Friday, August 31, 2012

Thumbs Down To Night Shift?

It seems that the defence lawyer community is about as keen on evening and weekend courts as most magistrates and court staff.
Magistrates' Courts routinely sit on Saturdays and bank holidays, usually to deal with people in custody, whose cases must be dealt with as quickly as practicable. On occasion benches are also called in on a Sunday, and there is always a duty clerk who has a list of names of JPs who can be called out of the pub or away from the lawnmower or the ironing board if an urgent case arises.
What seems to have happened is that some in authority have become excessively excited by the extraordinary efforts made during last year's riots, and drawn the entirely wrong conclusion that this is a way forward for the future. The money men's eyes are starting to gleam at the possibility of 'sweating the assets' by making the costly court estate work for more than the current five or so hours per day. Unfortunately, the number of available staff is finite and extending their hours would also be costly. The defence lawyers' case is in the link cited above. We are in daily contact with the first-class rumour network that pervades the London justice system and a number of us have it on excellent authority that senior magistrates and court staff are underwhelmed by the whole idea, partly because of the personal implications, but mostly because of the practical objections.
The Blair-era experiment with night courts was a multi million pound disaster. Prisons do not receive outside of usual hours, and they are blessed with, shall we say, occasionally inflexible unions. Probation are not available, hence no pre-sentence reports. The swift disposal that politicians yearn for can be instantly thwarted if the defendant pleads not guilty. Even if he puts his hands up, if the case attracts a higher penalty than a fine, an adjournment is unavoidable.
So we advise the MoJ managers not to be too optimistic. The flexible hours experiment is already sickly, and may be a dead duck not too far into the New Year. Here's a Report from the Telegraph

Thursday, August 30, 2012


A secret document has been found left on a filing cabinet at the Ministry of Justice.

It is a graphic representation, presumably a training aid, of the current management structure in the Courts' Service. The person in the hole represents a magistrate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grand Fromage

Our mention of sandwiches in the previous post appears to have had an unexpected knock-on effect. My mailbox this morning includes a release from Jim Winship at (no, I am not making this up) telling me that 119 million cheese and pickle sandwiches are eaten every year ( I hope that are sure of that figure; this is a responsible blog and I don't want to mislead readers if the true figure is 117 million or even 120 million - comment is free but facts are sacred as I read somewhere).
There is better news still: September 22-30 is British Cheese Week, and have helpfully sent me a 'how to make it' guide to making a Classic Ploughman's sandwich. Now I can cook a bit, even if I wouldn't get far on Masterchef, but I reckon that I have been able to assemble a cheese sandwich for a good 50 years; so thanks anyway, lads.
There is, I understand, a special competition, with the prospect of a holiday in (you guessed it) the Sandwich Islands. I think that you all deserve a crack at this, and you can find it at

Good luck, and send me a postcard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

So How Are Things Back At The Coalface?

After all the excitement of the last few weeks, it's a bit of an effort to change focus back to the court. We are two-thirds of a year on from the massive changes brought about in an effort to save a quarter of our budget. The mergers of benches are slowly settling down, a process that was not helped by the clumsy handover of staff responsibilities at the beginning of the year. For most London benches it was early summer before such vital matters as JPs rotas began to come under control, and until then many colleagues were mucked about time after time. As we enter September, we have just learned who our Clerk to the Justices is, following a farcical Grand Old Duke of York episode in which radical changes were swiftly rethought once someone spotted the flaws in the new grand plan.
Today, as Autumn beckons we still do not know who our Deputy Justices' Clerks are to be (and nor do the applicants). The DJC is probably the most important adviser we have, acting as confidant adviser and trainer to his or her flock of up to 400 sometimes difficult JPs.
Business going through the lower courts is continuing to drop, as mostly money-driven changes such as out of court disposals develop. In the last couple of years JP numbers have dropped from around 30,000 to more like 25,000. Very few areas are recruiting at the moment, and some people who have moved house are finding it hard to get into a bench near their new home, especially if they have moved to one of the retirement magnets such as Harrogate or South Devon.
There is still a lot to do and we are by no means finished with change. In this financial climate nothing is off limits. Inevitably some of the 'savings' will turn out to be false economies, such as the increased travel costs that have followed the mergers and the edict that any JP must sit in any court in his Local Justice Area, regardless of practicalities. A colleague went to a meeting the other day at which the usual sandwich lunch had become a victim of the cuts. As a result the dozen magistrates attending each became entitled to claim subsistence of £7.45, a sum that was at least double the cost of buying in a few sarnies from the supermarket up the road.
In the courtroom we are learning to work with unfamiliar colleagues, clerks and ushers, and trying to standardise the little day-to-day practices that used to differ across the country, but now need to be made similar to avoid confusion.
The bread-and butter work carries on much as before, with a steady stream of Domestic Violence cases that keep our trial courts busy.
Let's get down to it. When it's good, it's very very good. When it's bad, it's horrid.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Here We Go (3)

We should have mentioned earlier that while comments are going to be left open with no need to register, at least for the time being, comments that have no serious point to make, but rather seek  to make puerile gibes about JPs doing the job because of the status it gives them at the golf club and suchlike trolling rubbish will be deleted without hesitation. The comments are open for mature and constructive discussion of matters in the courts. Wit is welcome, mindless carping is not. The team will exercise editorial control to try to keep the blog on topic and, to repeat, it isn't a democracy. It's a blog. We really don't want to get into pre-moderation of comments, but if we have to, we have to.

