Musings and Snippets from a recently retired JP. I served for 31 years, mostly in west London. I was Chairman of my Bench for some years, and a member of the National Bench Chairmen's Forum All cases are based on real ones, but anonymised and composited. All opinions are those of one or more individuals. JPs swear to enforce the law of the land, whether or not they approve of it. Nothing on here constitutes legal advice.
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.
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Interesting! He referred to the Magistrates’ Liaison Group but even after his comments I have no idea what this group does and that other such groups don't do. Can anyone enlighten me please? Until recently I didn't even know it existed.ReplyDelete
I am unsure what he thinks of blogs. He seems to be saying that it's not the sort of thing a magistrate should do, but then he goes on to suggest it's ok so long as it complies with the judicial undertaking made on becoming a magistrate.
I'm pleased he thinks we are an important part of the judicial system, but what a shame so many others lower down the pecking order don't give magistrates anything like that impression.
I note the remark towards the end "blogging contrary to the Guidance carries the very real risk of undermining that public confidence. I make no apologies for speaking bluntly on this topic."ReplyDelete
It seems that the various representations made have had no effect. The fact is that, regardless of the recent Guidance, blogging that does not conflict with the judicial oath and impartiality carries the very real opportunity of *improving* public confidence - a fact that appears to have not reached the collective judicial mind as yet.
Blogging contrary to the judicial undertaking is obviously wrong - but the original Bystander never did (or at least, I never read him doing so). "blogging contrary to the Guidance" (in other words, no commenting "as a magistrate"), does indeed have the risk of undermining public confidence, but it also creates the opportunity to *enhance* public confidence (which is what the original Bystander did).ReplyDelete
From what I understand from his comments, simply describing in objective, factual terms what happened in a particular (suitably anonymised) case should not run foul of the guidance, and therefore should not cause Bystander or his team any difficulties.ReplyDelete
The problem seems most likely to arise in the comments prompted by the posting, where we tend to express opinions, suppositions, assumptions springing from what we have read, and from to time to time express our 'despair' at the powers that be within and without the judicial community. That danger is then aggravated by commenters who use the posting and comments as a launchpad for their own (largely uninformed) criticisms and grievances with the courts, the government and society as a whole.
A solution, I suppose, would be for Team BS to vigorously edit, vet and yes sometimes censor comments in order to protect the blog itself from falling foul of the guidance. The question is, would the blog survive without the debate provoked by the range of comments that it currently enjoys?
If it's not a magistrate criticising the Courts (and I rather think they should be entitled to do so providing they don't bring the system of justice into disrepute) then what business is it of the SPJ's ?
My fear is that that wonderful concept, "taken as a whole" would be invoked to seek to argue that if a blog posting provoked strong criticism of the courts, the judiciary, the government or any other official entity, then the posting "as a whole" would tend to bring said institutions into disrepute. I don't agree that that would true, but then I wouldn't be the one making the judgement.Delete
Whatever happened to freedom of speech - surely if there is a case of a blog crossing the line it can be dealt with as it happens. This was done last year with the woman JP who was extremely foolish on Facebook. I found this speech, as I found the current SPJ when he spoke to the MA a few years ago, somewhat patronising but maybe that's becaue I lack a sense of deference whether they be judges or whoever.ReplyDelete
Clever to be patronising while putting 'lay' justices firmly in their place.ReplyDelete
A bit like certain politicians with no comprehension of 'straitened circumstance', assuring us that "We're all in this together."Delete
It's an interesting equation that greater openness = disreputeReplyDelete
Do read "Of Interest To Lawyers". Excellent post appropos bloggingReplyDelete
There are a couple of disturbing aspects to this speech. Firstly, it is striking how the DSPJ attempts, really rather clumsily, to gloss over the frankly embarrassing fiasco around the initial Guidance on PCC candidates, which required the immediate resignation of any magistrate who chose to stand but would have blithely allowed Recorders to continue to hold office. Luckily, as I understand it, one of the more savvy candidates came up with some wording that allowed the SPJ to avoid putting himself at deliberate variance with the will of Parliament, hardly an act designed to enhance public confidence in the judiciary, one might observe en passant. Secondly, there is a glaring hiatus in the what one would expect to be a reasoned argument leading to the very strongly worded conclusion that "Comments on cases tried or on Govt policy or other branches of the judiciary tend to demean rather than enhance the office holder in question." Really? And on what basis does he make that startling assertion? As an Article 10(2) justification, this would be almost literally laughed out of the European Court.ReplyDelete
An interesting talk:ReplyDelete
1. Did anyone ever suggested that an elected Police and Crime Commissioner would continue to sit as a JP? That would clearly be unacceptable.
