Friday, September 24, 2010


We're off for an autumn break just over the Channel next week, and I am leaving the technology behind. I'll be back online in a week or so.

Mind how you go, now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Good Site

Thanks to Mike for pointing me towards the website of the Scottish Judiciary. I particularly like the listing of judges' sentencing remarks; these rarely appear in the press, but are crucial to understanding the how and why of sentencing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Classic Jury Point

A recent trial is an example of the sort of issue that is best resolved by a good solid jury.


The more strident commentators in the tabloids love a good Health and Safety (always suffixed by 'gone mad') story. "Why oh why?" demand the headlines.
The dull and predictable response, that H & S laws are about keeping people alive and uninjured, cuts no ice in the saloon bar when I am on the defensive on a Sunday lunchtime.
An hour or two ago a neighbour hammered on my door, shouting for me to call an ambulance. I did so, and went to find out that an Eastern European worker engaged in demolishing the house next-door-but-one had been injured. After a nerve-racking delay (that can't have been more than eight minutes) the ambulance turned up, and we all relaxed mentally as the calm efficiency of the ambulance crew took the weight from our shoulders.
Once the injured man had been taken away, a neighbour pointed out that he had been wearing no safety equipment, not even a hard hat, and that he and his colleague were, to put it bluntly, cowboys - but cheap.
I have no idea about the details of the incident, and I trust and hope that the injured man recovers quickly. But when the smart-arse commentators sneer at 'Elf'n'Safety' in future, I shall remember that for every jobsworth who bans a kids' egg-and-spoon race there is a cowboy contractor who lets his employees risk, and sometimes lose, their life or health.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye To All That

The last decade has seen London's Magistrates' Courts undergo fewer fundamental changes than some of our colleagues elsewhere - but we have been buggered about nevertheless, the most recent bright idea being clustering of courts to save money on administration.
The proposed reorganisation (which will be about the fifth that I have seen) will cut down the existing 28 Local Justice Areas (mostly coterminous with London's Boroughs) into 9. The proposed mergers, which are highly likely to go ahead despite localised opposition, are, for the record:-
Camden, Islington, Enfield and Haringey to be combined as North London Local Justice Area.
Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Stratford and Waltham Forest to become North East London LJA.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge to become East London LJA.
Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham to be to become South East London LJA.
Croydon, Lambeth & Southwark and Sutton to become South London LJA.
City of London, City of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham to become Central London LJA.
Kingston, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth to become South West London LJA.
Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow to become West London LJA.
Barnet, Brent and Harrow to become North West London LJA.

Given the depth of he financial hole in which we find ourselves, most of these groupings seem to be plausible. Of course transport links and the like will be argued over,but think how much better-off we are in London than our rural cousins in benighted outposts such as East Anglia and Wales.
If this all comes to pass the civil servants will get on with trying to rationalise the admin, and magistrates will have to start working out the details of bench mergers.
Because magistrates ran their own affairs for over 500 years there are wide differences in day to day practice across the country. Rotas are drawn up in differing ways, by differing people, and on differing principles. For example some courts rota their JPs in half-days, as the rules say they should. Most courts don't because it's just too difficult to cope with. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Then new merged benches will need to have a single Chairman for 4-500 magistrates, but a deputy chairman for each courthouse will be a must. Hallowed local practices such as sitting on the same day each week will have to go. Hard work and goodwill are going to be needed to make this function. But function it must. I have seen badly organised mergers, leading in one appalling case, to two benches who share a courthouse (but not their biscuits, for God's sake!) and declining, when finishing early,to assist their colleagues on the 'other' bench by taking on some of their cases.
As I have said, goodwill, good humour and common sense are going to be at a premium while we sort this out. Failure is not an option.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pros and Cons (2)

