Sunday, October 28, 2012


Tariq and Colette stood side by side in the dock, co-defendants in a shoplifting matter. As is so often the case, the driver was the overriding need to fund their drug and alcohol habits. When you are living on benefits of about £70 a week, spending the same amount each day on heroin leaves a gap that can only be filled by crime. Every magistrate will have seen many similar cases, with the unsophisticated methods used making arrest a near certainty .
They looked terrible. Her hair was scragged back, her face puffy, her skin blotchy. He exhibited the classic heroin crouch, back bent, elbows in, head held low. And yet they were holding hands. I would not normally allow that, but to have told them to stop would have been unnecessarily cruel. For various reasons the case could not go ahead; for one thing Colette's litre-a-day vodka habit had caused her admission to hospital when she began vomiting blood a week ago.
We bailed them to a later date to obtain reports, and I gave them the usual warning that if they failed to turn up for their appointments we had the power to remand them in custody to ensure reports were done. She clutched his arm, looking up at him adoringly. "Oh no" she said "I can't be without him. He's everything to me".
I found their plight strangely moving. Of course they will be dealt with according to the law, and within our guidelines. I am unlikely to see them again, but I would not be surprised to hear that they were given a Community Order with a requirement for drug and alcohol treatment, which is by no means a certain cure, but is probably their and society's only hope.
The fact that two people so near the bottom of society's heap find solace in each other even as they inject and swig their way into an early grave is just a tiny glimmer of hope that the human spirit can survive in the most desperate circumstances.
My experience and my judgement tell me that neither of them is likely to see the age of thirty. I hope that I am wrong.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Small Earthquake In Chile

We see that the issue of prisoners' votes has resurfaced, with, inevitably, the Mail going for it with a claim that this strikes at the 'soul of our democracy' whatever that may be.

The blog first mentioned the issue about seven years ago and again two years back. Nothing has changed other than an apparent firming of the government's determination to paint itself into a corner and to throw away a few million quid in an attempt to make itself look dead hard over Europe.

It's a pointless fight over a non-issue, and it begs the obvious question to those who govern us:-

Haven't you got more important things to worry about?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Simple, Speedy, Summary

A drunken oaf who assaulted a footballer in full view of TV cameras and thousands of witnesses was weighed off  today, in a hearing that took place with exemplary speed. By pleading guilty (not that he would have got very far by denying it) he saved himself two months off the six months' maximum.

To some extent he was lucky, because such an act in the volatile atmosphere of a packed football crowd could lead to widespread mayhem.


I was alarmed to see a news site headline:-


and relieved to see that this was the story it  linked to.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not So Élite

Trenton Oldfield, who disrupted the Boat Race in a so-called protest against élitism. has been sent down for six months. Here are the Judge's sentencing remarks, setting out with impeccable clarity the reasoning behind the sentence.

We blogged about the case here and here and here.

Mr. Oldfield will probably have woken up this morning in the less than élite company of the other 1200 or so inmates of Wormwood Scrubs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Ink, Therefore I Upset The Boss

However much indignation it has engendered in the ranks of his increasingly touchy troops, I have to agree with the Met Police Commissioner that visible tattoos are inappropriate on police officers, as they would be on magistrates, doctors, nurses, and chartered accountants. When I was younger a tattoo signified that you had spent time in the Navy or in prison. Now the dratted things are , inexplicably, everywhere.

Uniforms engender confidence, and that is why I support their use by those whose jobs involve face to face management of the public. And that is why I shall wear a suit and tie tomorrow.

For Those Who Should Get Out More

The people who like this sort of thing, are going to like this.

There is a  link here to a spreadsheet that includes all sorts of data about magistrates, who they are, their gender, age, ethnicity; there is enough to keep anyone who is interested supplied with data. There are a couple of people on my bench whom I could name but will not, who are probably well over halfway into their analyses as I type.

No Comment - Well, Hardly Any..

This case, albeit all we have is a Daily Mail report, will be dealt with impartially by the usual processes, so we have nothing to add, other than profound relief that it was only a Taser, rather then a Glock 9 mm automatic.

We Got This One Right Anyway

A year ago we decided not to mourn the death of a certain TV personality. I cannot find out how to import the old Haloscan comments, or I would be able to cry 'Ha!' at the posters who deplored my disrespect to a well-loved character.

You know who you are.


No Wonder The Service Was Rubbish

Thanks to the Law Society Gazette for this damning report about the shambolic change to interpreting services that we suffered from earlier this year. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Here is a speech by Lord Justice Gross that he delivered in September. His Lordship is to be the next Senior Presiding Judge, in succession to Goldring LJ.

