Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ex Metpol Semper Aliquid Novi

We saw a few applications for search warrants this morning. They came with the usual Inspector's Authority and two copies of the Information. For the first time in my experience each Information included a copy of an Infra-red image from the Air Support Unit helicopter. Even without the officer's explanation it was clear that each image showed one building that had a spectacularly different heat signature from those around it - cannabis farms of course, that will have had a visit some time this afternoon. The current cold snap will also reveal rows of terraced houses where just one roof is free of frost or snow. Despite all this, street cannabis is more available than ever, and of, I am told, excellent quality.

A Word To The Unwise

This blog is blessed with a following of people who read, comment, agree, disagree, query, quibble, and whatnot. Apart from my loyal following of Mr. Toad and his acolytes (who maintain silence unless I venture to suggest that some drivers treat the law too casually for my taste) I don't imagine that I have too many avid readers from the criminal fraternity.
So here, as an early Christmas present, are a few of Uncle Bystander's hard-learned insights into the sharp end of criminal justice:-
i) A life of crime is rubbish, even if you are good at it.
ii) It's no fun having a stash of gold bars buried under the patio if you lie awake nights wondering when Harry The Hatchet or (preferably) the Old Bill come crashing through the door to exact their particular kind of retribution.
iii) Most drug dealers live with their Mum and don't earn enough to fund their own habit. The blinged-up Merc-driving Mr. Big is largely a media myth. It's a dirty shifty business.
iv) Never trust your Co-D. 'Honour Among Thieves' is bollocks. You think he's your mate but after he has sold you down the river he will rob his Granny's purse.
v) Listen to your brief. He is smarter and better educated than you. He is very likely free, as well. If he tells you to plead, plead. If he tells you it's worth a run, go for it but don't forget the one-third off that you are gambling with. In court, shut up. Let him do the talking, you can do the time. Win or lose he goes home to his wife and kids.
vi) However much you hear about rubbish Government computers, don't forget that even the piss-poor ones have a really long memory. If you have had a result in avoiding capture for some piece of naughtiness, but the police have your DNA or prints or whatever - forget about that Ryanair cheapie with Angie-Leigh or Kayley. The airport computer will sort out a reception committee for you before you have left Kos.
vii) Think carefully before you elect for the Crown Court. A jury is easier to fool than a bench of JPs (who are, trust me, rarely as daft as they look) but if you come unstuck and you get the wrong judge you will get hammered. I sat next to one of the old school once as he sentenced a mugger. Even on a late plea, Hizonner weighed the man off for a nine, when the unofficial estimates were for five at worst.

Good luck, but don't push your luck.

Artful Lodger

Every now and again we would find ourselves faced with an application to 'lodge' fines for a serving prisoner. This is a process whereby outstanding fines would be converted into an appropriate amount of jail time, and added to the sentence, either consecutively or concurrently according to the nature of the offences that had attracted fines. If a defence brief is doing his job he should canvass this at the beginning of a sentence to allow the prison staff to deal with the appropriate paperwork. This doesn't always work out, so a bench may have to sort things out later. Unfortunately, lodging is time-consuming and involves a lot of writing, so these days we are more inclined to remit whatever amounts we think appropriate; the effect is the same but it is simpler. The underlying principle is the old-established one that a prisoner should be released with, as far as possible, a clean sheet, although we will often leave compensation to be paid.
Last summer we came up against three slightly out-of-the-ordinary cases, because the men owing fines had all served long times on remand but had not been imprisoned at the conclusion of the matters.
So we had A, owing £340 for a bit of public order and criminal damage (sum includes £150 compensation for the damage) who had spent 18 months on remand for an offence of which he was acquitted.
B owed £275 for failing to pay his bus fare (!) and had spent 4 months on remand for a matter that resulted in a community order at the Crown Court.
C owed £460 out of fines totalling £475 for a bit of motoring and some personal-use drug possession. He had spent 7 months on remand for GBH and the Crown offered no evidence.
The clerk told us that we could not properly lodge these sums, since they were not serving prisoners, but rather on remand. So we looked for a just and common-sense solution. We remitted A's fines, but left the compensation alone, since a member of the public had suffered a loss that A would have to make good. We remitted B and C's fines, since we felt that they had been in prison for more than long enough to cancel them out.
It was all a bit untidy, but we felt that we had been fair, and that is what we are there for, after all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Plain Daft

