Monday, December 29, 2008

Has Sandhurst Anything to Offer the Police?

The following letters in today's 'Times' raise an interesting question. Many police blogs seem to suggest that front-line ranks have little confidence in the top brass, and the chaos in the Met speaks for itself. Can the police learn anything from the military?
Sir, The Police, and the Met in particular, have been subjected to a huge amount of negative criticism recently. By contrast the Army and Royal Marines, who are the nearest equivalent, are held in wide regard. Yet the Army has on a number of occasions killed innocent people in dangerous situations (although never against suicide bombers in Northern Ireland). The press has not clamoured for resignations of senior army officers or made undue fuss. The military is more successful in being detached from the political process yet faces far harder political tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the complex business of procuring new equipment. The Armed Forces appear to be less well paid. They do not earn overtime. So what is different?

Many of us in the military, when involved with the police, used to comment that they did not have an officer corps. The police riposte was always the same: all start from the same position, bobby on the beat and only by merit rise to higher rank. It’s a good argument but is flawed in two ways. First, senior police find it harder to take a detached view. So if a mistake has been made there is a temptation to cover it up or to be unaware that something is wrong. As an officer aged 20 I had independent command miles from my commander and on active service. I had to learn to think for myself from a young age. Police officers have to be much older to get equivalent responsibility. Second, the police do not recruit well from the professional classes. As a result they miss out on a wide area of talent. It also makes them culturally non-representative of the community.

I am not suggesting that the police adopt an officer corps system but a good start would be for the new commissioner of the Met to recruit a high-ranking soldier as one of his deputies. We have senior officers of high calibre. They have immense wisdom gained on long periods of active service. They would help a new commissioner regain the respect that our police deserve. They would help to restore a culture where senior officers do not bicker in public but pull together as a team.

Alastair Grant Lieutentant-Colonel, Royal Marines (Ret’d), London SW14

Sir, When I joined the police service 38 years ago most officers, senior and PCs, had military service by conscription. Each generation of officers is influenced by their time slot in history, and promote people like themselves. Maybe that is why there are now so many graduates in senior positions.

Postwar senior officers had leadership skills either as a leader or as a subordinate who had done well. What will be the next generation of senior officer skills? Focus-group interpreters?

George Wake (Ret’d PC) Swalwell, Newcastle upon Tyne

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Inside View

This is apparently what MoJ insiders are saying:-as reported by The Observer. It rings true to me.
It's odd, isn't it, that many people and very many police officers are convinced that sentencing has become easier, which appears to be the opposite to the truth?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasonal Wishes

As I type this I am close to finishing my nightcap; a Scotch in a decent crystal glass that I was given by good friends, some years ago. My darling granddaughters are asleep, and the carrot and mince pie that they left out for Santa and his reindeer are half-eaten on the plate by the fireplace. Santa seems to have drunk his small glass of whisky, too.
My family are lucky people, and I am aware of our good fortune. A sizeable minority of people are anything but fortunate, and I shall spare them a thought over the next few days. The recession has brought real fear to some families, and then there are those whom an accident of birth has condemned to a life without the comforts of family and stability that we so often take for granted. Children who have to be taken into care face a vastly increased likelihood of ending up in prison. Soldiers who leave the colours also form a disproportionately large cohort in our jails. Of course they will have offended, and that is why they are in prison, but there must be a lesson for all of us in the cause-and-effect that makes it scores of times more likely that a child born into the underclass will fall into crime than its counterpart in a safe and comfortable home.
So here's a thought for the on-duty coppers and emergency services, the firemen policemen medics and prison staff. Here's a thought for the 80,000 or so prisoners; some of them greedy stupid or vicious, but some more mentally ill, illiterate, and alone in the world, with no comfort beyond the chemical ones from the poppy, the coca bush, and the bottle.
Merry Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Cheer For Some

The Times reports on the revocation of many speeding tickets, due to an administrative cock-up that made the relevant limits unlawful and unenforceable. Good luck to the drivers concerned, for their unexpected good fortune. And isn't it great that in this country the authorities have to get every detail of the law right before punishing Her Majesty's subjects?
For too long we have been governed by a cabal with a mindset that led them to react to a defeat in the courts with a piqued threat to amend the law so as to get the offenders next time. The hell with that. I am no fan of speeders, but I know justice under the law when I see it. Merry Christmas to all of the - lucky - drivers involved.

Take it easy in future, won't you?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Code Again

Two more bits of code have come into use at my court recently.

If the custody officers are required in a courtroom and it is undesirable to alert the defendant or his fan club the usher will tannoy "Please can we have Volume 4 of Stones to Court X as soon as possible?" **

At lunchtime magistrates and occasionally local solicitors may refer to Court Seven. That's the pub up the road of course, since we have fewer than seven courtrooms.

(**Stones Justices' Manual has of course just three volumes)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Food For Thought

'David Copperfield', only begetter of the Policeman's Blog (one of the first, and still the best, in my opinion) has put on a thoughtful post from the frozen wastes of Canada, where he now works. I shared a BBC Radio 4 discussion with him a few months ago, and he comes across as a balanced and decent bloke.
It's a shame that not every police blogger who has followed him has taken a balanced view; Copperfield has made a real contribution to the public's understanding of the front-line copper's problems wrestling with paperwork ordered by a control-freak government. That has done far more real good than all of the others' intemperate rants about the courts put together.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seek and You May Find

May I just remind you of the existence of the search box at the top of the blog? I get asked a lot of questions, by email and in the comments, that I have dealt with before. I am always happy to do my best to help, but in nearly four years of blogging I have covered a lot of ground. Give it a try.
If you want a lot of returns, just try 'bail' as an example.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cautionary Tale (3)

This horrible tale is a word of caution against jumpimg to what may appear to be the obvious conclusion.
I hope that it is pinned to the noticeboard in certain tabloid newsrooms.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wiping Out a Debt

There's something a bit odd about this tale, although there is nothing new about, shall we say, innovative judgments from DJ Cooper.
I'm not sure I would have handled things quite the way he did.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Roughing It

The Ministry of Justice has reportedly spent a hundred and thirty million smackers on tarting up its new offices. Meanwhile down at the sharp end, it was so cold in my court the other day that I allowed advocates to address the court wearing their outdoor clothing, and one senior magistrate emailed the admin (now known as Mission Control) to threaten that he would call in the Council if matters did not improve rapidly. Unofficially, I have been told that orders have come down to turn down heating across the estate. I'm not sure how they managed that in my courthouse, since the only man who understands the antiquated and temperamental heating and air-con systems was early-retired a year ago, to be replaced by contractors who send along a different team every time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not Fair

This news report criticises a member of the public, who happens to be an MP, for calling 999 for a domestic incident.
Of course the lady could have tried to sort the problem herself, at which point some pompous opinionated idiot from the emergency services or from the Council would have slagged her off for her foolishness in not doing the nines earlier. "She put herself and her family at needless risk, our advice to the public is to dial 999 straight away"
She can't win, can she?

I Wish They Wouldn't Do It

We recently had a man in on a charge of drive disqualified, plus the usual no insurance. The problem was that he had been disqualified as a totter just three days before he was stopped, and claimed to have no knowledge of it because the court concerned had disqualified him in his absence. Given the vagaries of the postal system, there was no way we could be sure that he had received the letter of notification. We adjourned the case, but the clerk later said that he had no defence to the charge, merely mitigation.
Being disqualified has serious consequences, including the immediate invalidation of the insurance on any vehicle, and if he was legitimately driving someone else's vehicle its owner's interests would be seriously prejudiced, as would those of any third party he might injure.
Some clerks and many administrators want disqual. in absence to become routine, mainly because it is quicker and cheaper than adjourning to get the defendant in, on a warrant if needs be. I won't do it, because it is unfair and potentially unjust, especially as the machinery exists to get the defendant before the court where he can be properly warned about his ban.
To be fair, this fellow had previous for drive disqual, and he may well have known about the latest ban, but we have to be more certain than that before applying such a serious sanction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Numbers Game

The Government has been accused of unprofessional and misleading use of statistics.
Now who would have thought that possible?

Just a Thought

I have never concealed my irritation at the use by some police bloggers, who should know better, of the phrase 'liberal élite', that describes an entirely mythical coterie of bien-pensant posh people who do so much to impede or criticise the work of the police.

Does anyone want to suggest that the De Menezes jury were also members of that élite?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest Blogger 2

This is a contribution from Jennie, a regular commenter, who is a JP as well as a Solicitor. It's hers entirely, but her views are welcome, of course.


Having been kindly invited by Bystander to pen a little piece for his esteemed blog (a task for which I am entirely unworthy!!) I thought I might use the opportunity to raise an issue that is becoming close to my heart. It is an issue common to many in the public (and indeed private) sector but as this is ostensibly a blog about the magistracy, I thought I’d limit myself to this.

I refer of course to the way the criminal justice system is being starved of cash and resources to such an extent that justice – that nebulous but vital element of any state that would dare call itself a democracy,- is suffering.