2. The Senior Presiding Judge did say that JPs had to resign if they wished to fight a PCC election. He backed down when the possibility of a judicial review of his guidance was raised by some of the more high profile PCC candidates.
3. The PCC compromise will be reviewed. At the moment it applies to the elections this November.
4. I don't think that anyone doubted that DJJ(MC) are here to stay. I suspect that their numbers will increase.
They very clearly think that blogging is out of order. Why else the threat of disciplinary action which, by definition, must include removal from the bench?
I don't agree with them - but, hey, they're the bosses!! I really do fail to see why responsible comment demeans anything. Of course, it has to be carefully written and must fairly put both sides of any argument etc.
It's a clash of cultures; a volunteer, lay bench, selected to represent a cross-section of the local community (in the old days) and ready to engage with that community on the one hand, and a bench of senior lawyers who have reached that position by virtue of an instinctive reticence and conservatism on the other. They are probably just as baffled by our inability to grasp their point as we are by their failure to grasp ours. Sadly, I don't have a solution to offer.Delete
At no stage has it ever been suggested, to my knowledge, that any JP elected as a PCC could continue to sit as a JP, and I agree entirely with ObiterJ that this would be entirely inappropriate. The question of Panel membership is more complicated, but - again like ObiterJ - I tend to the view that, despite the historic precedents of police authority membership etc., there are real issues of perceived propinquity which argue strongly in favour of incompatibility. Just how far this argument goes is one that has only really begun to be addressed. Many JPs are local authority councillors, with clear political stances, something that would be unthinkable for a professional judge. Blogging appears to have become the first true test ground of the notion of 'junior judges' subject to the same constraints as apply to the professional judiciary. Why that should be so remains unexplained, and is an understandable source of irritation on the part of many in the blogging community. It is time for a more adult conversation between the senior judiciary and their junior lay colleagues. Mutual misunderstanding appears rife.ReplyDelete
That speech says nothing new or unexpected. Hope the audience did not have to pay too much for the privilege of listening to it.ReplyDelete
Actually, Tony, you and I paid. This meeting brought together the 160 or so bench chairmen from around the country to hear their masters' voice. BS was there, and heard this at first hand, but may not have wanted to blow his cover. After they'd all slapped each other on the back and agreed what a good job they were doing, they toodled off home. Ministry insiders call the NBCF "the poodle parlour", and it serves as a sop to those disgruntled chairmen from the last round of reforms who felt that their God-like status and anachronistic views weren't sufficiently recognised in the new civil service culture, where lay magistrates were seen as little more than sand in the shoe. They far too often got in the way of ambitious careerists in the JCS (who were quite happy to sell that distinguished body down the river along with the precious judicial independence their precedessors had fought so hard to achieve) and start elbowing their way up the greasy pole with their new departmental (and later ministry) counterparts. As for the poor unloved metropolitan bench chairmen, in return for such an opportunity to rub shoulders with the senior judiciary on a periodic basis, those deluded and self-regarding nitwits who set the Forum up were more than happy to sacrifice the plebeian voice of the magistracy, represented by the MA. Never has a mess of potage been more messy. The hissy fits when certain local dignitaries realised that "their" benches would disappear in the great delocalisation clear-out (except of course for Dave Cameron's Mum's bench, which alone was reprieved), were a sight to behold. Some of course simply reinvented themselves for the new world and took over newly merged benches, all the while trying desperately to sap the countervailing voice of "justices at large". A sorry tale of personal pride trumping any attachment to the independence of the lay bench.Delete
The main reason why the courts are not televised is that it might weaken public confidence ...... I do not share that view, but thosae who bear responsibility for it, seem to think that!ReplyDelete
What are they hiding?