Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wrong Impression

In my private life I make no attempt to hide the fact that I am a magistrate. The very existence of this blog is a testament to my ambition to disperse some of the fog of ignorance and misunderstanding that envelops our courts. Many of my colleagues take a different view, and tell me that no one, other than close family and friends has any idea that they are judicially engaged.

Because I make no secret of what I do, I am often approached, usually for my opinion, but occasionally for advice. I won’t do advice, other than in terms of “Don’t sue, whatever you do” or, almost invariably, “Go and see a solicitor”.
Opinions are different. Nearly everyone has some experience of a brush with the law, be it divorce, speed cameras, nasty neighbours or whatever. At parties, people home in on me. Speeding bores (“It’s all about revenue isn’t it? I’ve got 9 points, but my Porsche is perfectly safe at 110, especially as I am such a good driver”) get short shrift, but sometimes people’s tales make me aware of ways in which the system might do better.

The other weekend someone who had been assaulted (a long time ago, and with no long-term injury) was telling me how aggrieved he felt that his assailant had been acquitted. “They didn’t believe me” he said. Well of course that isn’t right. A perfectly credible witness may give evidence, but in the absence of any corroboration such as an independent witness or a bit of forensic, the bench may be obliged to acquit because the case has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt – that’s not the same as not believing him.
These days we hope to do better. All witnesses are now offered witness support either from a professional or a trained volunteer, so these sort of misunderstandings shouldn’t happen any more.
The current buzz-phrase in the system is “No witness- no justice”. Seems okay to me.

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