Friday, October 12, 2012


The mostly well-off people who offered themselves as sureties for Julian (Wikileaks) Assange to surrender himself for extradition have been ordered to forfeit their money by the Chief Magistrate, exercising his special jurisdiction in matters of extradition.

This will have come as no surprise to anyone who has any experience of  bail, securities, and sureties.

I have seen a good few cases such as these, and the first thing to say is that in the usual way in England and Wales cash upfront is not required, as it so often is in the USA. Unconditional bail is normal, unless there are 'substantial' grounds to fear that the defendant will abscond, or do other naughty things, but for the purpose of this post we need to look at the former, something that Americans call  'flight risk'. When a security (cash) or a surety (a promise to pay) is offered the court needs to be satisfied that the person concerned has, or can easily raise, the cash. A surety can be taken at a police station but that is not the practice at my court, where we expect the surety to appear, be sworn, and be examined about his means and his hold over the defendant. This can be a gruelling process, and I can still remember how disturbed I felt to see a respectable man in his late fifties, who had never been in a court in his life, but whose son had done something stupid with drugs. After the lawyers had done their stuff I had to warn this decent fellow that if his son absconded and the surety was not paid, he himself might be committed to prison.
I concluded that day that I would not offer a surety to my granny. On second thoughts, close family probably, everyone else, sorry, no. 

If you offer to stand as surety for someone, just make sure that you trust them implicitly. If not, set fire to a pile of banknotes now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Minister Speaks

Here is a news release about the forthcoming 'flexible court' experiments. We look forward to hearing from magistrates lawyers and others how things are working.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A New Approach

Here is the Sentencing Council's latest effort to explain how sentencing works.

Anything that helps to dispel the fog of ignorance that surrounds most discussion of sentencing must be welcome.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cry From The Heart

This is a contribution by Bystander J 

Tell Me It Ain’t So…

Off to court yesterday morning. Standard kind of court list, three CPS trials listed, 2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon. The subject of the charges also pretty usual, a couple of Assault by beatings (Common Assault) with domestic violence overtones and a Harassment without violence. In we go at 10 am all fired up having had some Case Management Training on Saturday…sadly it all went downhill from there.

Under the Criminal Procedure Rules, when a defendant pleads Not Guilty, the prosecution are under a statutory duty to serve Initial Disclosure on the defence within 14 days. This comprises the witness statements, interview summary and basically all the evidence on which the prosecution intend to rely. The defence then have to indicate whether they intend to serve a Defence Case Statement based on the information the prosecution have disclosed setting out in broad terms the defence case. This is to prevent either side springing an ambush on the other…

As JP’s we have been exhorted by our masters at the MOJ to speed up justice and to actively case manage trials to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays and this includes detailed questioning of the parties at the entry of the plea to assist in the completion of the Case Management Form…all intended to avoid unneeded attendance of witnesses (especially police officers) whose evidence is not likely to be questioned as its uncontroversial, and therefore whose written statements can be read thus saving lots of court time and attendant cost – a mission close to the hearts of said masters.

First case called. Defence rise…we cannot proceed as Initial Disclosure has not been served and despite repeated letters to the CPS it’s not been forthcoming. Can it be served now we ask? No, says CPS, we don’t have it either, as it was sent on Friday (ie, zero working days before the trial) and there are other issues causing difficulty anyway. Case reluctantly adjourned.

Next case…can you guess dear reader? Oh yes exactly the same problem with failure to serve Initial Disclosure, and with the third case. Result a whole court wasted with 3 ineffective trials because someone failed to do their job properly. Now I don’t know if it’s because when the files come back to the CPS office after first hearing no one actually bothers to follow up what has happened or it’s because the unit at the police which deals with statement preparation aren’t responding to requests from the CPS…in a sense I don’t care where the fault lies. I DO care that justice is not being done as a result. Victims of crime feel let down (who can blame them) and defendants suffer delay. The court system (and particularly hard working staff and JP’s) take the blame and have resources withheld or courts closed because we are considered ‘inefficient’  Instead we are foisted with half thought through initiatives put together by a nameless civil servant whose probably never set foot in a Magistrates Court in their lives.

In speaking to colleagues at other courts, it’s clear that this complete failure to follow the CPR is now a commonplace occurrence and the frustration throughout the system is palpable. It’s not acceptable; it’s wasteful of time, money and resources. And if that doesn’t get the attention of the MOJ then nothing will.

Realism From Chancery Lane

The latest Law Society Gazette features two pieces on important issues facing the courts as a result of hasty and ill-thought-out legislation.