I blogged a long time ago about the ECHR ruling that serving prisoners should no longer be deprived of their vote.
The issue has resurfaced (typically, the last government quietly ignored the issue for years)and Nick Clegg is apparently going to speak about it at the LibDem conference.
As I said five years ago, it's hard to get too excited about prisoners' votes. The simple solution would be to allow a postal vote in the prisoner's usual constituency, I imagine. I have a suspicion that a large proportion of the criminal underclass neither registers nor votes, and that the remaining number of inmates would have a negligible effect on election outcomes.
I also suspect that such influence as there might be would veer towards the conservative. Prisoners are notoriously hard-line on law and order, especially on such transgressions as grassing, and want to see harsh measures against nonces. Legalisation of drugs would put many hard working dealers out of business, and the black market in mobile phones drugs and tobacco on the inside is a classic example of everyday free-enterprise.
Here's the Mail's take on it. For the umpteenth time lads, the ECHR is quite separate from the EU. And the court decision that binds the UK government was made years before Clegg was anywhere near office.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Headlines 'R' Us

I have never met District Judge Bruce Morgan, although I have seen his name in the press from time to time.
Try a Google search on his name. He certainly gets more media mentions than most judges or magistrates.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poisoned Chalice

This reminds me of the first-class advice I received from a police officer before I made my first visit to a prison:-

"If you don't watch the tea being made, don't drink it".

is a principle I have adhered to ever since.

Welcome Newcomer

It's good to see a new blog by a Probation Officer. Probation is an essential but under-appreciated part of the justice system, and as an organisation has had to suffer a total change of direction from a social-worker approach ('advise, assist, befriend') to becoming part of the punitive apparatus.
The probation people who work out of my court include a couple of real stars; dedicated, professional, tough when they need to be and sympathetic when that is called for. Others are less good - sometimes reports show the inexperience of their author, as well as the prescriptiveness of the system, and occasionally they reveal dangerous levels of incompetence.
The blog is here. Give it a go, and wish him luck.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yet More Code

I was recently in the Crown Court to hear an appeal with a Circuit Judge and a fellow JP.
There were some procedural problems, and after submissions from the two sides the judge summed up the situation in a neat few sentences, the effect of which was to leave counsel for the appellant in a very weak position.

"What do you say, Mr. McCarthy?" asked the judge. "Is that correct?"


"It could be levelled as an argument, Your Honour".

Translated, that means:- "Bugger! You have got me there".

Appeal abandoned.


Here is another non-story from the Mail, intended to add to the 'soft on crime' agenda. Sure, maximum sentences are rare. The maximum is set to give a wide discretion to the sentencer to allow for the infinite variation in offences and offenders.
How many drink drivers do you think got the maximum last year (6 months prison plus a £5000 fine plus an unlimited driving ban)? No, I don't know either, but I imagine there wasn't even one. How about Common Assault (6 months plus £5000)? Nary a one, I bet.
Unfortunately this is the kind of rubbish that sticks in the public consciousness - a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I posted this a while ago, and forgot it. I was reminded about it today, did the same Google search and found myself at no.1.

Hurt doesn't come into it. Devastated, more like.


I am a busy boy at the moment: apart from family commitments I keep on picking up sittings that nobody else is willing or able to do - a consequence of my being, as they say in the stats, 'economically inactive' (come to think of it I am also a NEET).
This blog has moved on from its origins, and the comments are widely read, as well as serving to enlighten me. Because I am busy there are a couple of topics that I haven't had time to kick off:- the CRB culture and the concomitant death of the Rehabilitation of Offenders principles, and the widespread suspicion that District Judges are going to replace JPs, at least for the interesting stuff.
So just imagine I'm not here and I will try to rejoin the fray when I can.

Cell Door Goes "Wham!"

