Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pathetic Bravado

The cocky little twerp in this report has had his moment in court but has also put himself in the front row of the local traffic police wish list. Now that he is disqualified, if he carries on driving he moves into the imprisonable sentencing range. Just one thought though - given the horrendous speed that he reached why didn't the CPS charge Dangerous Driving?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Useful Reminder

Tony M writes with something for every JP to think about:-
You have probably seen the MA’s warning about checking that we are insured before we drive to court, and I thought you might be interested in passing on my experience this afternoon. I was told categorically by the Aviva call centre person that I was insured, and because I am a regular at an outer Londontraffic gateway court I asked for that in writing. Whereupon it all got vaguer and more hesitant and after being on hold for 2 minutes I was told that this did not count as social, domestic and pleasure use and I would have to pay c£50/year extra for commuting coverage. This works out at about 30p a mile. I have put in a suitably fierce complaint to Aviva and if the decision is not reversed will go immediately to one of three many cheaper options found on Google. I don’t suppose any regular traffic JP will need reminding that insurers are slippery beasts and only tell the truth when they have to write it down, but I was going-outside-the-guidelines furious at Aviva’s performance.

A Sap's Guide to Verbing

A distinguished District Judge and I each take delight in turning up examples of improper verbing (e.g. "I am going to guinea-pig you on this") and suchlike barbarisms. The latest that he has come up with is "scaffolded" (e.g. "support will need to be scaffolded"). This has cropped up twice recently, once in family proceedings and once in the youth court. He goes on to make the point:- "Do they not realise the associations that word will have for a criminal lawyer?"

Friday, July 26, 2013

These Rules Mean What They Say

From Bystander T To anyone who is even the most casual of observers of magistrates' courts, the Criminal Procedure Rules must be a subject that invades their consciousness constantly. And so it was with some surprise that I witnessed counsel, clearly appearing on behalf of a friend, bowl up and assume that at a first hearing all he had to do was ask for a couple of weeks to read the papers and an adjournment would follow. Oh the disappointment! Counsel, (not the baby barrister variety) was obviously shocked at the regime with which he was confronted. Initially, the Legal Adviser suggested that he read the papers and then take instructions on plea. His response was that neither he nor his client had received the papers and so he could not possibly take proper instructions without time to consider all the evidence. Both the Legal Adviser and the Prosecutor attempted to explain the position with regard to the rules, with which said counsel appeared to be distinctly unfamiliar. In any event, he would not accept their suggested offering of the papers and an agreement not to call on his client until later, giving him time to consider the papers and then enter a plea. Enter the bench. Counsel immediately rises to make an application and starts by informing the bench of the important status of his client and of his good character. But hold fast, says the Chair, "What is your application?" "Well if you will allow me to finish, the nature of my request will be clear". To which the Chair responds "If we don't know where we are going, we shall end somewhere else". Or something similar. Counsel eventually admits that he seeks some time, perhaps just a couple of weeks, to do what he needs to do. The Legal Adviser intervenes to remind counsel that the Criminal Procedure Rules, and the exhortations of the previous Senior Presiding Judge, make it clear that a plea is expected at first hearing, unless there are very clear reasons not to, and even then, only if the reasons are exceptional. This appears to be new information to counsel who is clearly not happy and continues his application by reiterating the important status and good character of his client. The local solicitors, now gathering at the back of the court, appear to find this display of ignorance both absorbing and amusing but the unfortunate barrister is not aware because he is getting more irate at the lack of understanding being displayed by the bench and the Legal Adviser. Part one concludes with said barrister being told in a loud and somewhat aggressive voice by the chair to take the copy of the papers that was previously offered; to leave for 30 minutes then come back for a plea to be entered. Part two: Counsel and client return with the Case Management form partially completed. Repeating his earlier display of a lack of knowledge, counsel now wants one of the police officers named to be called as a witness. Why, was the question from the Legal Adviser (LA). "There was a conversation with my client and the officer may be able to assist in what exactly was said". "What part of the officer's evidence is to be challenged?" Is the chorus from LA, Prosecutor and the bench. So the issues at trial eventually get established but in the face of a truculent barrister who has now confirmed his lack of appreciation of the case management methods now in place. Not only are pleas assumed to be taken at first hearing, but the trial issues and the significance and timetabling of witnesses are also assumed to be settled at that same hearing. There may be an accused person who has or will suffer because of the stringent adherence to these rules, but proper case management has shortened lead times, reduced trial times and has avoided the unnecessary appearance of police witnesses who are taken off their duties only to find that their evidence is not challenged. It is a pity that an otherwise professional lawyer, such as the barrister described above, should take time out of his area of competence to assist a friend without taking the trouble to review the changes to the way the magistrates' courts operate. In all, this case demonstrates that the changes are quite radical and if an otherwise competent lawyer is not aware of them, what chance the myriad defendants forced to represent themselves in the absence of access to legal aid?

Website Woes

The Magistrates' Association website has been offline for a few days, and it turns out that it was hacked earlier in the week. Now why would anyone bother?

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Being So Cheerful As Keeps Me Going

I have recently been following Fleet Street Fox, the Mirror's columnist, and this article struck a chord. The great British Public are woefully ignorant about so much of the life of the nation, to a large extent because of wilful misinformation in sections of the Press. Indignation seems to sell newspapers, and the habit of, for example, prefacing every mention of a prison sentence with the word 'just' implants the idea that courts set out to avoid punishing anyone. Every magistrate will have been cornered by the bore who wants to see more and longer prison sentences, usually dropping in the 'fact' that you only get community service for mugging an old lady. I started this blog in 2005 to try to shed a little light into the dusty corners of the summary justice system, but it's proving a hard slog. So things aren't all that bad, crime is dropping on most credible measures (blowed if I know why, but there we are) so lets enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Another Bright Idea Down The Pan.......

