Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sorry, But Is This A Sensible Use Of Prison?

The story of this lady, who told fibs to a posh person in order to con herself into a job paying a princely six quid an hour is a sad one.
She was a willing seller and her Rt.Hon. employer was a willing buyer. The paperwork was dodgy. So can it really be right or sensible to bang her up in a grand-a-week prison?
I cannot comment, but my streetwise friend, Dodgy Keith, recommends all itinerant immigrant low paid cleaners to insist on readies, no questions asked. That's what he does in his building business, and he earns a damn sight more than six quid an hour. He won't get out of bed for less than two ton a day.
The 85000 prisoners are now 85001. Not a triumph for justice or a sensible penal system.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I had an email from S today including this:-
Last week I was informed by the Advisory Committee of my county that my name is being forwarded to the Lord Chancellor for appointment.
That is far from the first such email that I have received,and it gives me enormous pleasure to hear that the blog has, at least to some extent, hit its target of lifting some of the veil of mystery and incomprehension that has plagued the Magistrates' Courts for too long. Welcome aboard, S. It's hard work at times, but boy, is it rewarding!

Anyone Able To Decode This?

Today's announcement from the MoJ reads:-
Suma Chakrabarti, Permanent Secretary at the Minister of Justice has recently issued the following information to be updated as information becomes avilable.
"The Chancellor has announced the amount each government department will contribute to the emergency budget savings of £6billion for this financial year (2010-2011). The Secretary of State and Ministers are committed to ensuring MoJ plays its part in contributing to savings to reduce the budget deficit whilst not affecting our ability to deliver vital frontline services. This means we have to look at every opportunity, big and small, and across every part of the MoJ, including Arms Length Bodies, to make savings. We have agreed with Treasury that we will contribute savings of £325million this year. This is in addition to savings of over £400million we have already agreed to make. Our savings this year will be delivered through:
* pressing down on discretionary spend across MoJ, including Arms Length Bodies;
* cutting back on MoJ change programmes and ICT spend;
* recruitment controls and
* stopping non-essential capital projects and delivering the administrative estate and prison capacity programmes more efficiently."

Can any insider translate this from Civil Service speak? What's the news on, say, biscuits?

Friday, May 21, 2010


In dealing with a breach of ASBO today (Usual story, ninth breach, prison already used, hopeless alcoholic, too mad to be on the street but not mad enough to be sectioned) my usual idiocy-filter was overwhelmed by reading of an ASBO condition 'not to throw anything at any person object or property'.

FFS, as they say on the wilder shores of the Internet. It's already illegal to throw stuff at people and things. Who thought it was a good idea to stick this in as an ASBO prohibition?

Any chance of adding this to your to-do list, Mr. Clarke?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Welcome Back, Sergeant

Apparently the Police, in the formidable shape of the Custody Sergeant, are to be given back the power to decide on charge in summary cases - and that means the great majority of cases. I feel pretty relaxed about that; for most of my time on the bench I have dealt with cases that had passed through the hands of that almost-invariably sensible group of experienced Sergeants, and it has worked pretty well. The CPS, that was nominally independent when set up, has become just another layer of management in the police station and because of their status as civil servants prosecutors have often been over-cautious and target-driven.
One of the joys of the old regime was spotting the cases where the Sergeant had obviously had a quiet night, so spent his time flicking through his dog-eared copy of Moriarty's Police Law in the hope of being able to dig out some obscure but still-legal Victorian enactment with which to charge his man. The Town Police Clauses Act (of whenever) used to crop up, along with the Vagrancy Act, the many and varied Licensing Acts and all kinds of obscure stuff. I look forward to a resumption of normal service and the end of CPS box-ticking.

Weird, Or What?

This character obviously has a screw loose. Nevertheless, I can understand how many people would be caused, pace S5 POA, harassment, alarm and distress. He poses the usual question - what the heck do we do with him? The ASBO doesn't seem to have deterred him, nor the suspended sentence.