This Telegraph piece sympathises with George Michael, who has been given a short prison sentence by DJ Perkins. In my view the sentence was inevitable: it is in reality quite hard to receive a prison sentence from a Magistrates' Court, as we all follow our guidelines and use a community sentence or (if the offence clearly passes the custody threshold) a suspended sentence wherever possible. But look at Michael's record, and at this offence:- not just a repeat offender, but someone driving so stoned that he lost control and crashed in a busy urban area. Mercifully, nobody was hurt or killed. To cap it all, Michael is extremely rich, so he was well able to afford a driver. The offence can't go up to the Crown Court unless you kill someone, so he got something well up the tariff.
Before anyone gets too excited about this case being dealt with by a DJ, Highbury Corner is one of the Central London Courts that has a high ratio of DJs to JPs. I have met John Perkins, and he is a decent and sensible type. I have also sat at Highbury, a few years ago, and I have no wish to repeat the experience, since the courthouse and its surrounding streets are pretty grim. And the biscuits are rubbish.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Twists And Turns

It's often the simple-looking cases that turn out to conceal an unexpected twist, just like the one we saw last week. Section 5 Public Order Act is one of the commonest charges we see (and on top of those there are many fixed penalty PNDs handed out). It is a summary-only offence and the only available penalty is a modest fine.
Our defendant had pleaded Not Guilty, and when we heard that he was represented by Counsel we realised that he was sufficiently aggrieved to be prepared to lay out a considerable amount of money for his defence; he lives some way away, so his travel costs for what was by now three hearings would come to a tidy sum too.
We sat down for a briefing from the Clerk, and she handed each of us a substantial bundle of legal arguments and decided cases, nicely prepared by Counsel, and foreshadowing an Abuse of Process argument. I can't say too much about the nub of the argument, but we settled down with some coffee to read our bundles. My two colleagues were a mentor and her protégée, so before we started I had to do a quick run through 'Abuse of Process - What's That About Then?' as the new JP was making notes on her mentoring form to record what she had learnt today - we were in no hurry as we had been told that the defendant had been delayed en route.
Twenty minutes later, the Clerk reappeared. "You won't need the bundles, Sir. While you were reading, CPS and Counsel have got their heads together and are going to ask for a bindover". So that gave me a chance to brief my colleagues on Bindovers, allowing the newbie to fill in a bit more of her form, this time about a bit of law that dates back to 1361.
So when our man arrived the CPS offered no evidence, I dismissed the substantive charge, and bound him over to keep the peace for 12 months in the sum of £200. I carefully explained what this meant and emphasised that it is not a conviction. All that was left was to call in the witnesses, thank them for attending, and release them, along with the defendant and his Counsel.
Counsel got his fee, the defendant kept his clean record and my new colleague got some training. The defendant probably got a bill for something over £3,000, but looked happy enough anyway.

(extract from the Guidelines:-)
• The court has the power to bind an individual over to keep the peace.
• The order is designed to prevent future misconduct and requires the individual to promise to pay a specified sum if the terms of the order are breached. Exercise of the power does not depend upon conviction.
• Guidance on the making of binding over orders is set out in part III.31 of the Consolidated Criminal Practice Direction, as amended in March 2007. Key principles include:
(1) before imposing the order, the court must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a breach
of the peace involving violence or an imminent threat of violence has occurred, or that there is a real risk of violence in the future. The court should hear evidence and the parties before making any order;
(2) the court should state its reasons for making the order;
(3) the order should identify the specific conduct or activity from which the individual must refrain, the length of the order and the amount of the recognisance;
(4) the length of the order should be proportionate to the harm sought to be avoided and should not generally exceed 12 months;
(5) when fixing the amount of the recognisance, the court should have regard to the individual’s financial resources.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ahhhh -poor love!

Just as Tom Lehrer declared that satire died when Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize, I have to add my five-penn'orth: Jeremy Clarkson has redefined 'hurt'.

In an interview, Clarkson said that he was "hurt" after he discovered that Collins, a racing driver, had been writing a book detailing his seven years as Top Gear's mythical character.

The Top Gear presenter said: "it was a shock. It was horrible, actually, because I liked him. He came round to my house and had drinks, and all the time he was writing a book, so I feel a bit hurt really."