That's more than enough introspection for a while.

Here We Go (2)

The original Bystander writes (the subject of this post being unconnected with court cases) - The recent unanticipated and ill-considered edict on blogging  has thrown unexpected and unflattering light on the purpose and the usefulness of the Magistrates' Association and the National Bench Chairmen's Forum. I have been a member of the MA for more than a quarter-century, and I was instrumental in setting up the NBCF when it broke away from being a committee of the MA. The questions that the two organisations need to answer include:-
  • Why have MA and NBCF members not been briefed about the existence and purpose of the "Magistrates Liaison Group"? From currently available evidence this group, that appears to have no published terms of reference nor to disclose minutes, took it upon itself to approve the blogging directive without any attempt to brief or consult members of either organisation, and that was approval enough to introduce with immediate effect a draconian prohibition applying to all Judicial Office Holders (JOHs).
  • Why was there no consultation? Most members of that Group already knew my real name, but nobody considered it appropriate to ask for submissions from, at the risk of being immodest, the oldest, best-known, and most widely read magistrate blogger with more than 3,000,000 page views and approving reviews in most of the national press. I could hardly be seen as a subversive outsider, given my track record on my bench and nationally.  
  • Was the Group aware of the clearly expressed guidance from such senior judges as Neuberger LJ that openness and transparency about the work of the courts and the judiciary was important to preserve public confidence and that new media have a part to play in that?
  • For the record, His Lordship said:(   2011 speech ‘Open Justice Unbound’), that the Judiciary should:foster the already developing community of active informed court reporting on the internet through blogs, and tweeting; we should support the responsible legal journalists; we should initiate, support, encourage and assist public legal education. The great strength of our society is that it is built on the competing voices of free speech. Justice to be truly open must join its voice to the chorus; and must ensure that inaccurate or misleading reporting cannot gain traction.
  • What was the hurry? Why, when I was personally assured by a senior HMCTS person some years ago that there was "'nothing to worry about"  did it suddenly become an issue that had to be dealt with quickly and without discussion?
  • Who drafted the blogging policy? Who told him to? How much, if any, did he read of this blog before deciding that it was 'inappropriate'?
  • The policy was announced on or about the 7th of August. I was asked to meet a senior person on the 8th with no idea what the meeting was about. It turned out to be the blog. Why not tell me?
  • The MA, sitting flush on 27 years of my subscriptions, did not make any effort to contact me, even though they knew that I was the most affected person. The NBCF was equally silent. Finally, after my phoning to request a call from John Fassenfelt (MA) and Eric Windsor (NBCF) I managed to speak  to each gentleman after a delay of almost a week. What were they scared of? 
The blog will now resume business as usual, while taking care, as ever, not to put any doubt into the public mind about the impartiality of the judiciary as it carries out its duties, I shall continue to press the MA and the NBCF about their lame and ignominious part in this saga, and to insist on the openness that has hitherto been absent.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Here We Go (1)

There has been a considerable furore over the recent 'guidance' issued about blogging by Judicial Office Holders. Many people think that the senior judiciary were badly advised before they issued the document, and both the Magistrates' Association and the National Bench Chairmen's Forum face some searching questions from their membership about their respective Chairmen's nodding through the decree in a "Magistrates Liaison Group" that even insiders did not know existed, and without any attempt at consultation or discussion.
This blog has received a large number of emails and phone calls offering support, with the common themes that the 'guidance' is both arbitrary and unnecessary, and that the blog has never in its seven years' existence published a single post that has called into question the integrity or impartiality of the judiciary at any level. Many people have said that it is a valuable resource (even being recommended reading for a number of degree and 'A'- level courses) that has helped to dispel  myths and ignorance about the courts, and has been instrumental in persuading a considerable number of people to apply to join the bench. It was one of The Times '40 blogs that really count'.

This is a responsible blog  however, so a few changes have been made today. It is now written by a team and all posts are signed by the team, and not any individual. Its mission remains to inform, to argue for improvements to justice, and occasionally to amuse.
The Guidance says, inter alia,
Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer (sic) holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary.  
They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.  
Will continue as before - never have and never will
The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.
Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith.
The blog is confident that no such material  exists. It is simply not practical to search through well over two thousand posts written over seven-and-a-half years , not to mention tens of thousands of comments. 
Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly. 
Noted. We shall study the guidance as soon as it is made available. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Apparently 'O' level English is no longer a requirement to work for the Ministry of Justice:

today's email included this headline:-

Tougher rules for claims management companys

Wish I Had Been There

I am grateful to Crime Line for pointing me to this fascinating transcript  of a Divisional Court hearing before Sir John Thomas and Mr. Justice Globe. The hapless counsel (who was specifically assured that his own conduct was in no way subject to criticism) was briefed to present an application for judicial review on behalf of a client of a very well known specialist (and rich) motoring solicitor.

