Friday, September 28, 2012

Enfant? Terrible!

We have nothing to say about today's news that a teacher and one of his pupils who allegedly ran away to France together have been apprehended. The law will take its course as far as the man is concerned, and the girl will presumably be returned to her family as she has committed no offence.

Just one thing though:- if this teenager had appeared in our court this week as a victim or as a witness the chairman would have made an order under the Children and Young Persons' Act prohibiting publication of anything that might serve to identify her. Instead, her photographs are everywhere across the press and the internet. However matters turn out, this young woman, whom the law sees as a victim, will need to rebuild her life away from the glare of the media. We wish her well.


It may not have been entirely by chance that one of us heard this haunting Beatles track on the car radio this morning:-

Wednesday morning at five o'clock
As the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more

She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside, she is free

She...(we gave her most of our lives)
Is leaving (sacrified most of our lives)
Home (we gave her everything money could buy)
She's leaving home, after living alone, for so many years (bye bye)

Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that's lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
"Daddy, our baby's gone.
"Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?
How could she do this to me?"

She...(we never thought of ourselves)
Is leaving (never a thought for ourselves)
Home (we struggled hard all our lives to get by)
She's leaving home, after living alone, for so many years

Friday morning, at nine o'clock
She is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the Motortrade

She (what did we do that was wrong)
Is Having (we didn't know it was wrong)
Fun (fun is the one thing that money can't buy)

Something inside, that was always denied, for so many years...
She's leaving home...bye, bye.

(Copyright acknowledged)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who Said Original Thinking Was No More?

As those of us who work in or near criminal justice will be delighted to hear, a Minister (no less) has donned his ice pack, racked his brains, cancelled his civil servants' weekends away and come up with this  masterpiece of thinking:-

Yesss! Really tough community sentences - that's the way!.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense..
Oh no, it's déjà vu again. 

I used the blog search thingy (top left hand corner) to look up community sentences, tough, and suchlike, but gave up because I have been banging on about this subject for so long that it make me sound boring.
Or should that be prescient? 

Well I Never

According to the Telegraph today:

BBC executives eat together, drink together and 'have affairs with each other'  **

 On other pages:   Pope admits to being Catholic
                               Queen has Balcony
                               Ursus arctos horribilis prefers to defecate in sylvan setting

 **And that's only the men.

In The Spotlight

The Oldfield case (the Boat Race man) is going on at Isleworth, before HHJ Molyneux, Here is a piece about her from an official website.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Here's Another Bright Idea

There is often useful and up to date legal information on the website of Peyto Law.

They are planning and local government specialists, and we have taken the liberty of lifting their guide to the new so-called Victim Surcharge rates.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Surcharge) Order 2012 (SI No. 2012/1696) comes into force on 1 October 2012 to change the amount of victim surcharge paid by a Defendant upon conviction.
From 1 October 2012 the following provisions will apply:
Offenders aged 18 or over
  • conditional discharge - £15
  • fine - 10% of the fine value, with a minimum amount of £20 and a maximum amount of £120
  • a community sentence - £60
  • a suspended sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of 6 months and below - £80
  • a suspended sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of between 6 months and 12 months - £100
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) of 6 months and below - £80
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) of between 6 months and 2 years - £100
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of over 2 years - £120
  • a sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution for public protection - £120
  • a sentence of imprisonment or custody for life - £120
Offenders aged under 18 years
  • conditional discharge - £10
  • a fine, Youth Rehabilitation Order or Referral Order - £15
  • a custodial sentence of any length (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) - £20
  • conditional discharge - £15
  • fine - 10% of the fine value, with a minimum amount of £20 and a maximum amount of £120
In cases of a mixed disposal (where the defendant is dealt with in different ways e.g. a fine for one offence and custody for another) only one surcharge will be paid and the amount will be the higher of the possible options.
 We cannot repeat too often on this blog that those of us who hold judicial office will always do what we promised the Queen that we would do - enforce the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Even if, as in this case, Her Majesty's Parliament (or more likely her civil servants) have created law that is illogical and potentially unfair. Parliament may not always be right, nor even sensible, but it is always sovereign, and that will do for me. 

Retournons a nos moutons, then.