This from the uber-yob who has piled up millions from massaging the adolescent fantasies of petrolheads of all ages, and written a book or two in the process.

Collins seems to be looking to make a few quid out of his anonymised fame (be fair - would you seek réclame while swathed from head to foot in Nomex overalls)?

Jeremy - if the hurt becomes too much to bear, spend ten minutes with your bank statements, count up your houses, and try not to begrudge a minor player's attempt to accrue a fraction of your fortune.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's Looking Good.....

This blogging barrister quotes yesterday's announcement about clamping on private land.The cowboy clampers (who seem to make up a good proportion of them) have pushed their luck too far and their golden goose is to have its neck wrung.
The real scandal here is the indifference shown by the previous government to this unjust extortion that was allowed to go on for years.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Be My Guest

The comments on this blog give a lot of pleasure and a deal of enlightenment, Just one thing though - if you post as Guest, can you just put some distinguishing detail, because these days we often get more than one guest on a thread.
As administrator, I can see the IP addresses of all commenters, but the general reader can't.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Justice In Camera

This is an unpleasant story about an experienced police officer, who has been convicted of assault. As ever, these incidents are never completely straightforward, and I suspect that the victim was no angel; she certainly doesn't look compliant in the pictures, but of course that cannot justify her being assaulted, as the court found. It is not just extraordinary that the Sergeant completely lost his professional cool, for whatever reason, but the oddest thing is that this custody suite,like most others, is covered by CCTV that is always on, so the officer would have known his actions would be recorded.
Whatever his motives on the day, he is likely to pay a high price, including the loss of a decently-paid job.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Doleful Dole Dodger Discovered

This report, apart from the cheat's profession, is of a pretty common crime that most magistrates see a few times a year. Guidelines steer us towards fines in most cases (often the offender has little cash anyway), but a feature of recent years has been the prosecution's refusal to apply for an order to repay the money. Every court has to consider compensation in every relevant case, but a DSS (as was) prosecutor explained to me, as kindly as possible, that the Department is far better at recovering money than the clumsy courts' system. That makes sense when you think about it as virtually everyone gets some sort of benefits throughout their lives, even if it's only the state pension, so money can be recovered from that in due course.

Unpaid Skiving?

Tonight, 2nd September, at 7.30 on ITV try not to miss the half-hour exposé (or so it is trailed) of sloppily-run community punishment projects.


I am sure that it came as no surprise to anyone in the system to hear that a number of projects are poorly managed and casually supervised. I have been writing on here for years about the dozens of times that governments have promised 'really tough' community punishments. On the whole it hasn't happened. There are myriad problems, starting with Probation's chronic under-funding, the legacy of its social-worker 'advise, assist, befriend' culture, the burden of health and safety and other rules that make much meaningful work out of the question, the lack of real sanctions against (mostly) disaffected young men who just want to doss about, as young men do. Offenders cannot be allowed to do work that would usually be done by paid employees, as the state has no business putting people out of work.

Louise Casey had the effrontery to sound cross about the shambles that ITV showed us: as the person who cooked up the bogus 'community payback' brand and insisted on orange jackets being worn she might have had the decency to rebrand it 'community layback'.

Quite a few of us on the bench prefer, when the choice is available, to impose a tagged curfew. It can be imposed without the delay of a report, it is a real punishment that amounts to house arrest, and it is managed by contractors that are professionally managed, so once you are tagged it is comply, or face breach proceedings.

For years the argument has been that courts will only use community service if it is properly demanding and properly enforced. Many of us suspected it was not, and we may well have been right.

If you misssed the programme you can catch it at ITV player.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


The Ministry of Justice has a website called You Be The Judge that takes the reader through the decision-making processes used in court. I am very pleased to see it; my original motive in setting us this blog was to try to give people some idea of how the summary courts work. I haven't got the time or the resources to set up anything like the MoJ's effort, so it's a welcome contribution to people's understanding of courts and their work.