Saturday, December 31, 2011

Panacea? - Er- No.

The press is getting a bit excited on a slow-news day about the prospect of lie detectors (aka polygraphs) being used in this country. If the reports are correct these gadgets may, under some circumstances, help police to know where to direct their enquiries, and what questions they might usefully ask suspects. As to their usefulness in evidence, forget it. The criminal standard of proof (Beyond Reasonable Doubt) is a very high one, and any half-competent defence brief could make mincemeat of any case that turned on this kind of evidence.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ring Out The Old...........

I did my last sitting for the year today, and my last sitting ever for the Bench that I was appointed to. From January 1st we will be merged, like other London benches, with two of our neighbours, and we shall make a start on pushing our work through a severely depleted number of courts. We have lost six courtrooms in the merger, amounting to thirty court days per week, so we can't afford to waste any time.

Today we dealt only with remands, mostly in custody, as these cases can't wait. One man was brought in on a warrant, having been wanted for breaching his community order for about six months. He is also wanted by another court, so we refused bail, and he will be seeing in the New Year in Wormwood Scrubs. Another man had been picked up for a series of burglaries that were too serious for us, so off he went in custody to the Crown Court for sentence, having pleaded guilty. Today's pleas bring his total of convictions to almost 150, so he seems to be a slow learner. We saw a little team of eastern European pickpockets whom we had no hesitation in sending straight inside, having deemed reports to be superfluous.

There was a charming interlude in which I was asked to countersign copies of passports and an application for a marriage licence in a Caribbean country. I signed with due ceremony, the clerk applied the appropriate rubber stamps, then I wished the couple the best for their future together and hoped that they would enjoy their beach wedding.

We were done by early afternoon, so after a quick glass in Court 7 (the pub round the corner) we were off home.

Next week, things will be different. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

I am one of the lucky people, off to spend Christmas with my family, especially my two wonderful granddaughters. One of my children won't be there, but with the help of Skype we should be able to bridge the 5000 mile gap between us.

It's a good time to spare a thought for the many people who aren't so fortunate. There are about 85,000 people in prison (a few of them there because of decisions in which I had a hand). Many of them have families, and there are few sadder sights than the waiting rooms of prison visitor suites, with bedraggled young women, their lifestyle having aged them prematurely, clutching babies and small children, waiting for a brief meeting with Daddy. Those kids are victims too, like the frightened people who barricade themselves in to avoid the unwelcome attentions of their criminal and antisocial neighbours.
For many, the Christmas 'celebrations' will take place in a drug-addled haze while others will drink themselves into a rage and attack each other, their families, or sometimes total strangers.

Police and emergency services will be on hand to intervene in the inevitable family bust-ups, since Christmas is notoriously a peak time for domestic strife. Child Protection Officers and Council staff will be on call over the holiday.

The assaults and the drink-drivers and the robbers and the burglars and the domestic thugs will all begin to appear in court from the beginning of next week. There are skeleton-staffed courts available even on Christmas Day, just as there is a duty High Court judge or two, just in case. Then on January 3rd the newly reorganised magistrates' courts will open for business as we all see how we are going to get on with severely reduced resources, fewer staff, fewer courtrooms, and the rest.

So I for one shall give quiet thanks for my own family's good fortune, and try to remember that there but for the grace of God goes any of us.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Trials following the summer riots are continuing, and this latest case has attracted a very long sentence indeed. According to the report the young man concerned faced multiple charges, capped off by an attack on a scooter rider that resulted in serious injury. So although an appeal is likely, he will be lucky, on present form, to get very much knocked off his sentence.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Loophole Shut

The usual thanks to the invaluable Crime Line for this link to an important case about the notorious and much argued-over S172 that requires the keeper of a vehicle to tell the authorities who was driving, usually after a camera has been triggered. The magistrates' decision seemed eminently sensible, and I am glad that their Lordships thought so too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cui Bono?

Sometimes I read of a case that is about to come through the courts, and wonder just who stands to gain from this or even this. The law may or may not have been broken in either case, but does the public interest really require the majestic panoply of charge, plea, and trial, resulting, almost inevitably, in a sentence that prompts a 'why-oh-why' rant in you-know-which tabloid?

(later edit) And who would call the police for a scrap between two toddlers?

On the other hand, this is a properly exemplary use of the Judge's powers. The young man concerned was undertaking what should be the awesome task of adjudicating on the fate of a fellow citizen, but decided that a night out was more important. Let us hope that the experience of a few nights in, in insalubrious company, educates this undergraduate in the meaning and importance of civic duty.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Trouble Shooters - Guess Who's Here?

The government has apparently identified 120,000 troubled families on whom it would like to target support. It has set up a Troubled Families Team to be run - uh-oh - by Louise Casey, a lady for whom my admiration is severely limited.

Ms Casey comes to the job from her triumph sorting out unpaid work (that she relabelled Community Payback) so it's all better now, then she got herself named as Victims' Commissioner. Victims are presumably now sorted so that she can move on to troubled families. That problem will presumably go away in the nine months or so before she moves onto her next project.

The reports have spoken of squads of trouble shooters. My grumpy friend Duncan opined that he is in favour of them, so long as they identify people causing trouble and shoot them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Words Of Advice Needed

The police often, quite properly, deal with a low level incident by giving 'words of advice'.

This bullying, unprofessional and illegal incident would disgrace a sixth-month probationer or a bewildered PCSO. From an Inspector it is shameful.