Over the weekend I was, as usual, blowing the froth off a pint in my local when I spotted a familiar face. Philip (a solicitor) and I recognised each other immediately; he has appeared before me many times, although I don't often see him these days. He had dropped in to the pub on his way from advising a client in the police station, and we chatted about the way things are going. He mentioned in conversation that fewer than 50% of those detained in the police station accept free legal advice from an independent and impartial solicitor.
Just read that again:- Free. Independent. Impartial. Yet so many say "no thanks".

"I don't need a lawyer because I've done nothing wrong"
"Only those with something to hide need a lawyer"
"Let's get on with it -I want to go home"
are just a few of the reasons why people refuse free professional help that might affect the whole of their future life.

So if it happens to you, take the lawyer's advice. Tell them an old magistrate said it was a good idea.

Could You Run That By Me Again Please?

The Magistrates' Association website has a poll asking:-

Regarding magistrate applicants, does the key quality of social awareness cover the need for local knowledge?

In the nearly two weeks that the poll has been online 52 out of the MA's 20,000-plus members have replied, and they are split 25 to 27.

I am one of the thousands who have no idea what the question means.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Are In The Wrong Job, Guys

This report of the not-too-bright pirates who picked on a US Navy warship rather than the expected merchant ship reminded me of this post from a while ago. In Ealing Broadway or off the coast of Somalia, the commonest characteristic of criminals is being rather thick.

Could? - Yes. Will? - No

'I'm sorry': Teenager could face five years in jail after admitting throwing fire extinguisher during fees protest

So reads the Daily Mail's headline. It is of course misleading, and the journo who wrote it and the editor who told him to write it know that it is.

Point 1 - The maximum sentence is for the worst possible case, following conviction after trial.
Point 2 - The early guilty plea ensures a discount of one-third on the sentence.
Point 3 - If the offender has no previous convictions he must have credit for that.
Point 4 - Prison is likely, and the young man will be lucky if it is suspended.
Point 5 - The saloon-bar experts and the Gadgets will deplore the sentence as soft.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This case in which a woman teacher seduced teenage boys in her care is, like so many cases we see, full of irony.
The teacher's actions were selfish and irresponsible, and the sentence she received reflected the imperative to protect children.
On the other hand, she is herself a mother of young children, and the incarceration that is intended to protect others' children will inevitably damage hers. No winners here, I'm afraid.

Just Think On

The tabloid press and the gobby bloke in the pub each like to cast contemptuous remarks on judges when a decision fails to meet the standards of the baying mob that they pander to. Here is a case of which I know nothing other than what is reported. It is a heart-rending case, involving a so-called mercy killing, a concept absent from English law. The judges go through the legal and the other issues carefully and deliberately.
This case elicits emotions from each side of the argument about mercy killing or assisted euthanasia or whatever you want to call it. You may agree with the judges or you may not. But these learned and experienced men came to a verdict that took account of emotions, morality, and the law. But in accordance with their duty, they chose the law,and interpreted it.
Next time you hear some fool ranting on about out-of-touch judges, and the rest of the idiocy of the system that he doesn't understand, just think about the judgment above. It's well thought out, isn't it?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We shall have to get used to news like this, in which a promised reform or improvement has had to be shelved because of TJNML (There's Just No Money Left). The only consolation I can find in this is to thank my lucky stars I am not in Eire.

One quote in the article struck me as odd:-

It will also propose ending a defendant's right to change a not guilty plea once a trial has begun, in a move designed to encourage earlier guilty pleas thus saving the cost of trials.