The first reports second thoughts on the proposed extensions to court hours, which are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of just what happened during and after the 2011 riots, and the second is a justifiably scathing attack on the political grandstanding involved in the free hand that is supposed to be granted to householders who come across burglars in their home.

It is deeply depressing to see the Coalition' s minister descending to the desperate and craven measures that so appealed to Jack Straw in his efforts to pander to the Murdoch press.

Here is more

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Few Statistics

An official website here gives some interesting statistics about the make-up of the judiciary. Make of them what you will, but one thing in particular caught my eye:- some 29.1% of District Judges (Magistrates' Courts) are of the female persuasion  as against about 53% of lay magistrates, and 2.8% of DJ(MC)s are of black or minority ethnic (BME) origin.I do not know the figure for BME lay magistrates but I am sure that it is a good deal higher than 2.8%.

So whatever the pros and cons of the salaried DJ bench, if it's diversity you are after, a lay bench ticks the box every time.

No Smirk Without Fire

I have recently read yet another report of a man, sentenced for a serious crime, who is said to have 'smirked' as he left the dock. The popular press often seize on this as implying that the man feels no remorse, but of course it isn't as simple as that. The rictus reflex is common to great apes and to man, and is more likely to indicate fear than anything else.
Of course the young men who make up the greatest part of our customers sometimes try to show a bit of swagger, especially if their mates are in the gallery, but it doesn't often last beyond  the bottom of the steel staircase.

On a prison visit a long time ago I had a cup of tea with a very experienced officer who was approaching retirement. I asked him about the attitude of his charges as they arrived and departed the system. "Oh yes" he said. "They often try to be cocky as they come in, as young men do, but they nearly always have a good cry on their first night, as they find that they miss their Mum". I went on to ask about discharge day; do they offer thanks for the care they have received? "No", he said, "we sometimes get a mouthful once they feel safely outside the gates, but we always respond by promising to keep their cell ready for when they come back, and to discuss matters further then".

Real Life Meets Fiction

There is a murder trial going on at the moment on which we have no comment, other than to note the extraordinary names and places involved:-
The alleged victim was Lt Col Robert "Riley" Workman, the alleged killer Christopher Docherty-Puncheon. The crime took place in Furneux Pelham, a village not too far from Stocking Pelham.

Those names are pure Midsomer Murders, are they not?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Probation Viewed From The Bench

From Bystander M

I had an interesting sentencing hearing yesterday. An man in his 40s who had pleaded guilty to failing to provide a sample, driving not in accordance, no insurance and to top it off racially aggravated public order 'words' towards a police officer in a hospital a&e. All this done while heavily under the influence of alcohol and during a community order for assault PC.

A stand down report had been asked for and the probation service duly provided an aural report in court. The chaps advocate informed us the unfortunate offender suffered from a personality disorder and schizophrenia (he didn't have schizophrenia he was a manic depressive but that's splitting hairs) and this behaviour is very out of character.

The original community order for for 18 months supervision which according  to his supervising officer was running very successfully. I think he or she missed the point his offending had continued and in fact got worse. If that's success for a community order then I'm a chicken. He had attended 23 of 25 offered appointments which is one thing I suppose.

The convicting bench had indicated to the probation service that a community order was to be considered but custody was not ruled out. Punishment though a curfew was suggested with a program to rehabilitate.

We heard from probation about the unfortunate chap's mental health problems, which shouldn't be overlooked or belittled, then we heard a great deal about his girlfriend's, who was at the back of court, problems with cancer. All well and good. Then we moved onto looking at an appropriate sentence.

Prison was ruled out, as it normally is, mainly due to his vulnerability due to his mental health and previous suicide attempts. A curfew was ruled out as he shares a home with his elderly parents and he has a conviction for a domestic assault on his father. Unpaid work was ruled out as he was currently 'on the sick' due to his mental health. An ATR, ruled out, as he did not recognise that alcohol is a problem in his life. A program to look at his clearly racist beliefs, ruled out as he did not consider himself to be racist.

So what's left? The recommended order form Probation, 12 months supervision and a low level program requirement to address his dislike towards those in authority. So we would be re-sentencing to a lower level order than the one he breached for a an increase in offending behaviour.

Suffice it to say we did not follow the recommended course of action but a higher level of programs to address all the issues and a longer period of supervision. Maybe our sentence was too lenient or too harsh. But the tail about how this chap couldn't do any sentence because of his offending, his health, his lack of acceptance showed the inflexibility of the system and really showing, they have missed the point.