I am grateful to our friend Obiter J (link on the sidebar to the right) for the news that the MoJ is consulting (i.e has decided upon) on the closure of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre. I am one of those who sat through repeated presentations on the future of 'community' justice, and I heard David Fletcher, the judge in charge who could morph between Circuit judge and DJ(MC) at will, speak about the project. It turns out that it didn't work, and cost a bomb. My doubts were immediate, reinforced by the enthusiasm shown by populist politicians, and sure enough, the curtain is about to fall. I blogged about the project several times, such as here here here and here. I know it's childish to say it, but I TOLD YOU SO!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Talking Of Chiefs

I was interested to see that former Chief Magistrate Tim Workman was brought in to sit on the case of Ray Wilkins. Looking at Wilkins' previous there are those who would consider him fortunate to have gone home that night.

Hail To The (Lord) Chief

Lord Justice (John) Thomas, who has manfully borne the burden of his name since his schooldays (it's a bit like A Boy Named Sue, isn't it?) has been announced as the next Lord Chief Justice. I can't add much to what I have written about him before - if you are curious, just use the search box in the top left corner. I have had the privilege, as a humble lay justice, of meeting the last three LCJs, each of them as personally approachable as they are legally and intellectually formidable. Good luck, your Lordship, and may the chalice not be too poisoned.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hoist With Their Own Petard?

There are stories in the Press saying that two of the major outsourcing contractors to the MoJ might have been a little imaginative with their billing practices, for example invoicing for tagging a dead person. I have no comment on that, as the investigation must take its course, and both sides have heavyweight legal resource available, but here's a thought:- If those responsible face a court, and if they are convicted, prison sentences are likely. Wouldn't it be ironic if the executives concerned were carted off to a prison run by their own company, in a van staffed by their own employees?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Arthur Daley Principle - The Price Is All According

The principle referred to in the headline was a favourite of my first Justices' Clerk, who in those dear dead days described himself as a cross between the family solicitor and a butler. He trained and mentored us, and set the culture of the bench. There is a fine old hoo-ha going on at the less reputable end of the Street of Shame over a fine imposed on a footballer (as a direct alternative to a community penalty that became impracticable). Footballers earning the money that they do, the fine looks derisory, but of course that sort of thing happens every day, albeit not on this scale. I believe that we fine the rich far too little and the poor far too much. As an example, a straightforward drink-drive carries a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine and/or six months inside. In reality we never see fines of anywhere near that level, even on some overpaid Porsche-driving hooligan. Since the increase in the pesky surcharge (that is at a rate that takes no account of income) even low-level offences can easily run into several hundred pounds, that are then deducted from benefit until the cows come home. Financial Penalties in general lack any consistent sense of proportion: £60 for jumping a red light (that can potentially kill someone) to £100 plus for driving in a bus lane, or £70 for parking outside Sainsburys without a 60p ticket. One day, someone will have to sit down and take a look at the system and bring the whole lot into some sort of order.

Monday, July 08, 2013

12 Hours in A & E

For reasons that I need not trouble you with I  recently spent an evening in the A & E Department of a large hospital. As usual, I was deeply impressed with the general professionalism and friendliness of the medical staff as the steady stream of the sick and injured (or drunk or drugged) came through the door. One thing that struck me was the number of police officers present. They certainly outnumbered the doctors, and at times outnumbered the nurses too. It cannot be easy to take a proper statement from an obviously distressed woman while the business of the hospital ebbs and flows around you. I was told that their presence is particularly welcome at the weekend when "Wander forth the sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine" as Milton put it.


The Curse of the Home Office has struck again.

Just look at this:-

Ministers are to look at curtailing benefits for those suspected of terror offences, the home secretary has said. (BBC report)
"Look at"? "Curtail"? 

That's bad enough, but "Suspected" - that is frightening.  What about due process, the rule of law, and, yes, "proved" rather than "suspected"?  Thank god for a (so far) free and independent judiciary.

Friday, July 05, 2013

It's Nice To Be Noticed

A piece in the Law Society Gazette by the estimable Joshua Rozenberg gives us a mention on the topic of the 'victim' Surcharge that I recently wrote about. I last met Mr. Rozenberg about three years ago, when he interviewed me on Radio 4, and a few years before that I met him when I visited the Daily Telegraph office, then in Canary Wharf. He is one of those commentators who knows his stuff.

Thursday, July 04, 2013


Our modern, largely secular, society still has a primitive need for demons and monsters to loathe and fear. The Parole Board appears to have taken the inevitable decision to free a deeply troubled man who committed a terrible crime when he was a young boy, and has spent the rest of his still-young life paying for it. Tomorrow's strident tabloids will not be a pretty sight.

Here We Go Again

Theresa May has continued the long and disreputable Home Office practice of ignoring considered expert advice, and imposing a useless and damaging ban on yet another drug - a ban that is likely to be as ineffective  as the present drug laws have proved to be. From Jim Callaghan's binning of the Wooton report decades ago to this latest edict, politicians have shown themselves to be terrified of the tabloids, and lacking any sense of reasoned judgement.  Plus ca change..........A previous post