How is that going to work then?
Jimmy "The Blagger" Murphy is on trial for a robbery, not for the first time in his life. He goes Not Guilty, as he always does, relying on his latter-day Rumpole's skills with a jury, and hoping that one or two key witnesses will develop amnesia on key bits of evidence, with or without 'encouragement' from his mates. The Crown opens its case. To Jimmy's chagrin, all of the witnesses appear to have turned up, and the forensics don't look too good either. Down in the cells, he has a chat with his brief. "I think I'm buggered" he says. Rumpole agrees. He asks to see the Judge in Chambers with the other counsel. "I am instructed to change Murphy's plea" he tells Hizonner.
"Oh no you don't" replies the one in the purple dressing gown, putting his teacup down firmly on the desk. "We have to go through to the bitter end". "But I will not cross-examine any Crown witnesses, nor challenge the forensics, and when my man gives evidence he will cough the lot to the jury. All that's left for me is to mitigate". "Quite" says the learned Judge. "Daft, isn't it? Shall we get on now?"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Joyce Stuck

Yes, I know they do things differently in Scotland, but when this MP was dealt with for drink-driving (failing to provide, to be exact) he was fined £400. The Guidelines have this as a Band C fine, so after one-third discount for his plea he would pay one week's RWI (relevant weekly income). MPs make about £65,000 per year, or say £1300 a week, so he paid a lot less that he would have done down London way. Perhaps he'll put it on his expenses.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Court Tweeting

Lord Judge has spoken of the threat to the fairness of jury trials from thoughtless use of new technology. In a trial, all that may be taken into account is the evidence presented in the courtroom, but it is only human for jurors to want to know more. At the least damaging level it could amount to looking up a map of where something is said to have happened. At worst it could involve research into the background of the defendants or witnesses or, as is said to have occurred, an electronic poll among your pals as to 'whether he dunnit'. Not too long ago a jury is said to have used an Ouija board to resolve its doubts.

It's not just jurors; I have had to rebuke a colleague who was texting from the bench (not, I hasten to add, about the case) and the retiring room is loaded with i-whatsits, laptops and all the other gadgets at lunchtime. I have used the Net during a multi-day complex trial, but from home, and only to look up a point of law. I have to admit that this is frowned upon because we must rely on the legal advice from our Clerk. In mitigation, I was sitting with a Circuit Judge on this case, so I was just trying to clarify something he had said about an area of law that was new to me.

We shall hear more about this, I suspect.

My Last Word On The Airport

My piece about airport security has stirred up dozens of comments, many of which assume that I personally devised or approve of the security checks. What I said was that people who give the security staff a lot of attitude may well come to grief, and that if you find yourself facing a court it will do you no good to assert that the rules are silly. Perhaps they are, but they are the rules and airport staff have no option about applying them.
Can you imagine the furore if something nasty got onto an aeroplane, and security said "we thought it was a joke so we let it through"?
A lot of the remarks seem to express indignation that important travellers can have to speak to oiks in uniform. Those 'oiks' don't make the rules.
It's a bit like the pompous fools who react to being stopped for speeding by asking the officer why he isn't out catching burglars instead of harassing motorists. The officer won't answer the question, but he will be more likely to write a ticket than he was before it was asked.

Later:- That was my last word, but this link from the comments (thanks JK) is spot-on


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sergeant Cleared of Assault

A police sergeant who was convicted of assaulting a woman prisoner and imprisoned for six months has had his appeal allowed. The original conviction and sentence was in front of a Deputy District Judge, and the appeal was, as usual, at the Crown Court. The judge was Mr. Justice Bean, no less, and he will have been sitting with two magistrates (not that any paper I have seen mentions that fact). It's quite an interesting case; tried in front of a deputy DJ, rather than a bench of three, then an appeal heard by a High Court judge with two lay justices.
(I'm now not too sure about that as today's list doesn't mention justices)
I have blogged about Bean J a few times, as I think that he is destined for great things. My first thought was that he had once again been brought in for a sensitive case, but the court list for tomorrow shows him sitting at Oxford again with two JPs.
Here is what I said about him previously.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


A few people have commented on my assertion that

Of course, anyone who mentions the word 'bomb' at an airport check-in deserves all he gets

In these post 9/11 days airports are special because they may be targets or launching pads for terrorist attacks. Airport security staff are not overpaid, nor subject to particularly high-level training. They work to a tightly-drawn set of rules and those who slip up are soon shown the door.