When I was appointed to the bench in 1993 (eek, was it that long ago?) we had a full complement of legal advisers (6) plus our own Justices Clerk. Our courthouse was relatively small (2 ‘secure’ courtrooms, 2 ‘ordinary’ courtrooms for more minor offences plus in a separate block a courtroom for ‘juvenile’ courts as it then was. We usually ran 3 sometimes 4 courts morning and afternoon. We had an efficient in house administrative staff who ensured that files were available for court, results were recorded the same day, adjournment, summonses and trial notices were despatched in good time for the next hearing and our very own Magistrates Court Committee ensured a smooth running of the administration and training requirements. Our relations with the Police, CPS, Probation and Defence solicitors worked well – not always perfect of course, but the lines of communication ensured that any minor problems didn’t escalate into major hassles.

The rot set in with the removal of local MCC’s and (in London at least) the establishment of the Greater London Magistrates Court Committee. Control was centralised and budgets slashed. It’s main concern seemed to be the wholesale closure of courts and selling off the land for development. After a long and hard fought battle we won the fight to retain local justice in our court. This ‘experiment’ lasted barely 3 years before the GLMCA too was abolished and Her Majesty’s Court Service set up (but not before the inevitable reorganisation and consolidation of Justices Clerks to a regional rather than local basis and let’s not forget the less than successful Libra IT project which seems to have taken an inordinate amount of time to get right and it’s still doesn’t have all the functionality as promised).

My court now operates on a ‘clustered’ basis whereby our admin is done by a far bigger court 4 miles away. We have only 2 full time and 2 part time clerks. If lucky, we run 3 courts in the morning (but its more often 2) and 2 in the afternoon. Our JC is based 12 miles away and visits from time to time (thank goodness for e mail). Files are often missing as they have to be shuttled between court houses for various purposes. Resulting gets done when someone is free to do it – it takes a very low priority (as we are not the court where the admin is based) and everyone is just trying to keep their heads above water with other tasks as support staff leave and are not replaced. It is not unheard of for clerks to have to ring our ‘cluster centre’ in order to book a trial in the middle of a busy remand court session only to be told that no one is available to help – ring back later. So much for speedy summary justice. We have even heard of trials being cancelled by the cluster centre without bothering to tell us.

Training of magistrates, while in theory under the auspices of the Bench Training and Development Committee (of which I am Deputy Chair) is again administered by a central office 12 miles away and time and again, our colleagues have tried to book courses, only for them to slip through a very large crack as applications are lost or not actioned .It is a system creaking at the seams as staff and (unpaid volunteer) magistrates do the very best they can under worsening circumstances.

The Ministry of Justice has announced a further round of cuts to fill a £1.3 BILLION black hole and a further 10.000 job cuts. Goodness only knows where these cuts are to be found – the frontline is barely functioning as it is – I have not even started on cuts to Legal Aid, the Police, the Probation and Prison services etc etc. No wonder Justice has her eyes covered – it is not that she is blind, she is simply weeping for what is to come…

Elementary Error

There is a certain type of person that we sometimes see in the dock or in the witness box who speaks and behaves as if participating in a pub argument about football, and has no idea of the measured and structured ebb and flow of questions that we expect to see in court. Questions elicit rhetorical questions in reply, leaving the chairman to interject and explain that the witness is there to answer questions, not ask them. When challenged, we sometimes hear them offer to get on to their mate and get him down to the court, when he will put matters straight. No chance; he has been on bail for weeks awaiting trial, and he had plenty of time to get in all the witnesses he wanted - in his arrogance he thinks he can bluster his way through the trial as he blusters his way through life. We dealt with one such a few weeks ago; he was being cross examined in connection with an alleged assault, and it soon came out that he did not like being challenged on anything. He wasn't much of a listener either, as his defence solicitor had already tried to tell him just to answer the questions. The prosecutor could see that he was getting wound up, and that she was getting on top of him. In response to one question he said: "Look, It's all right for you, I'm not used to all this, being here in court". The prosecutor stopped, and I was already halfway to my feet to lead the bench out, when she asked for time to speak to the clerk.
At that moment I had realised that he had previous, and that the prosecutor was going to apply to put it in, since he had claimed to be unaccustomed to court (as it happened she did not use it, because it was quite old, but we saw it all after convicting him anyway). If you claim to be of good character when you are not, or if you attack the other side's character you 'lose your shield' and have to be ready to see your own record put before the court. As I have said before, cross examination in the hands of a skilful lawyer is a very powerful tool, and sometimes the light just snaps on and the bench or jury can clearly discern the truth.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The media frenzy over the Matthews 'abduction' case has unfortunately pushed the very important ECHR decision on the DNA database on to page 2.
What seems important to me is not the usefulness of DNA evidence (for which I should be grateful if it served to catch someone who had wronged me or mine) but rather the Government's deceitful and furtive approach to gathering information. There is an arguable case, although I disagree with it, for a DNA database of the whole population. There is a more or less accepted case for a database of convicted offenders. So if the Government believes in option one, let them have the guts to put it in the manifesto, so it can be properly debated, and then legislate. What is now happening is the weaselly half-measure of taking and keeping DNA from all those arrested, even if they are swiftly released or subsequently cleared. That's unfair and arbitrary, and I am cheered to see the ECHR giving the government a well-deserved poke in the eye.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Nick Robinson on the BBC has just told me that in future any warrant to search within the Palace of Westminster will have to be issued by a High Court Judge.
Damn! I was looking forward to doing one of those.
I know a few High Court judges, on a professional basis. Nice enough chaps, of course, but I bet I have more practice in doing search warrants than they have.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Guest Blogger

As promised, here is Peter Hargreaves' unedited post:-

Search Warrants

Am I alone in thinking that powers to search our homes and offices are now far too extensive and are rather too often being applied in an extremely heavy-handed and brutish manner?

In Semayne’s case (1604) 5 Co Rep at 91b – it was stated that “The house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress.” In 1767, William Pitt stated that - “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.”

A couple of years ago, Henry Porter writing in the Guardian had this to say – How the Englishman’s home ceased to be his castle . Porter began by reminding us of the 250 officers used in a raid on the home of two Muslim brothers in Forest Gate, London. He also drew attention to the massive extension of powers of entry and search which Parliament has placed on the statute book and he highlighted the very subtle ways in which this has been done - (I call it “legislative legerdemain”) - so as to avoid any real debate in Parliament.

A year ago, in the Redknapp case, the Police searched the property of Harry Redknapp at 6am with the Press in attendance – (a “tip-off” or “leak”). They searched under the authority of a warrant which turned out to be unlawful – see Redknapp v City of London Police Unfortunately, the Redknapp case suggests that the warrant was granted far too readily by the court which surely ought to be a rather more robust “guardian of the gates” in these matters.

Then we have the arrest of Mr Damian Green MP in connection with a Police investigation into leaks from within the Home Office. Of course, Mr Green has been a political thorn in the side of the government over immigration policy. However, both the arrest and the search of Mr Green’s home and offices (including the one in the House of Commons) seem to be particularly heavy-handed and this shows, yet again, the heavy manner used by the Police – a “sledgehammer approach” – which is disproportionate to the situation they are investigating. Mr Green would have had his fingerprints taken and DNA sampled and these will be retained indefinitely. Even worse, Mr Green’s daughter may find herself on the Merlin database since she was at home when the Police search took place.

It remains a fundamental principle that the authorities require legal authority to enter property. That is often a warrant issued by a J.P. Just what processes do J.P.s use – what questions are asked and what records are kept or are warrants just granted (as many people appear to think) on the nod.

(fixed to restore the hyperlinks in the original - ed)

Let's See How This Pans Out

I commented on this wheeze some time ago, in this post. I remain sceptical about its usefulness except as a sop to the tabloids.
As it happens I had a short chat the other day with a young man who told me that he had just finished 180 hours of unpaid work, to which he had been sentenced for a second, and high-level, drink-drive. I asked him how he had found the experience, and he said that it had had a major impact on his free time (180 hours is about six months of Saturdays). He had been placed in a local charity shop, and had helped with various tasks such as sorting stock, cleaning, a bit of painting, and serving customers. He said that he had found it worthwhile, and that he had felt that he was doing a job that needed to be done. I was very interested in this, because we get next to no feedback on community orders - I have not been able to fix a visit to a project for over ten years, which is quite wrong. Just one thing though - would it really have helped if this man had been forced to wear a fluorescent tabard while working in the shop? Would the shop have accepted that? Would it help his rehabilitation?

Le Vice Anglais - Updated

Those who, like me, enjoy the writings of Theodore Dalrymple (the nom-de-plume of Dr. Anthony Daniels, a retired prison doctor) will find food for thought in this article.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What the Hell is Happening?

This stupid and oppressive action by the police has at least been balanced by this decision by a Circuit Judge (to whom I will raise a glass next time that I have one such in my hand).
I am ashamed that my country's legal system has been so so shabbily misused, and I look forward to taking electoral revenge on the perpetrators.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Peter Hargreaves

Peter has contributed a lot of informed and thoughtful comment to this blog, and I and many others are grateful to him for that. He now says that he wants to take a break - fair enough Peter, and thanks.

Just one thing though - may I offer you the hospitality of the blog for a post on anything you like? No need to rush, but I am sure that I am not the only one who would like to see you set your own agenda for a change.



