Saturday, April 19, 2014

Charmless Rage

We spent a day dealing with Domestic Violence cases this week. Unusually a couple of defendants chose to plead guilty so we adjourned their cases for reports, but the rest all went not guilty, so we had to deal with case management.

"There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face" may well be true, but we were given clues by a few of those we saw. One large man's body language made it as clear as can be that he considered the whole business beneath him. His face bore a scowl that suggested aggressive resentment  and his answers to the Clerk were brusque, but just short of the dividing line that would oblige the chairman to step in. His solicitor's face gave us a clue that he had a difficult and surly client.

Another burly young man had been seen dragging his girlfriend along by the hair, and when challenged by a passing motorist he said "Fuck off. She's my woman and I'll do what I like" . The lady concerned was sitting in the gallery of the court to see how lover boy got on. She has already made a withdrawal statement, but the case may still go ahead on what the police have got. She presumably knows what to expect the next time that he gets into a drink-and-drug-fuelled rage.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Not Guilty Doesn't Mean What It Used To

The case of Nigel Evans, who has been acquitted of a string of sexual offences, has pointed up the sheer injustice of the present system that prohibits the acquitted defendant from recovering the costs of his defence. Mr. Evans claims to be out of pocket by a six-figure sum that represents the bulk of his life savings.

The investigators and prosecutors have at their disposal the full resources of the state, including the freedom to choose the most senior (and thus costly) counsel to present their case. If the case fails, m'learned friends will be paid by the state, whereas the other side are on their own. There is so much at stake in a case such as the Evans one, and the trial process is so complex with so many potential pitfalls, that anyone who can afford it is well advised to fight fire with fire and brief a top silk himself. So he is damned if the does and damned if he doesn't.

As I have said before much of our work involves domestic violence these days, and we now see applications to make a Restraining Order on acquittal, so we are saying, in effect: "We find you Not Guilty, but we are making an Order to ensure that you don't do it again".

I can hear Rumpole turning in his grave. He would have said that you can no more be a bit guilty than you can be a bit pregnant.

Off to the Sticks

I have just finished writing a reference for a former colleague who has moved to a rural area. Unfortunately she is unable to obtain a transfer to a bench near her new home. This sort of thing happens all the time, as the radical reorganisation of our courts as well as the remorseless shrinkage in the size of the magistracy has led to a majority of benches putting a near-freeze on recruitment and transfers.

It is hard on someone who has gone through the training process and then gathered valuable experience of sitting to find him or herself out in the cold like this, but limited recruitment must continue to allow the bench to renew itself, if we are not to end up as a bunch of pensioners (like me, I hear you cry).

My ex-colleague has volunteered for Witness Support (which is what the reference is for). That is a very important and necessary organisation, and I wish her well.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Recorder on the Record

This sits-vac ad is not one that we see every day. The post is surrounded with historical overtones, while being a key position in the administration of the nation's justice system. There are probably two or three dozen judges who could do the job, but only four or five dozen people know who they are.

I shall not apply, for more reasons than I care to mention, even if the undeclared salary were not to put me off.

Good luck to the successful candidate. I hope that he or she is not allergic to champagne.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Domestic Science

For many years neither the police nor the courts took domestic violence as as seriously as we do today. There was an underlying assumption that a man (usually a man) had a right to beat his wife, and old-time police were quite accustomed to turning up at a domestic incident only for both parties to turn on the officers.

All magistrates have now been trained in DV issues, as have the CPS and the police, and the resultant cases form a large part of our workload. There seems to be a higher proportion of not guilty pleas as cases are often a matter of  'he said, she said'. which can be tricky for a court to sort out. There is also a good proportion of withdrawn complaints. A screaming late night row including blows being struck can bring a police visit, but in the morning when the booze and the adrenalin have worn off the victim may well go back to the police to make a withdrawal statement. Such cases are now looked at carefully, and the CPS may go ahead using the statement made at the time, but that is not always a certain solution.

Recently we saw a case in which the victim had to be coached by our excellent Witness Care people before she would  even come to court, and when she finally took her place behind the screens that we had provided, she simply said "I don't want to give evidence". What do we do then?

The lady solved our problem by failing to return from the lunch break, when the CPS threw in their hand.

One person who saw this case asked me why we didn't proceed against the lady for contempt. I didn't answer directly, but my expression probably gave a clue. Not a chance as far as I am concerned.

Evans Above

Nigel Evans MP has been cleared by a jury in the latest celebrity sexual misconduct trial. So be it; that is what juries are for (although as I have said before, there may be a trend emerging of juries deciding that enough is enough of a certain type of trial).

Nevertheless, I cannot feel comfortable about police and CPS staff making carefully-worded comments on the courthouse steps to the effect that 'we considered it all carefully' and suchlike. If the jury says no, then no it is and no it stays. Nobody should go behind that.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lucky Break

I have nothing to say about the people involved in this but isn't it a coincidence that Press photographers happened to be on scene at exactly the right time and place?


That Takes Me Back

I was recently asked by the Council to sign a notice requiring the removal of vehicles and caravans from privately owned land in the Borough. The Council's officer gave evidence on oath to substantiate his Information and after a few questions we said that we were satisfied. So far, so simple, but I was reminded that it is a good ten years since I last dealt with one of these applications.

Back then, we were regularly asked for summonses that, if granted, would be taped to the vehicles and caravans that were illegally sited. It was almost unknown for anyone to turn up next day in response to the summons, so an order would be made that authorised the Council to tow away the offending wheels. The owners would then slip quietly away before the deadline.

Just once, we had two travellers turn up to the hearing. They were two young women, one cradling a small baby. I explained that if the Council's application was in order we would be obliged to grant it, but that we would listen to anything that they wanted to say. It turned out that the one with the baby had recently arrived in the Borough, heavily pregnant, and was delivered of her child in the local hospital a few days later (thus putting herself at the head of the queue for housing).

"I can't see the problem" she said in a soft brogue "All we want is a house or a flat".

She almost certainly got one.