Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Court Clerk or Clerk Who Works In a Court?

This report gives, I hope, the wrong impression. There are many clerical employees in the courts' service, but only legally qualified people are referred to as Court Clerks. These days the favoured title is Legal Adviser.

I suspect, although I do not know, that this gentleman falls into the first category. Our Legal Advisers are not all saints, I imagine, but every one I have ever worked with has been professional and beyond reproach.

No Delay

We had finished our morning's work when a casually dressed man panted into the courtroom and spoke to the clerk sotto voce. We were asked to deal with the matter straight away and of course we agreed. The officer (for such it was) apologised unnecessarily for his informal appearance, took the oath, and handed up his Information.

It was an application for a search warrant that he described as "very urgent". I cannot say anything about it, but I expect that shortly after I signed the warrant a squad of serious policemen went to visit a place in our locality that is known for problems.

These days we have been advised that warrant applications, even if made in open court before a bench, are a matter for a single justice; previously we have looked upon it as a Bench decision, although a single justice has of course the power to grant it.

So it was my turn, and I signed the warrant with my special (illegible) Warrant signature. Well you never know, do you?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Turnkey's View

The president of the Prison Governors Association has gone on record about the riot-fuelled increase in prison numbers.

I can understand the rationale behind exemplary sentencing for involvements in the riots, although the appeal courts will clearly need to do some tidying up of a number of inexplicably harsh sentences, but what truly puzzles me is the fact that the Bail Act is being interpreted in an unprecedented way. When the riots have died down, as they have, where are the 'substantial' grounds to fear failure to surrender, further offences, or interfere with witnesses when someone has voluntarily turned herself in to the police?


John Thornhill of the MA has chipped in. I can't understand why he failed to point out that the overwhelming majority of these disposals have nothing to do with JPs but have been dealt with by full time salaried District Judges.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Riot Update

Here are more sentencing remarks in the latest batch of riot-related Crown Court cases. As before the sentences are awesomely heavy. There are bound to be appeals, and they will set the tone thereafter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

It is depressing that a law firm finds it necessary to defend itself for accepting instructions from Libyan sources.

It is a feature of many of the worst tyrannies (Iran is a good example) that lawyers who defend unpopular clients can be harassed or even arrested for speaking for their client. I understand that defence lawyers are challenged on a regular basis on the lines of : "how can you possibly defend someone like that?"

I have quoted from 'A Man For All Seasons' before:-

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to the Grindstone

I am going in to sit for a colleague tomorrow,and it will be nice to get back to a bit of everyday business. All of the heavyweight riot stuff is now listed at Camberwell and Highbury so we may be able to return to our regular diet. Let's see.


It was a nice little drink-drive, with a couple of experts and a back-count, as well as a legal point or two. Can't say any more, but it made a nice change.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Reasoned View

ObiterJ, who is one of our regular commenters, has posted a first-class summary of the present position regarding the riots that occurred a couple of weeks ago. Order seems to have returned to the streets - in London flooding the place with a reported 16,000 officers seems to have done the trick - and the criminal justice phase has only just started. I share OBJ's curiosity as to the rationale behind, in particular, the draconian attitude to bail, much of it seemingly inconsistent with the provisions of the Bail Act.

Fortunately the system has inbuilt mechanisms to put things right if the heat of the moment led to disposals becoming a little over-enthusiastic, but that will face the higher courts with a very large workload in the coming months.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I was alarmed to see a link to the Gadget Show on my TV planner. I had a vision of no-nonsense armed-to-the-teeth coppers being egged on by an ex-military Inspector.

Mercifully, it was this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From The Horse's Mouth

Here are the remarks of a senior Judge when sentencing some of the first riot cases - obviously all of them guilty pleas.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Thanks to all those who have kept the comments going while I have been away for a few days.

One of the benefits of even a short break was brought home to me today. Having breakfasted handsomely with our hosts my wife and I went to Tarr Steps on Exmoor for a stroll before heading back eastwards.

Standing under the damp and lovely green canopy, accompanied by only the occasional walker, we watched the bubbling flow of the river as it tumbled across its stony bed, flowing under the ancient and heavy stones of the old bridge, put in place by unknown humans possibly 3000 years ago. We agreed there and then that whenever life became stressful, we would cast our minds back to that river, that was flowing countless millenia before we were born, and will still be flowing long after we and our petty concerns are utterly forgotten.