Later - I have it on good authority that Peter is likely to take up my invitation - ed.

Dramatis Personae (3)

Go down the discreet stairs next to Reception, and you enter the world of custody, where subjects of Her Majesty are detained while waiting to have the judiciary decide their fate, or, for the unlucky, waiting for transport to prison.. You will pass the Police Liaison office, usually staffed by a couple of experienced officers on a not-too-bad posting before they retire. They have powers of arrest, and access to the Police National Computer, essential to the Court's daily business. Then you come to a heavy steel grille, which will be electrically unlocked if the custodial officer thinks you might be all right to admit. The next grille will not unlock until the lock of the first has clicked into place, and the officer is sure of your bona fides.
The custody staff are a remarkably cheery bunch, considering the job they do, and they manage their charges with a mixture of firmness and sympathy. If you don't give them a hard time, they will treat you kindly, call you by your first name, and do their best to make the experience of being locked up bearable (and every prisoner starts off in Magistrates' Court cells, even the murderers). If you give them a lot of attitude, then firmness comes to the fore, as you would expect. Nevertheless, the system depends on compliance from those in custody, and mostly, that's what we get.
The cells are basic, without toilets, and with fittings that are carefully designed not to offer ligature points. There is a varnished wooden bench, and that's about it, apart from the plentiful graffiti, much of which is depressingly lacking in imagination. Prisoners' names are chalked on a board outside each cell, and there is a stark interview room for lawyers to see their clients. The toilet facilities offer limited privacy, for obvious reasons. Those in custody have a choice of ready-meals that are microwaved when required, and in deference to Human Rights various religious and dietary options are available. Most prisoner movements are in handcuffs and the guards wear wide wristbands, round which they fasten their half of the cuffs. That way if the prisoner chooses to pull on the cuff it hurts him a lot more than it does the officer. The vans sit outside waiting to be driven into the loading dock to collect or deliver their charges. They are very cramped and basic, each prisoner having less space that he would have in a normal toilet cubicle. When the London prisons 'lock out' as they often do, prisoners have to be driven long distances to alternative accommodation, and while a rough-and-ready approach is sometimes taken to a man who needs a pee, anything more serious requires a visit to a police station or prison that has a secure yard.
On the wall of reception is a plastic folder holding a dozen sheets of rough translation of common words. These sheets have been written by our regular interpreters, so the officer only has to ask his charge to point to a word, then he can look across to see the translation, be it 'toilet' 'food' 'lawyer' or whatever. Although I looked, none of them seemed to say 'I didn't do it'.
Almost every criminal court has this sub-world beneath. The job done there is essential, and I am glad that we have people who manage to do it with, on the whole, sympathy and good humour.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Worth Repeating

Thanks to Tony Tindale for quoting this letter (from the Telegraph)in the comments. It deserves greater prominence:-
Sir - I am a young barrister based in Nottingham. This week, I received my brand new 2009 edition of Archbold, the leading criminal law text, used by nearly all advocates and judges in English and Welsh court rooms.
Having taken my new barrister's bible out of its box, I cast an eye over the preface to this year's edition: "It has been a recurring theme of the preface to this work that there is far too much criminal legislation. The willingness of the Labour Government to continue its practice of legislating by trial and error has shown no signs of abating even in its eleventh year in office… The state of the criminal statute book is a disgrace. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is the usual hotchpotch of measures, with no theme, with much of the detail tucked away from close scrutiny in the schedules, and consisting in large part of textual amendment to earlier legislation. Much of the amendment is by way of undoing this Government's earlier legislation."

These words should be viewed seriously by those who care about our system of criminal justice. The current fashion of legislating to grab headlines is having a devastating effect on justice.

David Outterside, Nottingham

Thursday, November 20, 2008


By coincidence, several of our courts were slow to get started yesterday, so like proper JPs we got ourselves coffees, sat round the big table, and gossipped. Well, grumbled, actually.
"Have you seen the papers?" asked Nigel. "It seems that two serious speeding offences will get you banned in future". Snorts of derision, and a comment of: "Just like now, then" came from across the table. Others chipped in with the fact that (as Any Fule Kno) the Guidelines (remember them?) issued a few months ago suggest (as did their predecessors) that serious speeding should attract six points, and that 2 x 6 = 12, and twelve points equals a totting-up ban. So why are the papers full of it this morning? Of course it's spin, and like most spin it covers up the real agenda. Currently the police only ticket the relatively low-end speeders and send the serious Toads to court. The new plan is to allow FPNs to go up to 6 points, and, if I read aright, for police/CPS 'Prosecution Teams' to issue driving bans without the expense and inconvenience of a court hearing. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Then Pam chipped in with: "What about the idea of prosecuting men who 'knowingly' use prostitutes who are under the 'control' of a pimp?" "What's the chance of the CPS proving Beyond Reasonable Doubt that Joe Punter knew, or asked, whether Olga or Ludmilla was working on her own account or for nasty Sergei?" We rapidly formed a consensus that very few, if any, convictions would result.
At this point a couple of clerks appeared to say that their cases were at last about to start, and we drifted off to our courtrooms.
What is it coming to when socially-aware, trained and responsible JPs have been driven to such cynicism? There is only so much spin and bullshit that can be directed our way before some of us begin to question what the hell we are doing with our time. In more than two decades I have never seen Bench morale so low - because if we don't feel trusted or respected by the Government we shall not trust or respect it in return.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Simple, Speedy, Summary

Reading about the latest incidence of piracy off the coast of Africa, I could not help thinking that the Royal Navy, in days of yore, knew all about simple, speedy, summary justice when pirates were taken.
Does a Type 42 destroyer have a yardarm?


Call it the zeitgeist, call it popular culture, call it peer pressure if you will: at all levels of society and in all cultures most people acquire their opinions and their attitudes from the people around them and from what they see in the media. Thoughtful and caring parents are often shocked to realise that when their carefully nurtured offspring reach about twelve years of age, the child's peers will begin to have an influence at least equal to, and often outweighing that of the parents.
These thoughts were prompted by the proliferation of 'Police Action' TV shows that I have mentioned before, and by last week's tragic case in which three young people died in a car that crashed during a police chase. The police are well aware of the risks involved in chases and have strict procedures to follow - it is a very fine decision to have to take, one that balances the real risk to the public from a chase (and there are a significant number of innocent-bystander deaths each year) against the injustice of letting an offender get away.
What concerns me a bit is that the more footage TV shows us of tearaways driving off with tyres smoking when the police try to stop them, the more some young lads will feel that the same is almost expected of them when they are flagged down.
Something similar applies to the popular soaps too - human interaction is usually verbally and emotionally intemperate. If we aren't careful we shall establish a new and unpleasant set of norms. Does society reflect the telly, or does telly reflect society? There's the rub, as the old West Midlands scribbler said.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another Fine Mess

John, a fellow magistrate, has emailed me as follows:-

"I don't know if you have sat in a DVLA court since the new sentencing guidelines came into force but I did yesterday & I was pretty upset by how the fines have rocketed.
It was my first such session for quite a while so I'm going from memory but, as I remember them, the starting points for fines when we had no information regarding the means of the offender (which with these cases seems to be the rule rather than the exception) was:- 1 month's arrears £40
2 - 3 months' arrears £60
4 - 6 months' arrears £75
7 - 12 months' arrears £100
the equivalent figures using the new method for calculating fines based on the statutory disposable income of £350 are:-
1 - 3 months' arrears £175
4 - 6 months' arrears £435
6 - 12 months' arrears £875.
I'm pretty tough on motoring offences as I'm not a driver & have very little sympathy for offenders who fall into the "Mr. Toad" pigeon hole but to me these figures seem completely disproportionate. After all, the £175 figure could be charged even if as little as £10 tax was owing. Somebody is being screwed."

We don't do DVLA cases at my court but John's point about the new guideline fine levels is a good one. I have not seen any figures, but I imagine that the average fine has gone up a great deal since August. The consequences will not be fully apparent until the unpaid fines summonses start to be sent out in the New Year. Many offenders, especially those who commit low-level offences such as TV licence or car tax ones are not just poor but disorganised. The summons arrives, and is left on one side. The court then deals with the case in their absence, and deems their weekly income to be £350, as per the book. The fines notice is also lost or disregarded, and then it's for a fines court to sort out. The Chief Magistrate has often said that the guidelines are just that, rather than tramlines. I shall continue to use my judgment, in conjunction with my colleagues, and to impose fines that are reasonable and realistic in all the circumstances. And if we have to give our reasons for departing from the book, then I shall say that it is in the interests of justice - that's why I became a magistrate, after all.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Literally Shocking

I personally enjoyed the recently published list of the ten most irritating expressions at this moment in time. With all due respect, the number of people who use phrases that they shouldn’t of is a nightmare – the TV and papers are full of them 24/7. At the end of the day, it’s not rocket science to speak decent English. I try my best but does that make me fairly unique? Absolutely.

