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.



  1. Except that they have to provide lunch that you'll eat and on time, whereas they can reimburse you for your own lunch when they please.

  2. The sandwich lunch used to be eaten at the conference table while the meeting went on. A platter of sandwiches was passed round, simple effective and cheap.

  3. When I stood down from the Bench in late 2007, it was with a good deal of sadness even though I was looking forward to packing up the car, handing over the house keys and heading to retirement in the sun. The more I have read of the changes over the past year or so, the more I feel that had I stayed, I would now be sad for a very different reason.

  4. Nice to see we are back to business as usual. This is what I read the blog for.

  5. What continues to amaze me is the stoicism of the legal advisers.

    If I was one of their number I would be getting more militant by the day.

  6. Yes, the legal advisers who will be required less and less as a greater proportion of work is dealt with by DJs and DDJs.

  7. The legal advisers are in the position of being 'lucky to have a job' and don't receive any remuneration for all the flexible CJS stuff. Our DJs are being given 'associate clerks' made up of ex Ushers etc to do their paperwork.

    Ah it's a brave new world out there!

  8. The Coalface?

    You and your friends helped to get rid of a few of them.

    That's irony isn't it?

  9. 1984 ring any bells?


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