Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Flat Footed

Is there nobody left in our police service with a sense of proportion?  The heavy handed attempt to lean on a newsvendor for displaying Private Eye is the latest idiocy that will give great comfort to the Fleet Street fat cats as well as making the whole force look silly.

Here's some free advice chaps:-

If you don't want to look foolish, and if you don't want to be mocked on prime-time telly, for heaven's sake don't pick on Private Eye. They will make mincemeat of you.

I do so hope that the fool behind this nonsense receives some very frank advice from someone of rank.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mersey Beaten

Here is the final death warrant for the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, born of a bright idea from the Downing Street sofa, blessed with a charismatic judge, and supplied with ample funds and a barrowload of political goodwill.  Now the funds and the goodwill have gone, and the experiment is limping to its close. The enthusiasts who sold the idea to the government of the day are now silent, and have probably moved on to other projects and other jobs. I take no satisfaction in any of this,  but I would really like a ten minute chat with one or two of the evangelicals who told us that this was the future of summary justice.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Not A Satisfying Day

We saw a weary succession of the slow-witted, the difficult, and the confused today. One chap, who appeared by prison videolink, assisted by an interpreter, spent his 20 minutes on camera staring dully before him showing little reaction. He is charged with an offence that, with a guilty plea, is unlikely to attract more than a low-to-medium community penalty, but he has unresolved mental health problems, no fixed abode, no family in the UK, and refuses to speak to the mental health services.
Another fellow, who appears in the glass dock, is charged with an assault that mercifully caused negligible injury, but refuses the services of the duty solicitor because 'there is no justice in these courts' and the officers who arrested him are corrupt and will always lie, and by the way have stolen his house keys. He says that he will not attend his trial because he does not recognise the court. I resist the temptation to state the obvious, that the court recognises him, and we make arrangements for his trial next month. Another videolink case ends with the prisoner being led away sobbing by a prison officer. More and more of these people are now appearing without representation, and there will soon be visible consequences of that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wrong Kind of Keystone

In the last couple of years the police have come in for heavy criticism, and a worryingly large number of matters are a long way from being cleared up or even explained. The Hillsborough affair looks, prima facie on the evidence disclosed so far, to show incompetence followed by panic followed by a systematic cover up organised from a high level. The De Menezes affair has revealed a story that is a long way different from the news that was released at first. The Ian Tomlinson affair was only resolved because someone happened to have a cameraphone to hand, and that led to the question as to how the thuggish officer involved had kept his job for so long. Plebgate is not resolved yet, and many people are worried about the authorities' lack of response to the revelations of CCTV.

Cheap and ubiquitous cameras are behind a lot of scandals being revealed  (the first that I can remember was Rodney King). Good. Let's make sure that police and public all make good use of the technology.

Nobody can take pleasure from seeing the hitherto high reputation of the British police diminished, but the best hope of restoring and maintaining it lies in throwing daylight on what goes on day to day. The best officers have a lot to gain, and the worst have a lot to lose, as they should.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unwarranted Interference

New guidance has just been issued about the issue of search warrants, and official documentation has been revised following some important decisions in the higher courts.
The underlying theme is to remind us all just what a major intrusion a search warrant can be, when the authorities are allowed to batter down the drawbridge of the castle that is, or should be, the Englishman's home. Having police officers turn over your home, down to the children's toys and your personal effects, must be traumatic, and can only be justified for good and serious reasons.
Hitherto the justice has heard the officer on oath, and asked whatever questions he thinks fit about the Information that the officer must produce. A legal adviser should always be present if possible or, if not, available on the out of hours duty phone. In practice the questioning was usually pretty mild, asking whether vulnerable people or adults were likely to be in the premises and so on.
Now all that has changed, and the officer, in pursuance of his duty to provide full disclosure of the known facts to the justice, must prepare a standard document to take when he makes his application.
Many colleagues are familiar with dealing with applications at home, often at oh-my-god o'clock dressed in slippers and dressing gown. There is a rota of experienced JPs who are available at home; I have never been on it as I live some way from the court and in a different police force area, but a few colleagues live a couple of hundred yards from the Borough police HQ and are well used to a nocturnal call, that should be preceded by a phone call from the duty legal adviser.
It was high time that these reforms were brought in, as we must never forget our duty to act as a buffer between the citizen and the authorities and to see that any interference with liberty is fully justified and proportionate.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Handbags At Ten Paces

A spat appears to be developing between the Magistrates' Association and the National Bench Chairmen's Forum. John Fassenfelt,  the MA Chairman, who is due to retire this year, to be replaced by Richard Monkhouse, (a good man, whom I know fairly well) has issued a letter expressing differences with the NBCF over some bits of higher politics that are of no interest at all to anyone outside the organisations concerned. The relationship between the MA and the NBCF has long been an uneasy one, as the younger body was formed as a reaction to the perceived ineffectiveness of the MA. The MoJ and the Courts Service go through the motions of consultation but some of us have wearily concluded that they will do what they want anyway. It's all a bit redolent of the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front. I'm just waiting for someone to cry "Splitters!"
I was amused to see that the MA is claiming to be more independent that the NBCF because the latter uses offices that are provided and staffed by HMCTS. I am quite sure that this has no influence at all on the NBCF's views.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


I cannot recall any other occasion on which a judge or magistrate has openly expressed the hope that his decision will be appealed, although it must happen occasionally. This chap has made his views clear, and I shall be interested to find out how things turn out.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Silky Advocacy

I sat on a three day appeal at the Crown Court last week. The defence counsel was an experienced QC and he was clearly well accustomed to addressing juries. For those of us who practice in the lower courts it is a rare treat to listen to high quality advocacy. We allowed the appeal but as we expected the costs application was eye-watering. We ordered the sum to be 'taxed' (assessed)  but even if the appellant had to pay it himself he would have had value for his money, as he is in a profession where even a low-level criminal conviction can have devastating consequences, personal; and professional.