It is a wet Thursday at the Old Bailey. In Court no. 1 sits a Very Senior Judge, resplendent in his red gown, a man at the very top of his profession. He is treated with elaborate deference by everyone in the court, as is appropriate for a Privy Councillor. "Robert Smith" he intones. "You have been found guilty, in my opinion quite rightly, by this jury of the crime of murder. Your victim was vulnerable and you have cut short a life that might have gone on for many more decades. I can only pass a sentence of imprisonment for life and I find it right to impose a minimum term of 30 years before you can be considered for parole.

I must also impose a victim surcharge of £120. Will you pay that by cash cheque or credit card, or shall I order it paid at £4 per year?"

What bathos, how pathetic, and how demeaning to one of the most awesome sentences available under our law.

Just one more thing - the maximum surcharge  on a company is £120, so if we are dealing with an environmental offence and we fine the (say) polluter close to our maximum of £20,000, the surcharge will be far less, pro-rata than that on a single mother who lives on benefits but hasn't bought a TV licence, because little Kayleigh-Leigh needs new trainers. We shall dutifully impose these new surcharges, but don't expect us to like them.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Completely Predictable Mess

This blog wrote some years ago about the mismanagement of IPP (Indeterminate for Public Protection) sentences. After five years and more in which everyone in the system could forsee exactly what would happen, the issue has resurfaced (via a European judgment) and bitten the Government on the backside.
This is a classic example of political cowardice that no party can be proud of. Put simply, we introduced a system of indefinite custody for dangerous offenders, fundamental to which was putting prisoners through courses to address their offending, and assessing when they could safely be released. So far, so praiseworthy, but governments closed their eyes to the fact that only a minority of prisons were resourced to provide those courses. Meanwhile many men simply rotted in prison, with no hope of release because no course was available. Now, faced with indifference in the UK, some have taken their cases to Europe and won.
We can expect the Sun and the rest to spin this as an anti-Europe, pampering-the-lags story, but it is nothing of the sort. The ministers and civil servants who left these men's cases mouldering in the too-difficult file are going to cost us millions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fundamental Error

It may seem a far-fetched connection, but the vicious oaf we describe in the previous post  has a link to the furore over Those Photos of  Duchess  Kate.

I have heard several people try to blame the lady for being so stupid as to relax in a place that she believed to be private, with the nearest public road a long way away. The link is, of course, blaming the victim, rather than the offender.

Top Tip

From a recent remand court session:

If you have been accused of assaulting your girlfriend, after she has finally decided to involve the police, you will not help yourself by saying in front of witnesses:- "She asks for it. She's gobby".

It means that when the Crown Prosecutor opposes bail on the grounds that you might cause harm or fear of harm to someone if released, the bench is likely to go along with that view and remand you into custody. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Chance To Be Heard

The Magistrates' Association has sent out a newsletter that includes, at last, a comment on the blogging controversy.

The document includes a brief summary of the 'Magistrates' Liaison Group' that was such a surprise to so many of us when we heard of it.

John Fassenfelt uses a rather odd expression:-

I realise that this issue is causing controversy amongst those that understand the concept of taking part in blogging. Over the coming weeks I will be seeking the views of a cross section of members about the guidance and reporting back to all members and also to the Magistrates Liaison Group.

Do not hesitate to let me have your views.

Read literally, John seems to be saying that  only those who understand blogging  are troubled, so those who do not understand it  (which seems to include the authors of the Guidance) see no controversy. So that's all right then.

He goes on to ask MA members to email him at

Please do, if you are a member, and put your membership number in the email to prove that you are genuine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

All In a Day's Work

I came across an old court list from last Spring while tidying my briefcase (writes a team member) and thought that the cases might cast an  interesting light on a day's work that is not necessarily typical, but that most magistrates would recognise.