Any ideas?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Strong Feelings

Thanks to Victor E for spotting this report in the Daily Telegraph. The chairman's words were ill-chosen, although he did not himself call the boys 'scum', rather saying that others would think that. Nevertheless his words did not sit well in a courtroom, especially in a youth court.
It is easy to see how disgusting most people (including me) would find this offence to be, but a court chairman has to pick his words with care; what he says to his colleagues in the retiring room is another matter.
The Bench Chairman and the Clerk to the Justices will already have consulted on this. If I were dealing with it, I would probably invite the chairman to an Interview Without Coffee, with the Clerk present to take a note, and I guess that I might well identify a training need, perhaps before the chairman next takes the middle seat. However, these things have recently become more bureaucratic so we shall see what happens. The article says:-
A spokesman for Her Majesty's Court Service said: "An investigation has been launched in to what was said and all parties involved in the case will be spoken to.
"There were two other magistrates with Mr Molloy and they will be spoken to along with others to determine the context of the comment.
"The investigation is in its earlier stages and it is not clear yet what action, if any, will be taken."
The spokesman implied Mr Molloy would be able to continue in his role as magistrate although would not officially confirm this.
This is a judicial issue, and HMCS needs to keep its sticky fingers off. HMCS is there to facilitate the judiciary, not to manage it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Helpful Graphic

I am printing this as a public service, to remind new Justice ministers of a principle that has been somewhat overlooked in recent years:-

A Bit Of A Cheek

Doug has emailed to remind me of a rather cheeky aspect of the new HMCS fees order. HMCS can and do charge for Magistrates performing duties away from Court. If Doug performs a Police Attestation ceremony at Police HQ, in his own time at evenings or weekends, with no legal or administrative involvement from the Court, this attracts a fee of £50.00 plus £10.00 per officer attesting. In this case it's just transferring money from one public body to another, but the public can be caught too; for example if I sign a passport or driving licence application or similar, and that is the reason why I usually deal with these things in the pub, where I can expect a pint and HMCS doesn't get its rip-off fee.

Guest Blog

This is a guest blog from Martin Milan, who has been a regular commenter for some years.

As many of the readers of this blog will doubtless already be aware, this week saw the prosecution of Paul Chambers for having allegedly sent a menacing message using the social networking site Twitter, threatening to destroy Robin Hood Airport. The internet being what it is, Mr. Chamber's "tweet" is available to one and all, and reads:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
While Mr. Chambers has shown questionable judgement in posting this to Twitter, one wonders how anyone could possibly have interpreted the above as a serious threat to destroy an airport, or indeed to feel "menaced" by it. Well, it turns out that nobody saw this obvious joke as a threat - not the airport, not the police - but Mr. Chambers finds himself convicted of the offence.
It's difficult to imagine how this could be the case, until you consider the recent rise of the "security industry", our new found obsession with terrorism, and a world where people no longer seem able to exercise a bit of judgement.
Terrorism isn't new to this country - we've been there before. The campaign by the IRA saw many bombings on the mainland, many crimes committed in Northern Ireland itself, and substantial loss of both life and property. Nobody would argue with the idea that the IRA proved effective terrorists. Somehow though, we coped just fine without all the new "Anti-Terrorism" measures, and we didn't have things like "threat levels" feeding the public hysteria. Maybe we were made of sterner stuff back then - who's to say?
Time and time again we see that the authorities in this country are more than happy to abuse the powers we have granted them - to use them for purposes other than those we have consented to. For example:
• Section 44 searches appear to be frequently used at political demonstrations.
• Members of the press are being harassed for taking photographs as part of their work.
• The police are gathering information on peaceful protesters, storing it in an unaccountable database, and labelling such individuals as "Domestic Extremists".
The past decade has seen a lot of ill conceived law brought onto the statute books, and if the public's faith in government is to be preserved (even rekindled), we need the police and magistrates to exercise some proper judgement in how they conduct themselves. We need to regain the sense that we are all playing for the same team. and we need to keep Douglas Adams’ advice - DON'T PANIC - foremost in our minds.