The remarks of Thomas LJ are scathing to say the least, and I was particularly interested because I have met His Lordship, and heard him in action (albeit in a large meeting rather than in court) when he carried out one of the most comprehensive demolition jobs I have ever seen on an unfortunate delegate who put forward an ill-thought out proposal. Reading between the lines of the transcript, I could feel his Lordship's rising incredulity at the arguments being put before him, and I truly felt for counsel who must, towards the end, have known how General Custer would have felt.

Sir John is a cheerful looking Welshman, with tufts of silver hair but the cheerfulness seems to have deserted him on this occasion.

The report is quite a long one, but I think it's well worth a read.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Retournons a nos Moutons

A Guest Writes:-

I have just watched the second part of BBC2's documentary on last summer's riots. Last week's programme reported on the attitudes of rioters, none of whom could answer the challenge to explain why and how looting a store in Croydon would help the 'oppressed yoof' of Tottenham. This week's was about the police. It is an accepted fact that the police were woefully under strength at the outset, and the violence and theft came under control as soon as the police were able to deploy enough bodies onto the streets. The first officers sent out were under strength under trained and in many cases under-equipped to face the mobs that were inflamed with drink drugs and excitement combined with the attraction of free stuff. It must have been absolutely terrifying, and it is near-miraculous that no officer was killed by the hysterical crowds.

The most significant fact that I heard was that the early inadequate response to the riots was to a large extent driven by the cost-conscious culture that has spread through the police service just as it has through the courts. The officer on camera said that he was aware of the risk that calling in outside help from other forces would result in his force getting a large bill, with the implication that a heavy rollocking would follow. That is nonsense, just as so many of the false economies in the courts' service are nonsense. Officials repeatedly promise that the front line will be protected -  well, you can't get much  more front line than facing a thousand screaming and out of control rioters.

A review of priorities seems to be in order.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Plot Thickens

This post was submitted by an anon. person whom I do not know, so he or she may or may not be anyone or anything in particular:-

A spokesman for the Judicial Office is reported to have said that:-

“The guidance (on "blogging")  was agreed by the Magistrates Liaison Group: chaired by the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge (Lord Justice Gross) and attended by the Chief Magistrate, the Magistrates Association and the National Bench Chairs Forum.” 

Neither of the latter organisations has said anything at all to its members or to the public about this situation. Whose side are they on?

Simple, Speedy, Summary

A friend who is a retired defence lawyer has asked me to post the following:-

The so-called 'Pussy Riot' trial that is currently going on in Russia is being heard by Judge Marina Syrova, who was appointed by Vladimir Putin in 2008. Since then she has returned 177 verdicts of Guilty, and just one of Not Guilty (we can all have an off day, can't we?).  In my younger days I used to appear before a fearsome lady JP who had the well-earned nickname of "Lock-em-up-Lil". She was tough all right, but she can't begin to compete with Judge Syrova.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Further and Better Particulars Required

The document that purports either to ban or to emasculate this blog in its present form includes this:-
"It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly."
That Guidance is not yet available, and I want to read it carefully before reaching a final decision on my way forward.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Guidance has just been issued by the senior judiciary which specifically refers to blogging. For reasons that are obvious I shall read the documents carefully before making any comment, then take advice from friends and colleagues. So please be patient, but you will have my views in due course.


Monday, August 06, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

The interpreter scandal is not going away. Most magistrates have encountered difficulties with the on-the-cheap service provided by ALS, and there have recently been instances of defendants being remanded in custody overnight or over a weekend because the booked interpreter has failed to attend.
This isn't just about money, it's about justice, down at the sharp end.

Friday, August 03, 2012

A Reasoned View

One of the most important changes to the way we run our justice system is the way in which transparency is given greater importance these days. When I joined the bench we were warned never to give our reasons, for, as a judge said at the time, our sentence was likely to be right but our reasons were almost bound to be wrong.
That was long ago, and now the giving of reasons is a statutory requirement, and much attention is paid to their drafting.
Here is the Judgment given in the sad Rausing case by HHJ McGregor-Johnson at Isleworth this week. As we might expect from such a senior and respected judge, he gives the legal and the wider background to the case, and the process of reasoning that led him to formulate his sentence.
Were it not for the Olympics the popular press might have tried to run the 'rich bloke gets easy ride' theme, but anyone who reads the Judge's words will understand how untrue that would be.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Well, Well, Well, Small World, Eh?

After the recent discussion about Web 'crime', what should I have on my list today, but a case involving Facebook.

I can't say anything about it of course, other than to say that whoever wrote the case summary, and the CPS prosecutor had no idea at all how Facebook works.