Saturday, August 25, 2012

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.


  1. Oh dear - the more background you reveal of this furore, the more it seems as if your semi-Lords-and-Masters have succumbed to the eternal "Yes, Minister" logic:

    (1) something must be done
    (2) this is something
    (3) so it must be done

    without even enquiring whether (1) actually holds true? (who says it? what's their real interest? etc)

    I hope with their knee spasm completed they can pause to reflect upon questions of nett good, straining at gnats, whether the British public have ever found that enforced silences reassured them that all was well (section D notices, anyone?)

    So please crack on with that possessive apostrophe newly shifted but the same old vim & vigour!

  2. If an old bureaucrat may venture an opinion:

    Bystander and his blog were the target of this edict. Something he wrote irritated someone, who then lashed out. The MA and the NBCF didn't want to speak to him because they knew that he was the target. The warning in the edict that anonymity was no protection was meant to be taken as "we know who you are!"

    It is, of course, difficult to identify whose ox was gored by what post to provoke this edict. But I am sure that someone's was.

    1. I can't help feeling that along with irritation, someone high up was just a tad jealous. 3 million hits and one of 40 blogs That Really Count - someone clearly thought that wings had to be clipped.

    2. The irony perhaps being that in seeking to clip the blogging wings, they have given the blog a phoenix-like existence which will be far harder to snuff out.

      Bystander would eventually have retired and the Blog would maybe therefore have gone with him. But as a direct result of this unconsidered, unconsulted and unconscionable edict, Bystander is now multiplied.

      And of course a team need never retire; just recruit new members.

    3. Classic in the true sense; every time you chop off the head of the Hydra.....

  3. Hear, hear to the two comments above. I am still looking for someone to kick over this, but can't find anyone who appears to be accountable. I also (over 25 years a member of the MA) had no idea about the 'Magistrates' Liaison Group' (though to be fair, I long ago stopped trying to keep up with the TLAs* within the system). I have written to my bench chairman to ask what he knows, but it's clearly not his fault. Bystander, please keep going. The U-turn can't be far away....

  4. The Magistrates Liaison Group was set up by the LCJ nothing to do with HMCTS or MOJ. I remember something coming out about it but had forgotten really. Its basically similar to the Bench Chair's Advisory Group. I left the MA when Thornhill was in place as they were useless and so subservient to HMCTS. Nothing has changed with the new people and a lot of the blame lies with the membership to be honest. One thing you learn in the Civil Service is you either get stuck in and use their tactics against them r you go under...simples!

  5. Perhaps one of the journalists at The Times, who after all declared Bystander to be one of the 40 Bloggers Who Really Count, is reading this and may give the matter a wider audience. Or perhaps one of the readers of this blog who has a friend on a suitable national newspaper or TV company (there must be someone in all the readers) could draw the attention of said journo to the current difficulty. After all, when the media announced that a Scottish local authority had banned a primary school pupil from blogging about her school dinners, (No Seconds lest it offend the kitchen staff, the response was such that you could sit and watch the counter on her blog clocking up hits, and the little girl rapidly raised over £100,000 for her charity.
    Foolishness always shies away from the spotlight.

  6. I'm a magistrate, but I wasn't aware of this blog until I got the all-justices email banning blogging! I did a quick search and found it.

    Good work blogging team, some very interesting articles in the archives, and I am now following the blog. I'd brave out the threats and get back to the previous type of blogs and ignore the nonsense. They already retreated on the initially very harsh rules over magistrates standing as / supporting / speaking to a Police Commissioner candidate. Laws are laws, but rules are only rules if made properly, and there for breaking when needed.


    1. I *still* haven't received any official notification, in any form. My only knowledge of the ban comes from this and other blogs!

    2. I'm "Anonymous from 31 Aug at 1733" - and I have just received the blogging advice email ... which just goes to show that those of us who are nowhere near Ealing Broadway need a faster means of news delivery. Pony Express, perhaps?

  7. All this just serves to make me even more pleased I stopped wasting money by cancelling my subscription to the MA. Keep up the good work Bystander and team.


Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.