There was just one interruption when a bright yellow Sea King rescue helicopter roared by about fifty feet above the trees. I can readily forgive the sudden disruption of our peace, because that helicopter, like a fire engine or a lifeboat or an Intensive Care unit, has no malign function, being created and used entirely for the benefit of humanity.

So if you see an old JP looking a bit pensive on the bench in the next few weeks, please forgive him. He might be me and his mind will be in the courtroom but his heart will be on Exmoor.

Friday, August 12, 2011


It's easy to discern the contempt that some of the illiberal elite have for the people, as recriminations and why-oh-why journalism flourish in the aftermath of the riots. The Mail (inevitably) reports gleefully that some grandstanding council leaders are threatening to evict whole families from council accommodation if one member is convicted in connection with the riots. This is nonsense, and what makes it worse is that those making the threats know that it is nonsense. For one thing it smacks of collective punishment, for another thing it breaches the right to family life in the HRA, and for another thing the council has a statutory duty to house homeless people. Such an eviction would never get past the courts, but the bullies making the threats assume that the public is too stupid to know that and will be impressed at the council's toughness.

Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh is reported as saying that some of his officers are disappointed that the courts have been dealing with young rioters by making a referral order when the law leaves the courts no alternative and he knows it. DAC Kavanagh is paid a lot of money to be a leader, so why isn't he telling his 'disappointed' troops what the law says, rather than patronising them and the public by suggesting that the courts have somehow failed in their duty?

There will be lots more of this kind of stuff as people try to make themselves out to be the people's tribunes, and most of what will be said will be utterly bogus.


It's been another night when courts have sat to deal with those arrested in connection with the riots. A couple of thoughts occur:

The great bulk of the cases have been handled by District Judges. Some lay justices' noses have been put out of joint by this, but it was probably inevitable, firstly because professionals with no other commitments are easier to deploy than lay benches, and a word from the Chief Magistrate is an easy way to achieve a degree of consistency.

Many of those arrested have been refused bail. Expect a flood of fresh bail applications, as two are allowed in the magistrates' court, and thereafter application may be made to a Circuit Judge. Nevertheless given the weight of numbers those incarcerated may face some time inside.

We had to allow a trial date to be vacated yesterday as the CCTV evidence wasn't ready and the available specialists are all up to their ears processing riot footage.

The papers are already fuming about younger offenders 'walking free' because they do not understand, and do not want to understand, the constraints on dealing with the young in court. All but the most serious offences have to be dealt with in the Youth Court with its maximum power of (I think - it's not my turf) a two year Detention and Training Order. For the youngest, if they have no previous convictions, a Referral Order is about all there is. Frustrating as this may seem, there is a perfectly good principle behind treating the young differently and keeping them out of the adult justice system.

Here's an informative piece.

And here's another.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Enter Rumour, Painted All With Tongues

I have had an email from my local police today, via our Neighbourhood Watch, to say not to worry about rumours of trouble in the biggish town a few miles along the road.

It reminds me of the Southall riots, some years ago. I ran a business in the area, and quite a few of my competitors started to board up their premises. My wonderful assistant fell for it all, and rushed into my office to say that the National Front were massing on Hounslow Heath.

She was affronted when I burst out laughing, first because Hounslow Heath is now mainly under Heathrow Airport, and secondly because I asked her how three men and a dog could 'mass' anywhere.

Expect more of the same until things cool down. And carry on praying for rain. Heavy rain.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Few Basics

All we can do while riots are still going on is to support those who are tackling the trouble on the ground, and to wish them well. The criminal justice phase will begin shortly. I am not commenting on the system but here are some of the issues:

Those arrested have to be taken to a police station and booked in in the usual manner, where the custody sergeant has to authorise their detention. That has the effect of taking one or more officers off the street, and if the cells are full, as I imagine they are, detainees have to be shipped out, requiring more resources.

Charges will be decided by the CPS, and the confusion and chaos of a riot will make it exceptionally difficult to gather evidence of the necessary quality for a conviction.

CCTV is less help than the public commonly suppose, particularly in view of the well-known Turnbull guidelines on ID evidence.