So when some tired or drunk or just arrogant passenger decides to treat the operative with sarcasm and scorn, the operative must, following his orders, call the cops - and that's what happens. So Mr. Smart-Ass who sneers that his baggage contains dynamite ("What do you think?" is the common riposte) will find himself face down, handcuffed, looking at the nasty end of a Heckler and Koch MP5 pointed at his ear. He will also miss his flight.

So don't even think about it. There will be no sympathy from the police or the courts. It's just too important.

Not-So-Cunning Plan

The previous post reminded me of a tale that I heard from my good friend John Cochrane, whom I have known since my early days on the bench. John is an experienced old defence brief, who has seen a few things in his time, and who knows most of the ne'er-do-wells on our patch, which is not surprising as he is into representing the third generation of some local families.
John is a family man who lives quite close to the court and the police station. His lively and charming sons had used a discarded fridge in the garden for a bit of spray-painting practice before going on to use the sprays as part of a school art project. Time passed, and the fridge found its way out to the front drive to await collection by the Council. As happens, neither John nor his wife got round to making the call to the Council, so the fridge lingered on the drive, a daily reproach to its owners.
One fine day John returned home to be greeted by his beaming wife. "Darling" she said. "I've got rid of that old fridge." "Great! said John. "How?" "Jimmy the Pikey came round looking for odd jobs, and I gave him £20 to take it to the dump".
John did not react with the expected elation. He stood and thought. "I have cocked up darling, haven't I?" she asked. "You may be right" replied John.
Sure enough the phone rang next day. It was a neighbour from a couple of hundred yards down the road. "John" said the neighbour. "I couldn't help noticing that old fridge that your lads had sprayed. It was in your drive for a while. Well now it's blocking my garage door".
John apologised and made a phone call. The offending fridge was swiftly removed for a further £40.

Cunning Plan

My daughter lives in a street of Victorian houses that is shared by families, students, and a variety of people of varying prosperity. As is common in some areas residents who want to dispose of sound but unwanted goods may put them in the front garden, perhaps with a note saying 'help yourself'. Last month one of her neighbours put out a serviceable fridge that had no place in her new kitchen. It lingered sad and unwanted for about a week until the neighbour's husband had the brainwave of putting a notice on it saying "For Sale - £25".
It was gone in two hours.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sledgehammer 1, Nut 0

I can't add much useful comment to the torrent of opinion on the web and in the papers about the Twitter 'bomb threat' that sounded like nothing of the sort, and the absurd overreaction to a man's expressed irritation at Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's BBC radio interview.

Of course, anyone who mentions the word 'bomb' at an airport check-in deserves all he gets, but these two cases both seem to be way over the top to me. There is a world of difference between a phoned-in bomb hoax and a light-hearted not-very-funny gag on Twitter addressed to your mates. And as for Ms. A-B; come on love, do you really, in your heart of hearts, think that anyone was going to pelt you with stones? Really, that is?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Whoopee

The latest issue of 'Magistrate' magazine includes an application form for tickets to attend a reception on the 20th of May 2011 in Westminster Hall, to mark the opening of an exhibition to commemorate 650 years of the magistracy.

With tickets at forty quid a pop, not including travel costs up to the big smoke, I shall not be one of the expected 950 JPs joining in the fun.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More On That Demo

Thugs who hurled fire extinguisher off roof on to police during student demo may be charged with attempted murder

By Daily Mail Reporter

Wanna bet?