A Little Knowledge Can Be A Dangerous Thing

(From Bystander T)

Virtual Internet lawyers are not real, and certainly not reliable.

A quiet day in a Magistrates' Court near you, sees a trial about to take place.  The defendant is a fine upstanding citizen of good character who is on trial for the offence of 'Speeding'.  He is representing himself and strives hard not to demonstrate the old legal adage that "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client". 

This is Mr Driver's fifth appearance in court on this charge, and this is his third trial date.  The first trial date was ineffective because he asked for certification details of the camera used.  The second trial was lost because of a lack of court time.  It is now more than a year since the date of the offence. 

Miss Prosecutor requests an adjournment because one of her two witnesses has been called to a Crown Court some 150 miles away.  Mr Driver also asks for an adjournment because he has only just been told that the prosecution will not be providing any further information about the type approval of the camera.  It will be part of the evidence called. 

The Bench denies both of them.  The trial will proceed today simply because any further delay cannot be in the interests of justice.  If it is allowed to churn through the system any further, everybody loses.  Those attending court need to understand that progress must be made at every hearing. 

So the trial went ahead.  The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had the camera operator but the technical expert, who the court later learned had submitted a 35 page statement about the camera, how it works and all that good stuff would not be available. 

The camera operator gave his evidence and ticked all the boxes.  Film installed, tests run, no errors reported.  Mr Driver asks him about radar beams hitting birds, railings and all that kind of stuff.  He appears to be consulting a file of papers and asks about the white line markings in the road, the interval between them, and the speed calculations based on those lines.  He talks about their spacing and the defendant then says that his colleague, who had to go to the Crown Court calculated the speed, according to those lines, at 35 mph, therefore less than the 37 in the allegation. 

You know when someone drops a bombshell into a conversation and everyone goes quiet for an instant, then they all talk at once;  this was such a moment.  The Chairman raised his head somewhat wearily and says something to the effect that "What it is this document ..."; the Prosecutor rises and starts talking about the missing witness; the learned Clerk, (sorry, legal adviser) intervenes over all of them and suggests that the bench retire to allow her to discuss a point of procedure with the parties.  Off they go for their morning coffee.  Or so they thought. 

While they are out, the Legal Adviser explains to Mr Driver that because the missing witness is not being called, his statement is not before the court.  If he is sure it will help his case, he can accept it under what is commonly known as "Section 9"; provisions that allow a statement to be used if both sides agree the content.  It appears to be the only way such a document can be put before the court.  The defendant is told that he should be sure that it will help his case because the CPS want the whole statement, not an edited version, put in.  The defendant is asked if he is sure hat he wants that.  He should consider whether the rest of the statement contains material that would not help his case and whether on balance, it would be better not to have it in at all. 

In the absence of a lawyer on the spot to assist, Mr Driver elects to accept the statement under S.9 and the bench is invited to return - without anywhere near enough time for that coffee, not even the nasty instant stuff in paper cups that is now the standard in most magistrate courts. 

The long and the short of it is that the statement is that of a speed camera expert who provides copious details of type approval for the machine, how it works, it's tolerances, error checking and how it's calibration certificate has been established as reliable.  He also calculated the different speeds reported by the radar gun and the photographs and says the potential difference is something like 2mph. 

Mr Driver then gives evidence of having measured the white lines, with a household tape measure, and his calculation is that it shows his speed as 34mph.  His argument being that the camera and radar system are inaccurate, plus his sworn testimony that he was sure he was only doing 30 should entitle him to be acquitted. 

After due deliberation by the bench, he was found guilty.  He had been given incomplete advice when told that he could challenge the type approval and speed calculations;  he had no-one to advise him about the procedural step of accepting the second witness's statement;  he clearly forgot that 34 is greater than 30, so even his own calculations from the photos, condemned him. 

This must be a salutary lesson for speeders who think there are simple loopholes left in the regulations.  There may be a few left, yet to be found, but if you are tempted to find them yourself, without a well informed lawyer, you will probably fail.  And the costs implications are dire.  In this case the defendant was ordered to pay over £400 in costs, plus the fine and the victim surcharge, and it happened a while ago so the only way is up.  

(Editor's Note:- Bystander T is a new kid on this block and could be forgiven if he were to conclude that commenters who have nothing constructive to say are all too eager to jump in with snide gibes at petty grammatical points. T is a well educated chap (he went to the same university as me) and he is computer literate. This post was drafted on a brand new iPad with pesky predictive text, and that accounts for apostrophic solecisms and, possibly, others. Pedants 'R' definitely not us. Pack it in.)