Most of the likely charges will be either-way, such as burglary, theft, robbery, affray, criminal damage (this has to be above £5000 to make the offence e/w, but setting light to a car or building will soon get you past that threshold). The CPS is likely to rely on 'joint enterprise' in many cases, which should provide plenty of work for lawyers.

The early batch of people dealt with in court were reported on by the BBC today who said that there were many guilty pleas, but that most were committed to the Crown Court for sentence.

Crown courts in London are currently under pressure to get through their work. If there are lots of not-guilty pleas the system may take a year or more to get through the cases.

And a comment from me:- These are dreadful and outrageous incidents that need to be dealt with under the law, but nobody can justify cutting corners. Cases that cause outrage must be dealt with meticulously, however slow and frustrating that may appear to be. This is Britain - we have seen this sort of thing before and we shall see it again, and the rule of law is too precious to be bent in a moment's indignation.

Good Timing

A long-serving fireman of my acquaintance who is also a JP has just worked his last-ever night shift - last night, in West London. Talk about going out on a high!

JPs and The Riot Act

The Riot Act disappeared from English law some years ago, but had remained unused for a very long time. The prescribed wording had to be read to the mob by one of a list of functionaries, often by a Justice of the Peace. How anyone was supposed to hear is hard to imagine, in the time before electronic amplifiers.

I can't remember where, but I recall reading of one incident where a Justice read the Act only to see the mob repair to his house and burn it down. Call me a coward if you like, but I think that would deter me from taking on the duty.

If Only

I am sure that I'm not the only person who would like to see heavy rain for the next three or four nights. Sadly, it isn't forecast for London.

Afraid Not

David Cameron is quoted:

He told rioters: "You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."

Unfortunately, that is not how the youth justice system works. The under-18s won't be hit very hard and the under-16s are more or less bulletproof so long as their offences aren't too far up the scale.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


I am starting to get a bad feeling about the riots that started in North London yesterday. Of course a full and impartial investigation will take place to find out what led to a man being shot by police officers, but that will take many months. The early press reports suggested that the deceased was stopped in a Trident operation and was shot dead after producing a weapon and firing it, the bullet lodging in a police officer's radio. The press ran with that story and the usual commenters made the point that a man who had fired at police had himself been shot. That would seem fair to me too, but the latest reports (all unconfirmed like everything in this post) suggest that the bullet in the radio was a police one.
There is a depressing feeling of déja vu about a police incident in which the early press reports turn out not to reflect the truth. That truth will be established in due course, but what worries me is that practically no one now accepts the first police account of these sort of incidents. That allows for rumours and hysteria, then violence. And violence is so often followed by looting, as the glittering shop windows become irresistible to local thieves, who seize their chance.
As usual, the police on the street stood up to the bricks and bottles and contained the riot as best they could. But if their managers had not tossed away their force's credibility so often in the past, the riots might not have kicked off at all.

I see that even Gadget sees the potential trouble from this.

Silly Season Update.....

Shock Poll? Shock? Really?

Prison drug taking is so bad that even the wardens are getting stoned... on the fumes
Don't believe a word of it. Prisons awash with drugs? Course they are. Wonder how they get there? Me neither. Officers getting high? Nah.

MP has Rolex stolen in Ford prison. If he took it in then he is a prat. But then we knew that anyway.

Police have been attacked for fiddling their expenses - by MPs. Pot? Kettle?

I posted this a year ago. The Mail has dragged the poor old lady back to Saddleworth Moor yet again. How cruel.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Perfect Story For August

Here is a classic Silly Season story that almost has everything. An Irish gentleman finds himself in court charged with being drunk in charge of a horse.
The article is illustrated with a most unlikely stock photo of a posh looking carriage (just in case Mail readers cannot visualise a horse and cart) while the report refers to a 'trap' which the photo certainly isn't.
The horse was colour blind apparently, and the Irishman's account of a few pints in a few pubs rings true enough. The hapless reporter was made to ring up a vet to see if horses really are colour blind.

Just to put the tin hat on it, the defence brief was Mr. Dobbin.


Friday, August 05, 2011

For The Record

Today's appeal by the Murdoch pie-flinger is all over the news.

Since it has been reported little, if at all, may I add that the appeal court consisted of His Honour Judge Pitts, together with Paul Brooks JP, and Mrs. Lobanov-Rostovsky JP.