Male, 34, Produce Cannabis, plus breach Conditional Discharge
Male, 22, Theft of metal (to be sentenced after guilty plea)
Male, 50, Theft of camera
Male, 39, ABH and Threats to Kill
Male, 19, Using unlicensed and uninsured mini motorbike  
Male, 39, Various sexual offences (Touching but no penetration)
Male, 27, Theft and Cannabis posession
Male, 39, Theft, plus breach Con. Dis x 2
Female, 28, Possess CS gas spray
Male, 59, Proceeds of Crime Act seizure application
Male, applies to have driving ban lifted
Male, 19, Possession of Class A with Intent to Supply x 2 plus Class B x 1
Male, 48, Class A drug smuggling
Male, Proceeds of Crime Act forfeiture application
Male, 24, Theft, Possess knife, Burglary
Male, 22, Criminal Damage
Male, 22, Assault by Beating  (domestic context)
Male, Proceeds of Crime application
Male, 36, Assault by Beating
Male, 57, Deposit Controlled Waste (multiple summonses)
Male, 30, Assault by Beating, racially aggravated ditto, shoplifting

On top of this there will have been anything up to a dozen overnight custody cases on which a bail decision will need to be made.

Each case will take from five minutes to all day, depending on pleas, and other factors. 


Sunday, September 09, 2012

MA Update

For those of you anxious to take up the Magistrates' Association's offer of a rose or roses for your garden, here are some more details from the website:-

The Justice of the Peace rose was launched at the Chelsea Flower Show last year and has proved to be very popular. Members bought all the available roses last year but there are more available this year.
The rose is being offered to MA members @ £12 per rose inc VAT and postage. This is for bare root roses which will be delivered in late October this year.
For those of us waiting with bated breath for the MA to lumber into action over the ridiculous attempt to ban blogging by magistrates - not a peep, one month on.

So if it's roses you are after, the MA is for you. If it is support for magistrates, look elsewhere. The rose vendors have more important things on their mind.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

New Kid

A recent recruit to the team, (who shall hereinafter be referred to as Bystander T) writes:-

(He or she knows a lot about magistrates and their courts, and has done so for three decades. Whether he or she is, has been, or might become a Judicial Office Holder is of no concern to the Team, so we didn't ask).

At a recent meeting with probation staff, the point was made by one of the probation officers, that having had a series of cuts they were currently in a position to handle the level of work being required of them.  However, there is no spare capacity nor is there any flexibility available to address urgent or unplanned issues.  What that means is that when there is any illness or any issue that takes a staff member away from their front lime duties, there is no reserve group or capacity to take up the slack.  The work simply won't get done. 

It is a tragedy that the cuts have been so deep that no slack remains and when the unexpected occurs, very little can be expected of the probation service.  Such a pity in a service which has consistently maintained the confidence of the judiciary. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Aw, Shucks.............

We are sorry to go back to talking about the blog, but today we are the subject of a Leader in the Guardian.

Stuff like this could quite turn a fellow's head, but we shall try to remain our usual humble selves.

Now where was I?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Law West Of Offa's Dyke

I received this email today.

Now we at Bystander Towers know that it's terribly important to be fair to all court users by conducting matters in a language that they understand, and we are fully aware of just how sensitive an issue  this is for some people, but..........
At a time when the justice system is desperately short of cash, courtrooms are closed for lack of legal advisers, maintenance is at a standstill, legal aid is cut and cut again leaving many people adrift in the law's complexities, is this really a top priority to spend money on? Isn't austerity a government priority? There are only a tiny number of truly monoglot Welsh speakers. Is it too much to ask that we postpone these hugely expensive initiatives until we have a few more quid in the kitty?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Squat Thrust

Now that squatting has become an offence in the criminal as well as the civil jurisdiction, I wonder how many magistrates will see a case under the new law in the next twelve months? It's a pretty low level offence, carrying the same penalties as drink driving (without disqualification of course).

The problem with the old situation was that in some circumstances squatters could sit tight and the police couldn't touch them unless anyone could prove forcible entry to the property.

The new law allows the police to deal with squatters, but I don't anticipate too many prosecutions arising as a result. What affronted many people was the fact that someone getting back from holiday and finding his house occupied couldn't do the obvious thing and get the coppers in to turf out the intruders. Once the call got to the police station, the grizzled old Sergeant would suck his teeth, shake his head sadly, and say the immortal words "It's a civil case, I'm afraid sir.".

On the assumption that the new stripped-down police force can get round to sending someone to have a look (and I make no criticism of that - the skeleton-staffed front line can't be in two places at once, and have to work to priorities) the squatters will probably shove off rather than risk arrest. Hence, those of us here are not expecting to see many prosecutions under the new law..