Recreational Mayhem

Today's headlines about yesterday's demonstration that got out of hand induced a few minutes' nostalgia here at Bystander Towers. I was at university in 1968 when radical students were mostly Marxists or Trotskyists, and the big issue was the Vietnam war. Across the Channel the '√Čvenements' of student and worker protest caused a few lively nights in Paris, and the workers at Renault welded the gates of their usine shut. President DeGaulle took the precaution of squaring the generals before deciding how to handle matters.
A few coachloads of students went from my university down to the big Grosvenor Square demo and the ensuing scrap with the police led to the same sort of headlines that we can read this morning. Then, as now, there was concern, there was anger, there was indignation, but above all, the whole thing was tremendous fun for the participants.
Whether you are a member of the Bullingdon or a militant Trot, the sound of breaking glass is deeply satisfying to a young man, and today, as in 1968, the press reports will be avidly scanned by the protesters. Politicians and columnists will huff puff and fulminate, and in a week or two the whole business will be forgotten.
The leaders from 1968 must be feeling nostalgic too. Jack Straw, still a student in the second half of his twenties now a right-wing Rt.Hon., Tariq Ali (comfortable media person) Daniel Cohn-Bendit (aka Danny Le Rouge) (Eurocrat) Anna Ford, then President Manchester SU, (media celeb) will all be able to get out their press clippings and have a good old wallow. From Right-on to Rt.Hon is quite a leap.
Ironically, mine was the most spoilt and indulged student generation ever, with grants, new facilities, plenty of academic staff, and firms eager to snap up the four per cent or so of young people with degrees. Now where's that photo album?

Sunday, November 07, 2010


From The Independent, quoting a PA report:-

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A haul of cocaine, believed to have a street value of up to £3 million, was seized following a crime squad operation, police said today.

Nine kilos of the class A drug were uncovered by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (Ersou) on Thursday.

The commonly accepted street value of cocaine, allowing for no more than the usual adulteration, is £40 per gram, or £40,000 per kilo. So 9 x 40,000 equals 'up to £3 million'?

Saturday, November 06, 2010


The scenario that led to this High Court judgment will be familiar to most JPs. Legal Advisers have a delicate path to tread, most particularly when a Bench decision looks a little eccentric on the facts, or, most treacherously, on mixed law and fact. A perverse conviction can always be put right by the Crown Court, but if the LA suspects a perverse acquittal, he or she might be tempted to trespass on the justices' territory and nudge them in the 'right' direction. That's when the Chairman will earn his salt, and decide whether to invite his colleagues to have another think or whether to thank the LA politely, send him back into the courtroom, check the written-down reasons, file back in, and announce the verdict. I know that most of my LAs read this stuff, but I am not trying to curry favour when I say that their professionalism is invariably impeccable.
Their Lordships said a few kind words about the LA involved, who must have passed a few deeply uncomfortable months. Let's hope that the principles are taken on board and he will be able to flourish in his career.

The final submissions regarding costs make, as ever, an interesting postscript.

Hail To The Chief

We have a new Chief Magistrate.

I have linked to the Press release because I know nothing whatever about the new man.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Worth A Read

Joshua Rozenberg, one of our most experienced legal commentators, deals in his recent Guardian column with, inter alia, the Louise Casey debate about whether certain lesser offences ought no longer to be triable before a jury of the Crown Court, and the alleged conduct of one of the police officers who shot Mark Saunders dead when giving evidence at the barrister's inquest.

I agree with the good Mr. Rozenberg on both issues - read his piece here.

Miss Casey's appointment as Victims' Commissioner, announced a short time before the recent election, was a stroke of luck for her, as her style (remember the 'Respect Agenda' that wasted so much time and money?) probably has little appeal to the more hard-headed Coalition, being redolent of the Blair bright-ideas-from-the-sofa years.

She was appointed to look after victims and witnesses. Mission creep is already under way, and she is using arguments about victims to widen her brief to comment on the wider justice system.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Going For A Song

If this disturbing report turns out to be true it will lead some of us to suspect that the discipline and management of London's armed police needs to be looked at.
Police officers who are armed and authorised to kill do a potentially dangerous job in all of our interests, and they usually do it well, but the corollary of their accepting that job must be iron discipline and an awareness of their responsibility. Some of the evidence presented to the inquest seems to reveal an esprit-de-corps that went too far and descended into arrogance. To lard evidence about the death of a man with song titles, in front of a High Court Judge is utterly unforgivable, and it must be right that the officer has been removed from firearm duties.