Maybe then we'll see people like Mr. Chambers merely being told to grow up, instead of facing a £350 fine, £600 costs, solicitor's bills in excess of £1000 and the loss of his (lucrative) career because of a moment's indiscretion at the keyboard. It seems rather a lot of damage can be done in 140 characters or fewer - and seeing as we all take part in online discussions here, maybe this is something we ought to care about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

That Was A Week, That Was

I have followed politics most of my life , and I have been addicted to newspapers since I was at university, so you can imagine what a fascinating few weeks I have had over the election period, as the old rule book disintegrated, its pages borne away on the wind of a new political reality. This last week has seen the birth of a coalition government that reflects, in a funny way, the slightly ambivalent verdict of the electorate. To a small-L liberal, and an enthusiast for the freedom that came from being born English there have been some encouraging signs that the new administration may be about to make a start on sweeping away some of the thoroughly bad and authoritarian legacy of the old government. We are promised a great Repeal Bill, and about time too. Irony piles upon irony; the Conservative slogan was 'change'; the new Conservative Justice Secretary is sounder on liberty than his Labour predecessor. Of course there are grumps and cynics on both sides, unable to consider the possibility that the old yah-boo politics might just become more collegiate in future. Was I the only person to be depressed by the sour negativity of so much of last night's Question Time?
The Press has had a bad election too, and was badly wrong-footed by the early Lib-Dem surge. The indignant fury of the Mail and the Express and the Telegraph was seen through by most thoughtful people for what it was - a despairing attempt to do something - anything - to slap down the upstarts.
The justice system has many problems to face, and financial stringency won't make the solutions any simpler, but I hope that the new people in office have a good hard think about where we are going. We have a record number of police officers, booking a record amount of overtime, spending a record amount of money on equipment, but on the streets and the highways the police are more or less absent, apart from the Dad's Army of PCSOs. Legal Aid must be sorted out so that the most vulnerable can receive proper advice. Time and again magistrates see uneducated and inarticulate and occasionally mentally disturbed defendants who clutter up the system and waste days of court time, when a half-hour of a lawyer's time could set them straight.
We all expect painful changes, driven by the lack of money, but I hope, with at least a little confidence, that justice will be the priority, and that social engineering and grandstanding will disappear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doesn't Anybody Care?

For reasons that I do not understand the comments on the last thread have vanished, so I have copied and pasted the post below. Sorry.

It is widely agreed that the torrent of legislation that has poured out of Westminster since 1997 has included some useful measures, some harmful ones, and much dross. Law has been piled on law, Act has succeeded Act, and many measures have simply been left to moulder, unimplemented after receiving the Royal Assent.
And yet there is a simple measure that would stop at a stroke an everyday injustice perpetrated on everyday people that nobody can be bothered to introduce.
I spoke yesterday to a decent retired couple who were driving through Slough a week ago when the husband, who suffers prostate problems, found that he urgently needed to relieve himself. He stopped in a pub car park, and before he had reached the pub door a clamp had been applied to his car, in which his wife was sitting. The aggressive and unpleasant clampers demanded a release fee of £150, and claimed that they had already called for a tow truck that would cost a further £150. Cash only, of course. The old couple were deeply shocked and upset. The pub landlady washed her hands of the whole issue, and the upshot of the matter was that the couple were obliged to arrange for their daughter to transfer cash into their bank account so that they could withdraw £300 from the hole-in-the-wall machine.
Now I do not dispute the right of a landowner to restrict parking on their property. What I do disagree with is the law turning a blind eye to this legalised blackmail. There is no way that £300 could be proportionate to any loss suffered by the landowner; this is a pure money-making scam. Local authority civil enforcement officers usually have to follow procedures that forbid the issue of a ticket for the first five minutes, and their penalties are usually in the £30-60 range. The ploy of calling (or pretending to call) a tow truck as soon as the clamp is applied is simply a pretext to rack up the profits.
All that is needed is a short Bill to limit the charge to a reasonable amount, one that is in proportion to other fixed penalties. Where is the MP to take up the issue? Doesn't anyody care?
The law should protect the Queen's subjects from unfairness and exploitation. In this case it does not.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Curse Of The Home Office