Friday, November 07, 2008


An Iranian politician has come to grief over a little matter of his false claim to an Oxford degree. Apparently the 'certificate' carried a spelling mistake, and that reminded me of a case from years ago when a man we convicted of an airline ticket fraud then turned out to have pleaded guilty to obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception among a handful of other charges. He claimed to have a degree in engineering, but his fake certificate spelt it 'engingneering'. Apparently he had been doing a perfectly good job for some years, but his employers had to sack him nevertheless.
I don't suppose computer tickets let you do it any more, but our man had altered the 'Y' signifying economy class, to 'F' for first, and had put a number 1 in front of the fare.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just a Thought

Multi-channel television is stuffed solid with police-action programmes, of variable quality. Has anyone found out how much money the TV companies have paid across to the police? Or where it has gone?

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged............

According to The Times, we are to be blessed with 2700 new judges, as the chairmen of Employment Tribunals and the like get a posh new job title. Something similar happened when the Stipendiary Magistrates were renamed as 'District Judge (Magistrates' Courts)' - snappy, eh?
I have to warn my judicial fellows that while being called a Judge may carry a bit of respec' at dinner-party level, it also makes you fair game for a monstering in the tabloids. EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL CHAIRMAN IN ROW is not a headline that I ever recall seeing, but CALL TO SACK JUDGE IN (INSERT PROBLEM HERE) ROW is much more likely.
Good luck lads. The boys and girls at The Sun are sharpening their pencils as you read this.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fair Comment

Matthew Parris has written a piece for The Times about a magistrates' court. It's a pretty fair article, but I don't think that the two described as 'assistant magistrates' will be very pleased.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Real Character

I was sorry to read last week that Kevin Finnegan, the former boxer, had died at only 60. I never usually talk about a real case, but I think it is safe to describe my one and only encounter with him, since it took place about 20 years ago, and Kevin has since died.
In his retirement, Kevin carried on exercising his talent at primitive painting, and he regularly sold works around London. One day he was in a pub that had just bought one of his paintings, and a scuffle broke out, causing the landlord to call the police. A young PC approached Kevin, and said "Come on Kevin, out you go" and Kevin replied "Fuck off you cunt, I'm an artist." He was duly arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and appeared in front of me and two colleagues having pleaded not guilty. He defended himself, and claimed that it was common for local heroes to have a go at him, relying on the fact that age and drink had blunted his skills, and that like most boxers he avoided trouble outside the ring for fear of losing his licence. The officer gave his evidence, Kevin told his story, then it was time for the attractive lady prosecutor to cross-examine. The PC had recited the Hendon mantra for drunkenness, and that was the Crown's line of questioning:- "Mr. Finnegan, the officer has said that you were unsteady on your feet". "Look, love, I'd just got up off the floor." "Mr. Finnegan, the officer said your breath smelt of alcoholic liquor." "Yes, I'd had a drink, but I wasn't drunk." "The officer said your speech was slurred." Pause.
"My speech is slurred now, love. I fought Marvin Hagler twice, you know."
By this time everyone including the prosecutor was grinning from ear to ear. Since he had answered the allegation we found him not guilty, and off he went, declining the chance to claim his bus fare to court.
I never saw him again.

Friday, October 31, 2008

No Show

This morning's scheduled trial didn't happen, because the defendant was in prison. On another matter. 250 miles away in the North of England. Nobody had arranged for him to be brought to court. Brilliant. The lawyers and the witnesses trudged away.
After wasting a couple of hours we dealt with a bit of business from another courtroom. It was freezing, as the heating in our courtroom doesn't work, and the only man who knew how to coax it into life has been paid off on early retirement as part of the cuts. There was a crappy little fan heater in the well of the court, but it wasn't working. When the usher found another, and pulled out the plug of the first one, the plug crumbled to pieces in her hand. The replacement had no discernible effect on the temperature.
By lunchtime all but two courts had packed up and gone home as they had nothing to do. We were left with a matter scheduled for 2 pm. We started it at 3.45, and finished late. Not, on the whole, a brilliant day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Schadenfreude - latest!

It has been a good few days for those people (and heaven forfend that I should be counted among their number) who have been treated to the sight of irritating and smug people and institutions coming to grief one after another. Some hedge funds, understood by few of us, seem to have walked into a sucker punch over Volkswagen shares. A Prime Minister who proclaimed the end of boom and bust now wishes that he had not. Leaders such as those of Russia and Venezuela who had developed a swagger based on $140 oil are contemplating the taste of humble pie (it's good for you - I know, I've been there).
Finally there is the Ross/Brand business that has humbled a couple of men who had begun to believe that they were bigger than the BBC.
Just two points about that:- As one who enforces TV licence payment against mostly poor people, I am affronted by the fees paid to these and similar performers; and I am just relieved, in view of what happened, that neither of them was on drink or drugs at the time. That would be too awful to contemplate, surely.

Toad In A Hole

I often refer to the speed-at-all-costs petrolhead lobby as Mr. Toads, so you can imagine how I felt last weekend when I was crossing the Derbyshire Dales and came across a car which had its number plate adjusted so as to read 'TOAD', using a numeral 4 as a substitute for the letter A. It was ten yards off the road, down a bank, its bodywork firmly embedded in a dry-stone wall. The driver, mercifully unhurt, was talking to a police officer, presumably explaining how a high-quality German performance car could fly off into the ditch on a road subject to a 50 mph speed limit.
The Peak District now has speed limits on most of its main roads, backed up by fixed and mobile cameras and a visible police presence. This has come about because of the dreadful accident rate among motorcyclists who enjoy the high moorland roads with their challenging curves by pushing their bikes to, and beyond, their limits. I believe that the Yorkshire Dales have the same problem.

High Profile Bail Cases

Joshua Rozenberg has returned to the issue of bail, that hit the headlines earlier this year, in this piece. For the background, have a look at Rozenberg's earlier article. I shall be relieved if cool heads prevail here, because of the Government's unlovely track record in pandering to tabloid indignation, and because these hard cases really would make bad law.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sharp End

This piece from First Post gives an interesting Joe Public view of two unrelated crimes and the way that the people concerned were handled by the police. What happened reflects credit on the officers involved, and that's as it should be.
I see that one officer expressed dissatisfaction at 'the penalties available to the courts' and anyone who reads police blogs will be familiar with that point of view. Where that opinion differs from the more strident police bloggers is that it recognises that Parliament makes laws and courts enforce them. It is simply absurd to imply that 'soft' courts and the 'liberal elite' make laws. Parliament does that, and it is to Parliament that those wanting to see more draconian laws should address themselves.
Crime figures are, as I have frequently blogged, notoriously unreliable, and the factors that drive crime and anti-social behaviour are immensely complex and dependent on many external factors over which courts and Parliament sometimes have little or no control. Experienced police officers, especially those with a bit of rank, have no business propagating black-and-white simplistic slogans that they must know to be untrue and unfair.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Really Tough Decision

In a murder trial currently taking place, a witness has refused to give evidence. Here is the BBC report.
This case is sub judice, so I shall keep my remarks general, and I shall be merciless with any comments that even approach the particular.
Way down on the lower rungs of the judicial ladder there are many of us who are familiar with the reluctant witness (most often in Domestic Violence cases) who declines, for whatever reason, to testify, even when , as happened to colleagues of mine this week, they have been compelled to attend by a witness summons, and are actually in the witness suite in the court. If the witness remains adamant, then there is nothing the court can realistically do - after all it would be monstrous to punish a victim of assault for refusal to talk about it, thus making her (and it usually is a her) a victim twice over.
There are scores of reasons why someone refuses to give evidence, from loyalty to family or friends all the way up to the terror of becoming branded as a grass, or even real fear of violent retribution.
So I sympathise with the trial judge in the current case, and I am quietly relieved that it is he not I who has to deal with a refusenik witness.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

There Is Such a Thing As a Free Lunch

Some years ago I was invited to a squad annual lunch at Scotland Yard. I went along with a Detective Sergeant friend, and we had a very decent meal in the Yard's dining room. As we went in we passed paintings of formidable-looking former Met Commissioners, most of them of high military rank, since that's how the Met used to be led. As a guest I was seated next to the Superintendent who was in charge of the squad, and a good time was had by all. We exchanged a bit of gossip and a bit of banter, wine was drunk, and a couple of brief speeches concluded matters. My friend and I then retired with the more junior coppers present to the pub round the corner, where we all went on to pints and passed a jolly hour or two. My abiding memory is of the young coppers' surprise at the fact that a magistrate liked a pint, had a repertoire of slightly off-colour jokes, and even used the odd naughty word.
The point of this story is that because today's policemen spend next-to-no time in court now that the CPS do all the prosecuting, and because JPs were handed down an edict some time ago that we were not to accept invitations to view police work or to help with training young officers because it might compromise our independence, many officers will lose confidence in the judiciary because they are so remote from it, and many JPs will know little about basic policing other than what they can glean from the scores of police reality shows on TV. That's a shame, and I think it's wrong. I know for sure that at least one Lord Justice of Appeal agrees with me, and I hope that something can be done.
If things stay as they are more and more coppers will buy into the myth of the remote and out-of-touch 'liberal elite' that conspires to hamper the police and go softly on criminals. It isn't true, but if we aren't careful it will embed itself in police culture - if it hasn't done so already.
For myself I shall continue to stay discreetly in touch with my local front-line coppers, and I shall live in hope that I can go back to sitting in a mock court with young PCs giving evidence and being cross examined on it, while their puppy-walkers and colleagues watch them sweat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beyond Our Ken

