Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thoughts From The Crown Court

I have a few Crown Court sittings on my current rota, in which I sit with a Circuit Judge or a Recorder, plus one other magistrate, to consider appeals from the lower courts. An appeal against conviction is by way of a complete re-hearing, whereas an appeal against sentence is much simpler.
A recent sitting gave rise to a number of thoughts, which are in no particular order.

Many magistrates feel that we are at the back of the queue for resources, and that the Crown Court gets better treatment. In my limited experience things go awry for Hizonner nearly as often as they do for the humble JP. My latest sitting was scheduled for two full days and was over by the lunch break, leaving my colleague and I an unexpected free day, and the court staff the task of finding one and a half days' work for the Recorder. A Recorder is a solicitor or (usually) a barrister who sits with the powers of a Circuit Judge for a few weeks a year. Since they get about £500 per day it is as well to keep them busy.

Lunch in the judges' dining room can be fun, but it is a far cry from the popular conception of silver service and post prandial port. Whatever food you have ordered is found in the heated or chilled cabinet at the end of the room, and you help yourself.. A few years ago there was an influx of female judges, and it was decided to improve the healthiness of the food. As a result there is a rota to act as Fruit Monitor, and the designated judge has to bring in a selection of fresh fruit on a Monday morning. To offset this, there is a goody box of assorted chocolate bars and suchlike. I really like the idea of a QC acting as Fruit Monitor.

Since the Resident Judge was appointed as an Honorary Recorder he now gets to wear a red robe, and is addressed as 'My Lord'. It hasn't gone to his head from what I can see.

Some Recorders are used to practising civil law, and don't know much about low-level crime, or motoring offences, so that's where a couple of JPs can come in handy.

Even if you have been dealt with by a district Judge below, any appeal will be heard by a bench that is made up  of two-thirds lay justices, so the lay element remains embedded.


  1. Time expired magistrate19 March 2014 at 09:08

    In Crown Court in a northern city where I used to sit lowly magistrates were not allowed to eat with judges. On the other hand, in court the judges used to treat magistrates with respect. I could never reconcile these two approaches.

    1. Tradition, I suppose, is why lunches were separate. We've always done it this way, and by God we're not stopping now.

      Sorry, that came across as a bit more ranty than I intended. Nothing wrong with a bit of tradition as long as it's harmless.

  2. Lunch in the Judges's Lodgings is a thing of the distant past in our Crown Court; I was briefed by colleagues how it works, and how useful it was to sit with a judge (or judges) and chat about things in general. But on the day that I sat on my first appeal (nine years ago), the first thing Hizzoner said to me and my colleague was "as from today we have to fend for ourselves, budget cuts have closed the kitchen." So midway through a complex retrial, it was off to Costa for a sandwich and coffee, as it has been ever since.

  3. The first time I sat in the Crown Court one of the judges at lunch told me he was surprised at how often sentencing came to him from the magistrates' courts. I expressed surprise and said that only very rarely have I seen anything sent up for sentence. He went on to say how often he gave someone nine months or a year. I pointed out that we could only give six months to run consecutively on two charges. He thanked me for explaining why we couldn't give the nine months or so he often felt was due and thought we could give.

    Now to the important part of my post! The hot food has only ever looked awful and so I order a sandwich. The bread is without fail stale and the filling almost non existent.

  4. Last time I sat in the Crown Court, it had been snowing. The Judge, who lived a long way away up the Fosse Way and the M5 had realised the night before that he might be snowed in. So he'd left his Range Rover at the end of his mile long lane/drive and had got up early, walked through the snow to the car and drove to court. On arrival, he realised that he'd left his "work" trousers and shoes at home. So he sat all resplendent in his robe, thick fleece trousers and socks. We had sandwiches.

    I liked him!

  5. Take your own sandwiches and a Thermos

  6. Ahh the good old days of hot food and servants. They are just memories now. I think it was overdone in the past but if your knocking about a busy court you really don't have much time over lunch to do muchat all, save perhaps vist the little boys or girls room and grab a sandwich.

  7. oops a bit late to this so apologies but apropos the comment about JP's not being welcome at the judges' table (albeit some time ago) - what annoys me more is District Judges (Magistrates Courts) thinking that they are somehow a superior species and refusing to mix with their mere mortal 'lay' colleagues. And that STILL happens

  8. Not sure why you approved what the lawful advisor said. After all, the regular lawful administrator can't advise the magistrates to modify their choice and sit in a different way. In my LJA it is the magistrates who choose how to modify the legal courts in brief observe circumstances like this. You're right that HMCTS is muscling in on legal area but sometimes, as on this event, it is because magistrates are allowing them to.

    magistrates court


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