Reading of the Parliamentary demise of Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith I mused that no recent Home Secretary has left office with an enhanced reputation. I have long suspected that there is some toxic miasma about the Home Office that affects all who come into contact with it. Experienced and hitherto rational politicians take up this great office of state and turn, under the pressure of events, into sad figures who flail about, hurling new, repressive and usually unnecessary legislation at each fresh problem that has been highlighted by the focus groups or the tabloids. Look at these recent Home Secretaries, and ask yourself which of them has any kind of political future:-

* Michael Howard (27 May 1993 – 2 May 1997)
* Jack Straw (2 May 1997 – 8 June 2001)
* David Blunkett (8 June 2001 – 15 December 2004)
* Charles Clarke (15 December 2004 – 5 May 2006)
* John Reid (5 May 2006 – 27 June 2007)
* Jacqui Smith (28 June 2007 - 2 June 2009)

Whoever is offered the job in the next few days may well find that the thrill of taking up such a huge post is tempered by a frisson of fear at the risk of obloquy and oblivion when their term comes to an end.

On the handful of occasions when I have had to visit the gleaming glass-and-metal Home Office building, I have taken care to carry a clove of garlic and a crucifix - just in case.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Simple, Simon

The 'Sun' has interviewed the multimillionaire pop impresario Simon Cowell to tell us of his "Vision For A New Britain".
TV mogul Simon Cowell says tomorrow's General Election MUST bring change to Britain.

Writing for The Sun, he signals that the country he deeply loves needs a new government to pull it out of crisis.

Cowell, 50, talks of the need to inspire young people and unlock talent, promote family values, stimulate business and reduce knife crime.

Motherhood and Apple Pie will be along in Week 3.

To vote for Simon's vision, call 0999-123456. Calls are charged at 60p per minute, and may be more from mobiles.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


I went to my local pub yesterday, and I was surprised to see Alex and Val, two of the ladies who are normally to be seen behind the bar, striding down the road away from the pub. I feared a falling-out had happened, but they had in fact gone to look at the 'new pub' in the village. The village is a picturesque and charming little enclave near the Thames, with a 14th Century church, a manor house, and suchlike, and it is a favourite with TV crews. Over the Bank Holiday a house near the church had been dressed up as a pub with fake signs, a hastily-created pub garden, and a solid-looking statue that turned out to be made of fibreglass. By this afternoon it was as if nothing had ever happened.
Good luck to the people who made a bit of money for the use of their house. Good luck to the TV company for finding such a (nearly) authentic location.
But it did give me pause for thought about the reliability of even eyewitness evidence. Anyone who saw the place on Saturday would have been understandably sure that this was a village pub by a village church. Today, it's just a village church, with a few new tyre tracks on the nearby road. It's lucky that nobody's freedom depends on it.

Welcome Back

World-Weary Detective wrote one of the better coppers' blogs until he took a heavy hint from the top brass in his force and prudently put his pension before the joy of blogging. He's back. Give him a go.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Antisocial Idiot

This is the website of a greedy and anti social idiot who makes a living by selling various devices that are designed to help drivers who break the law to escape justice. This latest gadget is claimed to interfere with the signals from some police detection devices - I am not a lawyer but I understood that to be illegal.

Perhaps this entrepreneur (who sends his emails as 'Adam Blair') will move on to develop devices to prevent CCTV cameras from identifying shoplifters and then who knows? Sprays to negate DNA capture from crime scenes? Gloves for burglars branded 'Noprints'? Software to disguise access to child porn? These are all laws that some people disapprove of, so why not, Adam?

What is it about speeding that turns normal citizens' morals on their heads, and leads them to think that they can legitimately go on not just to break the law but to buy devices to defeat police enforcement?

And when these selfish fools are burgled or assaulted, where do they run to for help? Yup - the police they are so happy to thwart when they are behind a steering wheel.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

That's Nice

The 'Times' has today, in its Magazine section, published a list of 40 bloggers "who really count" and we are one of them.
It's nice to be appreciated. I just wish that someone in the MoJ would occasionally take a bit of notice.

(later) Can I just add that all comments are welcome, even from people on their first visit. If you have a view, just click and go for it. the only iron rule is that you can be rude about me if you like, but not about each other.