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


We had a run-of-the-mill day for most of today. A couple of trials did not go ahead (as so many do not) due to the non-appearance of one defendant and two witnesses. We sentenced a few reports cases, dealt with a warrant or six (a job that I passed to the least senior person on our bench as we now consider warrants as individuals, and the experience will have done him good). There was a bit of hanging around, and we suddenly heard that there had been trouble in one of our courtrooms.A prisoner had attempted to escape, and had caused a bit of damage in the process, so that courtroom had to close while police officers investigated.  We therefore took a couple of cases  from their list, and packed up just before 5 pm. It is so often the dull days that produce a surprise.

Pass The Port

I have been signing people's applications for passports, gun licenses and such for a couple of dozen years and more, and I have almost never been checked up on, with the obvious exception of anything to do with firearms. One such exception was a Sergeant from Dundee who called me at 5.30 on a Sunday morning to confirm that I knew a particular applicant for a shotgun. I couldn't resist asking him what time it was in Dundee, and when he told me I informed him that it was the same time in the Home Counties. He replied briskly, "Sorry, sorr, but I'm going off shift in half an hour and I have tae get this paperwork done".

Today I had a letter from the Passport Office asking me to confirm that I had signed a neighbour's form last month, which I was happy to do. I don't know if that is now standard procedure, or that it was at last my turn to have my name pulled from the hat.