Sir Ken Macdonald QC, Director of Public Prosecutions has made an important valedictory speech as he prepares to go back to the Bar. It's well worth a read, as Peter Hargreaves points out in his comment on the phone thread below. Ken Macdonald was a surprise appointment, since his background was largely as defence counsel. Those who believe, like Inspector Gadget, in the myth a 'liberal elite' were also suspicious of his connection with Matrix Chambers, but he has impressed a lot of people as DPP. I heard him speak a while ago and it was good to hear a coherent strategy, despite my misgivings about the police and the CPS cosying up as the 'Prosecution Team' and taking on decision making that properly belongs in open court.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crossed Lines

I thought that I was beyond surprise at this Government's harebrained schemes, most of which share the characteristics of being illiberal and unworkable. The latest is a real cracker though :- mobile phones are all to be registered and tracked.
This plan, that shows an almost North Korean lust for control, is to register the user of each of the 72 million (or more, or fewer - nobody knows) mobile phones. There are more phones than people in the UK. Most of us have two or three old ones tucked away at the back of a drawer; and these control-obsessed idiots reckon they can all be made traceable. If 90% of the public is bullied and intimidated into cooperating that will still leave 7.2 million phones unaccounted for. That ought to be enough to avoid inconveniencing drug dealers and terrorists too much.


If you have unwanted mobile phones in whatever condition, any Oxfam shop will be pleased to take them. Usable ones are passed on for re-use, and the others are recycled. Apparently Oxfam made over £200,000 from phones last year. They have had all of my old ones, except the spare I keep as a backup.

Well, What Would You Do?

If you had to sentence this tragic case.

In Case You Were Wondering

The BBC carries a report this morning that a pilot has been arrested on suspicion of being over the alcohol limit. (Story here). He has been bailed to return to the police station in January. The reason for the delay is that the Intoximeter in the police station is not calibrated for the very low limit allowed for aviation, namely 9ug/100 as opposed to 35ug/100 for driving a car, so there will have to have been a blood test, and its results will be analysed in the laboratory.
It will be an unpleasant wait for the pilot. Previous cases have attracted shortish prison sentences in the 6-12 month range, but on top of that is the loss of a prestigious job that pays a very high salary.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Is the number of page hits recorded by SiteMeter since the beginning of 2005 when I started this blog. I'm quite pleased about that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Lincoln Magistrates Court is holding an open day on the 25th October 2008. All are welcome.

This is a good opportunity for local people to have a look at how their court works, and is ideal for anyone thinking of applying to become a JP.

(later still):- Retford will be having one as usual on May Day (4th May) - Just guided tours, but it's always packed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's My Party, And I'll Wander Off-Topic If I Want To.......

There is currently a financial crisis that has cost many people (including me) a large chunk of their life savings.
But I am one of the lucky-sod generation, born just after the war. I have had to cope with economic ups-and-downs, but I went to a grammar school, thanks to the 1944 Education Act, and thence to a university that was flush with funds, and at which I received £360 per annum grant. There were no tuition fees to pay, and a handsome room with full board cost me £6 per week. In the student bar beer was (in new-fangled money) 9p per pint.
My father, an intelligent man from an impecunious family, left school at 14, became an apprentice, then a tradesman, and at the age of 23 married my mother. The gathering clouds in 1938 were not economic ones, and in 1940, after less than two years of marriage my father was conscripted and shipped off to the Middle East. He was shot at, mercifully without result. He did not see my mother again until the end of 1945. In the interim she had no idea where he was, what he was doing, or if he was even alive. When he came home they must have been virtual strangers, as were many thousands of other couples.
So it could be a lot worse, could it not?

Monday, October 13, 2008

As The Shoe Starts To Pinch

The respected Crime Line is offering training to solicitors that will equip them to handle traffic law cases effectively. They preface their offer with this:
Due to means testing and the general willingness of people to pay to save their driving licences, road traffic law is big business. A few firms are capitalising on this hitherto neglected area and raking it in with private fees, leaving the rest of us to scrape by on legal aid. Legal aid lawyers can no longer afford to ignore this important revenue stream - make it your New Year resolution to kick-start your road traffic law department.

Private client fees are very much higher that anything to be obtained on Legal Aid and nobody can blame High Street law firms (especially the smaller ones) for looking around for new sources of business. Legal Aid is still firmly in the Government's sights, despite the present failure to reach agreement with the Bar over high cost cases, and many firms with only a few partners will be forced to merge in the coming couple of years. This may not be a good time to be a solicitor, with the housing market at a standstill, and the big City firms nervously looking at the meltdown in the financial markets. The pessimists mourn the loss of fees from writing abstruse derivatives contracts, while the more sanguine are comforting themselves with the thought that there will be a lot of disputes over who gets to pay for sorting out this mess, and that litigators will be needed in large numbers. Time will tell. Lawyers employed by the Government don't get the fancy money seen in the City firms but quite a few of them are quietly happy to contemplate their bombproof pensions and keep their heads down. A few years ago a job with the CPS was strictly for second-rankers. Nowadays they are deluged with applications for traineeships, and some experienced advocates are running for the shelter of the Civil Service too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Old Father Time Needs to Watch His Step

The Telegraph reports the case of a gardener who finished up at the Crown Court for carrying a scythe, prompting a cross response from the judge - (Article)
I don't suppose he will ever get his prints and DNA off the database, either.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I have had my differences of opinion with Inspector Gadget in the past(all very civilised, of course) but this post is, while unsurprising, a real eye-opener. It confirms the utterly bogus nature of official statistics about detected crime, and reinforces the case for root-and-branch reform of the police management structure.

Motoring News - Mr. Toad Should Look Away Now

The Times has had a look at the new average speed cameras. The paper seems to approve. Mr. Toad and his pals may not.
The piece is here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Some People Never Learn

I wrote this about three years ago. Last week I had to go down to the cells area, and there, chalked on the board by a cell door, was our man's name again. In the interim he has spent many months in and out of prison, always for various offences connected with his tempestuous and drink-sodden relationship with his paramour. I have no idea what to do with him, but his continued arrests and incarcerations must have cost a small fortune - I wish there were a better way.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Radio 4's 'Law in Action' carried a discussion today between Clive Coleman, the presenter, David Copperfield, of the Policeman's Blog, and me. It's available on the BBC's Listen Again feature. We are in the final ten minutes of the half-hour programme.
Nightjack gets a plug too, but preferred not to speak on mike, perhaps wisely.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Any advocate will be aware of the golden rule - never ask a question in court unless you already know the answer. Here's an example from the other day:-

Barrister to police officer:- "Officer, are you familiar with car engines, and how they warm up and cool down?"
PC: "Yes, Ma'am. Before my present post I was a traffic officer for six years." (30-love)
Barrister: "Does that make you a technical expert?"
PC: "Not completely, but I did serve seven years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, where I was a motor vehicle specialist". (Game, set, and match)
Barrister: "Right. Let's move on".

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not A Dry Eye In The House

We were helping out another court by dealing with an hour's worth of TV licence cases while the lawyers sorted out our main business for the day. As is normal, most defendants didn't appear, and those who did were the usual bedraggled army of the poor and disorganised. I dislike the whole business, and I remain firmly of the opinion that any BBC executive with budget responsibility should be forced to spend a day a year in a TV licensing court, to see the people who cough up the money he spends.
The defendant attended, and pleaded guilty. She was probably about thirty, and looked older, as the poor tend to do. She keeps her council flat and two kids on weekly benefit of just a little more than the price of a year's TV licence, and although she has a licence now she missed a few months early in the year, and a summons followed. I asked her what she had to say, and she said, with a rueful shake of the head "I've had a terrible few days. My aunt died, then my car packed up, then I cut myself in the kitchen. I've got money troubles, then on Saturday my little boy's puppy was really ill and we took him in a taxi to the vet's. The vet had to put him down, and that cost me £150". My colleagues and I were doing fine until that puppy cropped up - it was almost incredible, but her tale was too sad to be made up. So we fined her as little as we decently could, and then, dammit, had to impose a £15 victim surcharge. Perhaps the fools who dreamt up the surcharge might care to spend a few hours at court too. A bit of reality might do them good.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Good Man Comes To Grief

This blog, along with almost all police blogs, inevitably focuses on the mad the bad and the sad in society. When faced, as police and magistrates are, with a virtually unending parade of people whose behaviour has been unpleasant, inexplicable, confused, selfish, wicked, and downright nasty, it is easy to form a jaded view of our fellow man.
Many of our clientele fit into the above categories: - many, but not all.
A while ago we saw a man in his fifties charged with a traffic offence - the details do not matter. This man had led a blameless life, without any kind of brush with the law, until he came to face me and my colleagues. His plea was one of not guilty, so there was a trial. In the course of the proceedings he more or less admitted the elements of the offence, so despite his lawyer's best efforts we convicted him - a result that did not surprise the lawyer, nor, I suspect, the defendant.
He is a dignified, hard working, honest family man. He is rightly proud of his respectability, and I am pretty sure that his hopeless plea of not guilty was based on his inner faith that as a decent citizen the justice system and he would never collide. But traffic law is different, and liability can be absolute. He had his day in court, and although we kept the fine right down at the bottom of the scale he still had to pay a few hundred pounds in costs to the CPS, not to mention the ludicrous victim surcharge.
He will never read this, but if he did, I would like to be able to tell him that despite losing his case he left the court with his dignity and his good name intact. I wish him well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Predictable and Sloppy Headlines - no. 144

Devout Muslim spared jail over child flogging

A devout Muslim convicted of child cruelty for encouraging two boys to beat themselves in a religious ceremony walked free from court today.