So I hope that the Inspector receives 'words of advice' that he can receive standing to attention with his hat on, on the mat in front of a Very Senior Officer.

On The Hurry-Up

Thanks to CrimeLine for this link to the video training material for the Stop Delaying Justice training that has been done by almost every legal adviser, District Judge, and court chairman.

A lot depends on good teamwork between the Legal Adviser and the parties, but if it works (as it needs to) it will go a significant way towards helping courts to do more cases with fewer resources.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

No Surprise

In a Ministerial Statement Ken Clarke has said:
Abolition of Committals:
Commencement of Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke QC):

It is in the interests of victims and witnesses, and of the criminal justice system generally, that court procedures should be made as efficient as possible, for example by cutting out unnecessary court hearings. More than ten years ago, committal proceedings were abolished in indictable-only offences, and replaced by a new ‘sending’ procedure. The Government has decided that the time has come to complete that reform by extending it to offences triable either way. This will enable the Crown Court to manage such cases from an earlier stage, and facilitate efforts to encourage defendants who intend to plead guilty to do so sooner.

The change will be effected by bringing into force Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on a phased basis from April 2012. Following the practice adopted when the existing sending procedure in Section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was first introduced, commencement will initially be limited to certain geographical areas, which will be announced later. Subject to a satisfactory assessment of the first phase, the intention is to complete implementation over the next year.

The Government believes that this reform has the potential to contribute to its aim of reforming and improving the criminal justice system.

I can't see anyone being too bothered about the abolition of committals for either-way offences. When I started on the bench the 'old-style' (Section 6.1) committal involved hearing live evidence, and we were sitting as examining justices to decide whether there was a case to answer, thus acting as a filter on cases that were heading for the Crown Court. Then as now, most cases went up under Section 6.2, a 'paper committal' in which the defence accepts that there is a case to answer, and evidence bundles are served in court. Clerks only had time for a brief look through what could be a three-inch thick bundle, then off it would go to Hizonner. A 6.1 these days is just a 'read through' that can lead to a duplication of effort, so it's no real loss, especially given the huge pressure that there will be on court time in the New Year.

In my new merged bench we are to lose six courtrooms, which means the loss of something like 1500 court days a year. Something has to give.


A new supermarket has just opened in my home town, and I decided to give it a try yesterday. Of course I had no idea where anything was to be found, so there was a deal of doubling back and criss crossing in my progress round the store. When I reached the checkout I was served by a pleasant and helpful lady with a non-local accent. Her name badge said 'Ludmilla' so I enquired what was her home town. "Moscow' she replied. She gave me my receipt, wished me a nice day, and hoped that I would come back to the store soon.
It isn't an original thought, but when I hear time after time in court that a defendant is seeking work, but there's nothing out there, it is tempting to wonder why a Muscovite can get a job, but a locally born person cannot.

Monday, December 05, 2011

More On The Riots

Four months after the riots of last August various bodies have had a go at analysing the causes. Here is a thoughtful piece from the acerbic pen of Theodore Dalrymple who writes as ever from a right-wing perspective, but who can back up his views with a wide range of experience, including years as a prison doctor.
Thus far, I remain convinced that the primary driver of the destruction and looting was both acquisitive and recreational; free stuff and the fun of rampaging in streets where the police had lost control.
The Guardian has put a lot of work into looking for causes and unsurprisingly its analysis differs fundamentally from Dalrymple's.
It is becoming clear that in the two or three days before the police gained control their response was badly mismanaged.
Relations at street level between police and public are obviously very poor in areas such as Tottenham, as I found out when I attended the Five Live debate three weeks ago. Some of the young activists there seemed to have a visceral hatred of the police, with a folk-memory of affronts that continue to smoulder as resentments a long time later. It's a two-way street of course; a PC faced with snarling aggression and hatred is unlikely to go into avuncular George Dixon mode.
Now that we can stand back and reflect on August's events, a couple of things are certainly clear:- A grievance that is misconceived can still be sincerely held, and unemployment and a shortage of youth clubs does not excuse systematic looting and violence.
The police, under their new leader, will no doubt doggedly carry on 'engaging' with the community, but history tells us that when public order is threatened with breakdown the authorities will see a duty to suppress it as a first priority Hence we are likely to see an escalation of crowd-control techniques, with water-cannon, baton rounds, Tasers and more. Britain is not ripe for revolution, however much the far-left fringe would wish it to be so. If cool heads do not prevail, any new outbreaks can be expected to provoke a very firm response indeed.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Christmas Bonus

I have just received a patronising and unneeded payment of ten pounds as a 'Christmas Bonus' - a ludicrous nonsense that no government has had the courage to dump.

I am going to give mine to a charity. I do a bit of voluntary work for Age UK Buckinghamshire, and I can assure you that the volunteers and staff fill a real need; further, the imminent cuts in the Council's budget may mean that essential work will no longer be funded beyond 2012.

If you want to send them your tenner, even if you are below pension age, the website is: here.

Go on - you may need a bit of support in your old age too.

Age UK Buckinghamshire's bank is 30-90-38, account 32240260.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


A lot of lawyers will be interested to read this.
Despite the commonly held view that lawyers are self serving shysters who manipulate the system to keep themselves in German cars and Tuscan retreats, they are an essential part of the system not just to ensure that justice is done but to help the courts to run smoothly and fairly.