Each of the three people on the bench had an equal vote, but the judge had, of course, the last word on the law.

JPs' presence on appeals is invisible to the lazy reporters from the press, just as so many cases in the lower court are reported as if the presiding Chairman was sitting alone.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Judgment Call

The many comments on my piece about the Westminster pie-flinger (and to this time-wearied old JP, it's the comments that make this blog worth doing) point up, as I hoped they would, just what a judicial decision is all about. Guidelines have become more and more prescriptive, but at some point in the justice process a tribunal, be it a trio of JPs, a DJ(MC) or a jury has to decide just how serious something was, or how culpable someone is, or whatever.

The Murdoch case drew opinions from across the whole spectrum; the assault was trivial and over-sentenced, or potentially dangerous and under-sentenced, and so on.

That's the whole point of a court. Mechanistic box-ticking can never deliver justice because only a human being can properly assess all of the myriad motives and pressures that another human being can be subject to. Of course sentences can be inconsistent, but given the variety of human behaviour no other outcome is possible.

If the failed entarteur were to come before, say, six lay benches, or three DJ(MC)s, or a circuit judge or two, you wouldn't get consistent results. What you would get would be a number of assessments of how to deal with the case within the law.

Justice can do different things in different ways, and remain just.

Perception vs. Reality - For Some Of Us

It's a truism that crime figures are by their nature unreliable, because of variations and inconsistencies in the collection of raw data. This report points out what most of us already know, that there is a disconnect between perceived and actual rates of crime. Most crimes go unreported for a whole host of reasons - at best because the loss was minor and the victim can't be bothered, at worst because the victim is terrified of the offender. I saw an instance last week where appalling bullying and intimidation had gone unreported and unpunished because the local community had a well-founded fear of retribution from their oppressors.

Some commentators focus on the feral underclass, and label whole estates with a dismissive nickname. In truth the real victims are the innocent but helpless neighbours of the thieves and bullies, who are at far more risk of crime than those who live in glossier areas. I don't suppose they fill in all that many surveys either.

Silly Season Watch

As top journalists and newsmakers sun themselves in Tuscany or wherever, the desperate search for something to interest the punters until the schools go back goes on.

For anyone interested in the article, there is just one thing to say - It won't happen. Full stop. End of.

To borrow a phrase from the constabulary - it's LOB (with bells on).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Welcome Sanity provides a welcome dose of sanity and reason to the kind of newsworthy 'statistics' beloved of the tabloids and their saloon-bar devotees.

This link shows how the statistics on drink-driving arrests have been wilfully distorted to provide a silly-season headline. It's well worth signing up to the RSS feed.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Simple Pieman - or Flans For The Memory

The publicity-seeking idiot who assaulted Rupert Murdoch in a Parliamentary hearing has been given a prison sentence by DJ Daphne Wickham (the Deputy Chief Magistrate).

We can all form our own assessment of the seriousness of the offence. On the one hand there was no physical injury, although simply frightening an 80 year-old can have its dangers. The attack took place in Parliament, which is an affront to our democracy, in which Parliament is supposed to be the fount of reasoned and civilised debate. It was premeditated and potentially dangerous items were smuggled past security - mercifully they were harmless. So perhaps the sentence isn't miles out, but of course six weeks means three, which means 21 days. Given current practice an offender who was not in the public eye like this bloke would be home in a couple of weeks or less, on a tag. Some prisons wouldn't even take him in for such a short stretch.

Any bets on when he gets out? Because of his fame, it could be almost three weeks. But if the prison is under a bit of pressure (plenty of officers are on holiday in August) he could be back home this time next week.

By the way - another paper reports that he was ordered to pay a 'victim' surcharge of £15. I have never heard of that being imposed where there was no fine.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Revolving Door

This really seems a step too far.

When you think of the gravity of the case, much too serious for magistrates of course, the pre-sentence reports, the majesty of the Crown Court, the judge's consideration, the solemn pronouncement of sentence, what did he end up with? Four months served, much of it probably on Cat D, and a nasty bit of tagging. It makes a '16 month' sentence look ridiculous, and serves to fuel the public's cynicism about the justice system. The judge wasted his time too, since Devine had more than one either-way offence on his sheet so a humble bench of JPs could have potted him for twelve months, of which he would in theory have been likely to serve half.