Syed Mustafa Zaidi was given a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

It's a shame that the usually-decent Indie had to print this rubbish. It's all there - walked free from court, spared prison.

When responsible liberal newspapers adopt the tabloid mob agenda, we can see just how far our standards have been corrupted by the headline-at-any-costs brigade.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Sign Here, And Off You Go

The singer George Michael, a man of somewhat exotic habits with a taste for illicit drugs and cottaging has been arrested again in the unglamorous surroundings of a public toilet. Police decided to caution him, despite his previous convictions for drug-related offences.
Meanwhile in the North-East a footballer was arrested for assaulting a woman. Guess what? Police decided to caution him.
When I am in court next week, I shall probably see scruffs from the local estate charged with Class A possession. If they have previous, they will very probably get a community order involving a drug treatment element. I am also very likely to see someone charged with assault in one of its many variants. No caution for him. But then he isn't famous is he?
Justice belongs in a court open to the public in front of an impartial and independent bench that has sworn to do justice "without fear or favour, affection or ill-will", not behind closed doors in a police station.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Prison Crisis - Fudge and Muddle

The Times has an article today about the continuing prison problem. The plain fact is that prisons are already more than full, that this prevents them doing anything much about rehabilitation, and that the authorities are desperately using every possible wheeze to let prisoners out, while pretending that they are not. The Home Office projections for prisoner numbers are near enough meaningless (I have unofficially seen much higher ones) and the proposed new prisons (if they are ever built) will be full on the day after they open.
As I have blogged before, a magistrates' court can impose a six month prison sentence. Most defendants plead guilty, so that comes down to four months. Release is automatic at halfway, so make that two. Then add the early release that was brought in as a response to the sheer impossibility of cramming any more bodies in, and you end up with about six weeks. No wonder the public are cynical.
It's just as bad at the Crown Court. I was chatting to a solicitor the other day about someone we both know who received a fifteen month sentence, and was out in four. That just makes a mockery of the system. Until recently a prisoner released on licence would be returned to finish his sentence if he reoffended in breach of that licence. Now he goes back for no more than 28 days, for no other reason than the fact that there is nowhere to put him for longer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Call Me Irresponsible

I subscribe (under an assumed name) to a website that is devoted to helping motorists to break the law and get away with it. They peddle a device that they claim detects police enforcement machinery, among other things. The emails that they send have also included a spray that purports to make number plates unreadable by speed cameras. The latest message they have sent says this (edited, but only for brevity) :

Mobile Speed Trap Alert:

I would not normally send out an email newsletter to notify you of one specific new Mobile Speed Trap site. The reason is that we add several -- sometimes more than 20 -- mobile traps to the xxxx Locators database in a given day, and I am sure that it would start getting on most Members nerves if I sent out an email to announce each one of them! However on this occasion, because it is on such a high traffic road and stands to catch so many people out, I am going to alert you to it specifically.
It’s on the xxxx , which is the main road that runs along-side and feeds the massive xxxxxxxx shopping centre in xxxx, and the speed limit is 40mph.
The Police have found a really crafty place to sit. They can get traffic from BOTH directions – the high traffic Bxxx and the high-ish traffic Axxx.
There shouldn’t be as big a problem for drivers to spot the trap when driving on the Axxx as it is quite visible from a distance.
However, when driving on the xxxxx road, you really can’t see the trap until the very last moment, after they have nabbed you. The Police have driven all the way around a housing estate and over a big pavement to be able to position themselves in such a way that they see you before you would realistically see them.
The position has been added to the xxxx Speed Camera database.
If you have (one of the devices we sell) then you will be warned of this
mobile trap in Advance. Likewise, if you have (another device we sell) you will receive a warning if they aim their speed gun at your car (or possibly
from the “beam spread” when they aim at the car in front of you).
Happy motoring...

This man's business has the sole object of helping people to break the law and avoid detection and conviction. He obviously gets a decent living out of it.
So why stop there? Why not sell other stuff to help lawbreakers? Gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, hoods to prevent CCTV getting a look at you, wipes to remove DNA traces, and any gadget you can devise to help drink drivers escape detection?
Please don't tell me that speeding is somehow different. It's against the law. Period.
This idiot's website is probably legal. But I do hope that whe he is next a crime victim he doesn't have the bloody cheek to call the police. He has already shown which side he is on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Miles Off-Topic

Sorry, but I couldn't resist this from Wikipedia, especially the last sentence:
The Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21) was the lead ship of the Royal Navy's Majestic class of light aircraft carriers. Operating from 1955 until 1982, she was the third and final conventional aircraft carrier[I] to serve in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Melbourne also served as the RAN flagship, and was the only British Commonwealth naval vessel to sink two friendly warships in peacetime.

Thanks to the exotic bogol for the heads-up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The death of barrister Mark Saunders, shot by police officers after he had fired a shotgun from the window of his flat, is being investigated by the IPCC, and will then be the subject of an inquest, so it would not be right to speculate about exactly what happened.
Just one thing though: here's a photograph of armed officers during the incident:

Can any of our police readers explain why it was necessary for some of these officers to wear the sort of balaclavas that used to be favoured by the IRA? How does this help to establish the police as protective and supportive of the citizenry? Doesn't this kind of paramilitary posturing drive a wedge between the police and the public? And isn't that harmful in the long term?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Street Wisdom

This blog post is a useful reminder that whatever the legal political and managerial position, coppers on the street, at night, sometimes alone, can find themselves in a very scary fix.

So Far, So Good

The Daily Mail website carries a thought-provoking headline this morning:-

Scientists turn on the £5bn Big Bang machine... but we're still here

So indeed we are - but was the headline written before or after the switch was thrown?

Was there another, ready to go? Saying perhaps:-

Oh Bugger!

I think we should be told.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Apocrypha (25)

Usher:- "There's a Mandarin interpreter in the next case sir - Mr. Ng" (he pronounced the two letters separately). "Rather an unusual name, sir". "Not in China it isn't" said the chairman. Mr.Ng is normally a serious kind of chap, but on this occasion he broke into a smile.


They are having an open day at Kingston Crown Court next Saturday. This is lifted from the HMCS website:

Kingston Crown Court Open Day - Saturday 13 September 2008, 10.00 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.

An historic fleet of police cars will greet members of the public taking the opportunity to see behind the scenes of one of London's busiest courthouses on 13 September.
The court will be hosting an exciting programme of activities that includes:
* Crown and magistrates' court mock trials from 10.00 a.m. where visitors can be jurors or guess the sentence.
* The Children's Court - youngsters can dress up in wigs and gowns, have their photograph taken, join in on specially prepared sentencing exercises and put their parents in the dock.
* Behind the scenes guided tours leaving every 15 minutes, exploring the courtrooms, facilities for witnesses and technology such as video link hearings for defendants in custody.
* Local magistrates who volunteer to play a pivotal role on behalf of the local community will explain what's involved and how they take crucially important decisions about people's futures.
* The Cells Experience - visitors can visit a cell, sit in a prison van, look at grisly exhibits from the Wandsworth Prison Museum, speak to cells staff or even sample the food that is served up to prisoners!
Entry and activities are free of charge. No advance booking is required and refreshments will be served all day.

Sounds fun as well as informative. Anyone contemplating applying to become a magistrate will be able to find out more about it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Collective Responsibility

