Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Art Silk

There has been some tetchy reaction from the legal profession over the latest episode of the BBC drama 'Silk', due, inevitably, to the writers' taking liberties with the law and with court procedure (despite the fact that a QC is credited as legal adviser). I remember feeling the same about Judge John Deed, who wouldn't have lasted a week in the real world. Nevertheless, when I lunched with the judges at Crown Court at the time, the main topic of conversation was the fictional judge. I suspect that the assembled Hizonners rather liked seeing a brother judge portrayed as being a bit flash and a bit randy.

So I enjoyed Silk, and put any legal criticism to one side for the sheer pleasure of watching the delicious Maxine Peake strutting her stuff. It's only pretend, anyway.

Breach of the Pizza

I have seen several cases, most recently last week, of a mean little scam in which a couple of low-lifes phone up to have pizzas delivered, and ambush the unfortunate delivery person on his moped, stealing the pizzas as well as any cash they are carrying. In one case they took the moped as well, although that was soon recovered.

Pizza delivery people are low-paid part time workers who are  alone and vulnerable, usually at night. The offence involves pre-planning, and I think that the perpetrators can think themselves lucky to have been charged only with theft from the person, rather than robbery.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

JPs In The Nick

The idea has resurfaced (as bright ideas do) of dealing with certain low-level offences by way of a single magistrate sitting in a police station. That isn't as simple as it sounds; for one thing a legal adviser will be needed, and for another there is the question of police and judiciary keeping at healthy arm's length from one another. Many years ago a shiny new police station was built across the road from my court, and there were thoughts of putting a tunnel under the road to ease the transfer of detainees into court. My Clerk (who was independent, as Clerks were then) killed that one on the grounds of separation of powers. At the time we dealt with a good few Customs cases, and Customs offered to build a courtroom in their local HQ but the answer was again a firm no.

Until a few years ago our Saturday courts were taken by a single experienced Justice, of whom I was one. Single-justice powers were restricted - I could adjourn, grant or withhold bail, and sentence to no more than a fine of one pound or one day's detention. That was useful for overnight drunks and the like, and worked fairly well. More serious stuff would be put off to a full court during the week.

It took a while to get used to using the word 'I' rather than 'we'  and at first it felt odd to hear a bail application with an empty chair on each side of me, but it soon became easy to go through the decision process as the application progressed.

Let's see how this one goes. If it turns out to be cheap, it might happen - if not, it won't.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I chaired a Saturday court today. We were a bench of three, thus allowed to sentence where appropriate, and we were dealing with all of the overnight business from three London boroughs. We were faced with about a dozen cases, plus three or four that turned up late. I cannot say too much about the details, but we saw a mixture of cases. As usual there were a few shoplifters, inevitably stealing to fund their drug habits.
One sad creature sat, as they do, in the dock in the heroin crouch, arms clasped round her chest. The list said that she was 39, but she looked a good fifty, again as they do. She had about fifty pre-cons, and had committed the latest offence on bail - as they do.
We saw a lanky youth of 17, and had to wait for about an hour while the YOT (youth) team tried to find somewhere we could send him for the four days it would take to get him in front of a qualified Youth bench. In the end we remanded him to the local authority which means that the authority must find somewhere for him. His grandad and another relative were in court and I felt desperately sad for them, knowing just how I would feel to see one of my grandchildren confined in the cold glass sided dock.
A couple of cases were met with immediate prison sentences, given the offenders' long histories of ignoring court orders, and planned campaigns of theft.
Another man had attacked his daughter's boyfriend, for reasons that I cannot go into. We remanded him in custody as we were pretty sure that he might do it again, and as he was taken down the steel stairs he pointed a finger at me and said "I hope you have a daughter, and then you will know how I have suffered.". As it happens I do have a daughter, but I do not ever take the law into my own hands, but he would never understand my reasoning. The file showed that he had served some years in prison, and I surmised that this is what had formed his attitude to his daughter's boyfriend.

A reasonably hard morning then, but we agreed, in the wash-up session before we left, that we had done our best, and had delivered fair judgements to the best of our ability.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tough at The Bottom

This is a straight-from-the horse's-mouth article by a newly-qualified barrister that sets out the stark reality of life on the bottom rungs of the Bar career ladder. The writer is an example of some of the very best of our young lawyers, comprehensive educated, a degree at Oxford, but so far with little to show for it.
If we carry on as we are the Bar will revert to being a profession for rich kids only. I want the Bar to consist of the very best. Never forget that the freedom defended by an independent Bar might be yours one day.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


A well-known actor has been acquitted of charges of sex offences committed some decades ago. I have nothing to say about the case itself, but it is fair to say that many people have questioned how practical it is to gather meaningful testimony about such ancient events.

Decisions have been taken at a high level to pursue historic allegations of sex abuse, driven, I suspect, by the current focus on the interests of victims, especially in the light of the Jimmy Savile and other cases. I can understand  the DPP's reasons, partly legal but with political overtones.

Nevertheless, the last word on this case has come from a jury, whose decision is final. I suspect that some others will go the same way.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Restraining Orders - a Note For The Hard of Thinking

I spent today dealing with Domestic Violence cases. Most were first appearances, where we take a plea, and decide how to move the case forward, and in the event of a guilty plea we either sentence there and then or order pre-sentence reports.

A couple of cases involved breach of a restraining order, and one of those was a particularly bad one in which a man received an RO on conviction and breached it quite soon afterwards, taking the trouble to track down his (now ex) girlfriend to her workplace to rant at her, frightening her so badly that she had to ask a workmate to walk her home.

Now look here, mister. If a court, at whatever level of the system, orders (note that word) you not to do something, and you then go ahead and do it, do not be surprised if you end up in a cell.  We would never announce in court that you are taking the piss, but that is what we might just say out the back, and inside you are likely to go.


I read that an English lecturer at Nottingham University has got into hot water by posting disparaging remarks about his students on Facebook. Apparently he teaches sociolinguistics.

As it happens I graduated from Nottingham many years ago, with a degree in English, but try as I may I cannot recall any mention of socio-whatsits.

I am pretty relieved not to have been subjected to it (them?). I had enough trouble getting my head round extrinsic metacriticism.

I had one lecturer whose words I  attempted to take down verbatim. I only got a shortish paragraph, but I took it back to my room, and sat down to read it. "Hang on" thought I. "English is my first language and I even have an 'A' level in it, but I cannot for the life of me work out what this means". So I put it down to Emperor's Suit of Clothes  syndrome and went for a beer.

Perhaps that is why I only got a modest degree (and have enjoyed beer ever since).