A while ago I posted about dealing with the idiots who think it's clever to point bright lasers at passing aircraft. The post here attracted a fair bit of comment. This is what the Court of Appeal said about a case sentenced at Snaresbrook by, as it happens, a judge who holds a helicopter pilot's licence:
1. THE RECORDER OF BIRMINGHAM: On 25th March 2008 at Thames Magistrates Court both applicants pleaded guilty to the one offence of recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft. They were committed to the Crown Court for sentence where, on 15th May at Snaresbrook, they were each sentenced to six months in custody. In Hussain's case that was a term of imprisonment. In Miah's case it was detention in a young offender institution. Their applications for leave to appeal those sentences have been referred to the full court.
2. The facts of the case are really quite simple. At about 9 o'clock on the evening of Saturday 12th January 2008 a police helicopter was engaged in a night operation in the Whitechapel area when it was suddenly struck by a bright green laser beam being shone from the ground. It was dark and the cockpit was dimly lit in accordance with the standard operating procedure for night flying so that the pilot could see out. The laser was so bright that it completely illuminated the cockpit, making it extremely difficult for the pilot to read his flight instruments or to see out of the aircraft. The pilot, Captain Paul Watts was forced to take urgent emergency action to avoid the hazard. He closed one eye to minimise the loss of all of his night vision and turned the helicopter away from the laser beam to make it more difficult for the beam to illuminate the cockpit. The applicants, however, continued to shine the laser at the helicopter for several more minutes as the pilot manoeuvred to maintain flight safety. Both accepted through their counsel at the sentence hearing that they acted jointly and at different times each of them had used the laser passing it between the two of them.
3. While the pilot positioned the helicopter to prevent the beam entering the cockpit again, police officers on board radioed for assistance to apprehend the offenders and using the helicopter's video camera and thermal imaging equipment they filmed what was going on and assisted officers on the ground to catch the applicants. Throughout that time (several minutes) the applicants continued to target the helicopter. The police on the ground arrested both of the applicants but by then they had discarded the laser pen. Fortunately this action was observed from the helicopter and the laser pen was recovered.
4. The learned judge, who plainly took a great deal of care over this case, had before him a report and also evidence in person from Captain Brian Baldwin, a former test pilot with over 35 years of experience as a professional helicopter pilot. He spoke of the great danger to a pilot when night vision is lost and the risks that this creates, especially to pilots of police helicopters who more often have to work at lower altitudes. It requires little imagination to comprehend how a catastrophe could easily occur. From Captain Baldwin the learned judge learnt that incidents of this sort have increased rapidly in the last three years and that in particular the use of the green laser pen causes the most trouble and distraction for pilots. In passing sentence the learned judge said this:
"The message should go out that people tempted to target helicopters in this idiotic and dangerous way should expect to receive custodial sentences."
5. Few cases of this sort come before the court, in part because it is often difficult to apprehend those on the ground. One such case was referred to in the court below, the case of Voice. That case also concerned a helicopter in East London. At first instance Voice was sentenced to four months' imprisonment, but on appeal that sentence was set aside. There are however two very important distinctions to be made between that case and the present one. First, it was accepted in Voice that the appellant had the torch which happened to have a very bright beam for a legitimate if not laudable reason. He was a member of a residents association trying to deal with disturbances which arose at the block of flats where he lived. By contrast, these two applicants had no legitimate reason for having the laser pen. As the learned judge found, the fact that they discarded it before they ran away is the clearest possible evidence that they knew that what they were doing was wrong. Secondly, in Voice the helicopter flew through and out of the beam of light and the beam did not follow the aircraft. The evidence in this case shows that the laser beam followed the helicopter even when the pilot was trying to manoeuvre away from the beam. This activity was not a transitory moment but lasted for several minutes. In Voice the beam of light fell on the helicopter through negligence, whereas here the beam of light was deliberately aimed at the helicopter.
In our judgment the learned judge was right to distinguish the present case from that of Voice and right to make it clear that custodial sentences will usually follow when offenders committing this offence are caught.
6. Both applicants have previous convictions. Hussain is 21. He has convictions for taking a vehicle without consent, burglary, resisting arrest, attempting to obtain by deception and two offences of criminal damage. Miah, who is 19, has offences for assault with intent to resist arrest, burglary, theft and again an offence of criminal damage. Those past convictions have little bearing on the decision we make but it cannot be said that these two applicants are normally law abiding, hard working citizens. Likewise, personal circumstances and personal mitigation will carry less weight in this case than it may in some others.
7. In our view this offence does pass the custody threshold and cannot be properly dealt with by any lesser penalty. Having regard to their pleas of guilty and the limited previous offending, we conclude that the sentence of six months was the least that could properly have been imposed. Therefore these two applications are rejected.

The case referred to in my post involves a passenger carrying jet, which looks to me to be a notch or two higher up the scale.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

From The Sublime to the Gor'blimey

I was in the pub earlier, soothing away the tensions occasioned by a needlessly obstructive barrister who added to the stress of a disorganised day.
Peace came dropping slow, sip by sip. Gentle banter with good friends started to ease away stress.

Then disaster. An attractive lady, dressed in virginal summer white: - chic, soignée, and very decorative, came to the bar.

"Can I get a large white Rioja?" enquired la belle dame sans articulacy.

Crash! My mood evaporated in a moment.

Can I get? Can I sodding well get?

Bah! and twice bah!

A plague upon you, pretty lady. You should know better. And now I am fed up.

And it's your fault.

Respect? Do Me a Favour!

The judge said that Mr al-Zayat had visited Aspinall’s on an irregular but frequent basis since October 1994. Up to 2006, he had gambled £91.5 million and lost £23.2 million.
His gambling had grown until, in 1999 and 2000, he was gambling in excess of £1 million in a single night.
“His appetite for gambling was such that he was known to some as a ’whale’," the judge said. "Not surprisingly he was regarded by the club as an important client who demanded and was shown respect.”
(from The Times)

That's not respect. It's greed mixed with fear.

Billionaires and street crack dealers all kid themselves that they can attract respect. They don't. The 'respect' disappears when the money runs out or when the gun runs out of bullets.

An overworked and modestly paid district nurse deserves and gets more real respect in a week than some useless parasites earn in their whole sad lives.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Trials and Tribulations

My court is not, fortunately, one of those suffering a major drop in business due to the proliferation of cautions and other out-of-court 'justice'. Our Family and Youth panels (neither of which I am involved with) are loaded with business, and many of the cases they deal with take two or more days; some family cases are listed for four or five. In the usual run of things this would be a natural for a District Judge, because it can be difficult to assemble a lay bench of three for that many days, but at the moment there are more multi-day cases listed than there are DJs to hear them.
Those of us who sit in the adult court are currently seeing a lot of Domestic Violence trials, which are usually charged as Common Assault. This prevents the defendants from electing jury trial, saving a lot of money, and keeping things relatively simple. The judges prefer it that way too.
Once the prosecution and the defence have had their go, we might be addressed by the clerk to remind us of the elements of the offence, and the standard of proof, then we troop outside to consider our verdict. We use a simple structure. Firstly, identify and agree the legal issue - what has to be proved. Then we consider the agreed facts, and put those to one side. Then to the disputed facts; we look at the evidence and discuss any points that are clearly made out, and any anomalies. In DV cases there is usually little more to go on than two conflicting stories, because the only two people who know what really happened are (alleged) victim and defendant. Evidence of injury may be helpful, especially if it is in the form of a doctor's report. Police photographs taken at the scene can also help, but are frequently of lousy quality. It is not possible to age a bruise from its colour, even though we all know how they tend to go blue, brown, yellow and fade. Unfortunately this occurs at different rates in different people, so it is evidentially useless. DV victims sometimes appear to be minimising or confusing their evidence, which might be because they had second thoughts once tempers had cooled and drink had worn off, to find the CPS refusing to drop the case despite a withdrawal statement. I recall one such where the victim appeared on a witness summons, and told us that she heard lover boy battering at the front door, finally went to answer it, and woke up in the kitchen with her back to the fridge, and the beginnings of a black eye. She didn't remember any more than that. Not Guilty then - no evidence of an assault.
So after looking at the evidence the Chairman will take his colleagues' views, then ask if the Crown has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. Whatever the answer, we agree and write down our reasons (about a third of a side of A4 is plenty). Then we go back in and tell them what we have decided. If it's guilty, there will probably be a three week adjournment to prepare reports with a view to IDAP or some other community penalty. After a trial I am a strong believer in the principle that at least one of the convicting bench should sit on the sentence. In some areas clerks try to discourage this, but there is a real danger that the report writer will come up with something that doesn't reflect the reality of the evidence that we heard.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I have just had the weekly email from the Judicial Communications Office, which includes a letter from the Senior Presiding Judge giving the astounding news that the Courts' Service has to save ninety million pounds in the next three years following a lower-than-necessary allocation by the Treasury. This vast sum cannot be saved without drastic cuts to the quality of justice, to the fabric of courthouses, and to the staff employed in them.
Still, it could be worse; at least the nine billion or so due to be spent on the Olympics, and the god knows how much allocated to ID cards should be all right.
I despair.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Read, Mark, and Inwardly Digest

When Theodore Dalrymple (aka Dr.Anthony Daniels) writes about prisons he does so from experience. He was a prison doctor for many years and he is qualified in psychiatry. On the whole his stance is a little further to the right than I feel comfortable with, but this article should be read by anyone interested in the prison system. He knows what he is talking about.

(later) And so does Marcel Berlins, who doesn't fancy Titans either:- Marcel.


This article reveals a state of ego-driven chaos at the top of the country's most important police force. I have nothing to say about the rights and wrongs of this, but in view of the important role of the Met, why don't both of the unlovely protagonists retire now (money won't be a problem) and let the force acquire some stability?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Motoring News

The list of a day's work that I posted yesterday was not meant to be representative of the courts' workload. I was in a remand court, dealing for the most part with first appearances, committals, and sentencing. Elsewhere in the courthouse trials, youth courts, and private (e.g. local authority) process were being dealt with. In London traffic work has been concentrated into 'Gateway' courts, which is convenient for the prosecuting authorities but inconvenient for drivers who have to travel some distance to their case. In addition the advantage of magistrates' local knowledge has been lost. Under the rules (MNTI2) covering magistrates' continuing training and appraisal we are all supposed to do a bit of every type of work, to retain competence. That has simply been sidelined now. I have not heard a Without Due Care trial for several years; they used to be a regular part of our judicial diet.

I have heard on the grapevine that in the couple of weeks since the new guidelines came into force fines have shot up for many offences, and the courts' enforcement staff are viewing this with alarm. To make fines work, you need a combination of realistic fine levels in the first place, and vigorous enforcement. If someone on a low income is faced with a huge imposition, he is quite likely to give up, and make no attempt to pay.
I will give you a for-instance:-
A straightforward case of no insurance carries a guideline of a band C fine - one and a half weeks' Residual Weekly Income (RWI). Many of these cases result in postal pleas of guilty, and quite a few are proved in absence; it is common for the court to have little or no evidence of income. In such a case the RWI is deemed to be £350, so the fine will be £525, plus £70 costs plus £15 for the pesky Victim Surcharge - total £610. If there are other offences such as no licence, no MoT and so on, the fine will climb still higher. If the offender is in fact on benefit, this will all have to be unscrambled when the fines go unpaid, substituting the deemed £100 RWI of a benefit claimant. The workload will be considerable. Further, there remains an overriding duty to ensure that fines are 'readily payable' in a reasonable time. Not simple, I'm afraid.


After we refused bail to a violent character with previous for beating up his girlfriend and a few ordinary civilians, and the custody officers had taken him down, his mum, filing out of the gallery, looked sadly across to the bench and called "He's a good boy, sir - he never hurt nobody. He's a good boy."

Well, good as convicted robbers go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Not Again!

I have just watched an excellent programme on BBC4 about the Lady Chatterley trial.

But why, why, why did the judge, after the verdict, bang a gavel?

For the hundredth time - No Court in England and Wales Uses a Gavel. Ever.

For heaven's sake - can't someone put a note on the BBC computer? Please?

What Did You Do Today Dear?

Well, he replied, I just happen to have a list here, so this is an (edited) idea of what I did:-

Female, 20, breach of curfew order
Female, 19, fraud x 5
Male, 20, No Insurance, no proper licence, common assault.
Male, 35, possess 3 x wraps Class A
Male, 23, possess Class C with intent to supply
Male, 36, harassment
Female, 31, assault x 2 (in A & E department)
Female, 29, drink drive, 101ug/100, assault PC.
Male, 28, No Insurance, vehicle defect.
Male, 43, Fraud x 9 (a really interesting one, too identifiable to blog)
Male, 28, Fail to stop for police, no licence, no insurance, careless driving, fail to identify driver
Male, 18, ABH
Male, 42, assault police x 2
Male, 19, Fraud (phone cards)
Male, 20, Criminal damage to bus
Male, 21, Theft, Assault x 2, harassment
Male, 34, Racially aggravated threatening behaviour
Male, 54, drink drive 82ug/100
Male, 32, drink drive 54ug/100, no insurance
Male, 48, drink drive, no insurance, no proper licence.
Male, 31, drive disqualified, no insurance
Female, 20, shoplifting
Male, 29, drink drive 89ug/100
Male, 40, forged ID
plus about ten unlisted extra cases, many in custody.

We were done by 5 pm though, which isn't too bad, considering that the above included a few legal points and a bail application or two.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Unintended Consequences

I am something of a connoisseur of the Law of Unintended Consequences, that iron law of nature that stands alongside the laws of Sod, of Murphy, and of Parkinson. This Government has been wrongfooted time and again as hastily cobbled-together legislation has proved to cause entirely unexpected problems in a field unthought-of by the original drafters.
But here's one that might just be useful. I recently dealt with a young man who was said to have breached his Community Order, consisting of a period of supervision plus unpaid work. Probation had had enough of him and asked us to revoke the order, and re-sentence the original offences. One of these was carrying a knife. The latest Guidelines have greatly increased the penalties for this offence, and the presumption in most cases is a prison sentence - and these Guidelines apply to all offences sentenced, as opposed to committed, after August 4th of this year.
So we felt able to make the order more onerous, with extra hours of work, and to point out to the offender exactly where the law now stands. I have asked Probation to keep me posted on his progress from now on. I have reasonable hopes that he may now get on with the order. If he does, fine. If he does not, inside he will go. Win-win, I call that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rumpole's Revenge

Uxbridge Magistrates' Court will see a media scrum today as Gary Glitter is brought from Heathrow Airport to sign the Sex Offenders' Register (in the event he sent his lawyer, but the scrum happened anyway). The same happened a few weeks ago when a paedophile was deported from Australia to the UK, and again when Naomi Campbell was sentenced for misbehaving on an aircraft a month or so back. Uxbridge has seen a good few famous faces over the years, usually due to its handling cases from Heathrow. Vinnie Jones and Peter Buck of R.E.M were each dealt with for boorish behaviour on aircraft (the latter being acquitted by a star-struck jury at the Crown Court). The dock has seen a steady stream of stars, including the late Linda McCartney, who failed to take the basic precaution of getting a staffer to carry her drug stash through Customs.
A pal who sits at Uxbridge tells me that in years gone by John Mortimer QC appeared to represent one such, and ran head-on into the legendarily formidable Laurence Crossley, Clerk to the Justices. Crossley took exception to Mortimer's rather grand insistence on getting on early, and kept him sitting around for the best part of the day. As a result nearly every Rumpole of the Bailey tale includes at least one gibe at the Uxbridge Magistrates; "not, in my experience, a notably soft-hearted or easily swayed tribunal" said Rumpole.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thanks, Chaps

We get a mention this morning in The Times Law section, in a piece about law-related blogs - that's nice.
If you have clicked across from the Times site, you will find that this is a biggish blog with over a thousand posts, varying from the factual, to the whimsical and the occasionally grumpy. If a particular subject interests you, try the search box above, and you might strike lucky.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yet Another Cautionary Tale

I hate to labour a point, but this BBC report serves to reinforce the importance of getting legal advice before agreeing to a police caution. What can seem like a simple and relatively painless procedure may have unforseen and far-reaching consequences in these days of CRB checking. A solicitor will be able to advise whether it is appropriate to admit the offence, or whether it should be tested before an independent and impartial court. Sometimes of course a caution will be the best way out, but a lay person, alone and unrepresented in the inevitably intimidating environment of a custody suite, is in no position to make that judgement without professional advice.
Just one other thing - am I the only person to be astounded that this child's response to a slap from her father was to call the police?

(Later) - here's more.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not Too Tricky

Whoever gets to sentence this (assuming a conviction, of course) won't have to waste too much time assessing seriousness, or whether it crosses the custody threshold.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Oldie But A Goodie

It's the Brixton riots. Streets covered in broken glass, vehicles overturned and set ablaze. The police on the front line have only rudimentary riot gear to protect them from a hail of bricks and bottles, and even a few petrol bombs.
One young officer cracks. He breaks from the line and runs as fast as he can away from the screaming mob, throwing down his shield and baton. Exhausted, he slumps to his knees in a shop doorway, sobbing in fear and shame. "Stand up that officer" booms a voice full of authority. "This is the Commander"

"Bloody hell" says the young PC. "I didn't realise I'd run that far".

DJ's Handbook

I am grateful to Andrew Keogh for the link to this guide for District Judges who sit in the Magistrates' Courts. Some of the content is specific to the professional judiciary, but for the most part it contains lots of common-sense stuff that is very useful to the rest of us. It is better than a lot of the training material that I have seen over the years. It's a big pdf, but well worth dipping in to.
This passage applies just as much to a court chairman as it does to a DJ:-
Owing to the considerable pressure on a district judge to deal with work expeditiously, there can be a temptation to speak first and think afterwards.
Wherever possible, it is helpful to avoid painting oneself into a corner. Rather than making a dogmatic statement (‘This is the position’), invite assistance from the advocate (‘I would be grateful for your assistance in this matter; it seems to me on fi rst consideration that . . ., but I would welcome your thoughts’). Wherever possible use open questions, i.e. questions that do not suggest any particular answer, rather than making a direct statement, until you are absolutely sure.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Judge Stuff

A colleague has forwarded this example of judicial testiness. I feel sympathy with Hizonner. Far too few professionals can read or write plain English these days. Harrumph!

And here's another judge who has taken a deterrent viewpoint.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Soft Judge

This sentence may just attract less than the usual level of criticism for soft sentencing. Then again it may not.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Magistrate on Fiddle - BBC

One of the violin players in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, performing at the proms, is a magistrate.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Oh My America!

As I type this I am watching Peter Ackroyd's programme about the Thames, and I have just been stirred by a shot of the memorial at Runnymede, celebrating 'Freedom Under The Law'.
I have been a lifelong admirer of the American dream, one that has delivered freedom and prosperity to unprecedented numbers of people, and has in the last century unselfishly spent blood and treasure to liberate the Europe from which its ideals and principles spring in large part.
That's why Magna Carta struck such a chord. The barbarians who currently hold power in America have junked more than 200 years' worth of freedom under the law in an obsession to avenge the unbearable hurt of 9/11. If the Founding Fathers could see what is being done in their name at Guantanamo, with its travesty of legal process, they would surely weep.
The memorial that moved me to write this was paid for by American lawyers. They owe it to their nation to redress the wrongs now being perpetrated.