Saturday, May 31, 2014

Oxford Blues

The President of the Oxford Union is the subject of serious allegations that remain just that - allegations. This report gives more detail, but at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, has it not occurred to any of the Union's members officers or prospective speakers that he remains innocent until proven guilty? This has the smell of mob justice about it, and Oxford ought to be able to do better than that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Slightly Odd Day

Today was a bit out of the ordinary. Our trial fell apart because of a Mickey-Mouse foul-up by the CPS. These days the wind is blowing pretty briskly in the direction of telling the CPS to get on with it: this usually results in them offering no evidence and the case being thrown out. Today, however, there were victims to be considered in a case of harassment, so we adjourned, making it quite clear that we had performed a balancing act.

We then took a case involving two Eastern Europeans, who were assisted by an interpreter. That meant that the trial took at least twice as long as it might have done, especially as prosecuting counsel took ages to get over the simplest points.

Ploughing through the reams of evidence we were diverted by a racket coming up from the cells under the court. Incoherent shouting, thumps and bangs carried on for about half an hour as a prisoner expressed his displeasure at being locked up.

There's always something new coming through the door of our court.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Teachers' Pest

There is a current controversy about parents' right to take their children out of school to go on holiday. There are valid arguments on both sides, but my sympathy lies on the whole with the parents. The loss of ten days' teaching is unlikely to cause long term damage to a child's education, and there are many benefits to be gained from a holiday en famille. In addition holidays outside the peak period are substantially cheaper. Hitherto head teachers have had discretion to grant leave, but the rules have now been tightened.

I strongly dislike the idea of schools imposing fines - that is a job for the judiciary, not teachers.

Councils prosecute as a last resort, and those who are summonsed are likely to be serial offenders, rather than holidaying families. What is a court supposed to do when a bedraggled single mother comes in to tell us that young Bradley just doesn't like school? I recall one case when the mother delivered the boy into the classroom, and handed him to the teacher, only for the boy to slip out and take a short-cut home, arriving before his mother. Fining very poor people (especially these days with the unjust surcharge and heavy costs that we must impose) is unfair and ineffective. It often happens, too, that by the time a case gets to court the child will be just a few months short of the age at which they can leave.

On another subject, as the school year draws to a close, our local secondary schools have taken to closing down one day before scheduled, to avoid bad behaviour on the last day, that can run to criminal damage and near-riots. One pupil indignantly contacted the local paper to complain that the school's action 'disrespected' him. Well, sonny, throwing eggs and damaging school property isn't all that respectful either, is it?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Growing Out Of Crime

Crime is, on the whole, a young man's pastime, but fortunately for society academic research suggests that offending tails off at about the age of 23 or so, often when the calming influence of a girlfriend comes into play. Even Shakespeare knew that 23 is the key age, as I commented here.

Today we sentenced a 22 year-old man with a chronic drug dependency, funded by regular shoplifting. He has had the lot, from probation to custody and back again.

We wearily decided that unless the drugs could be addressed, the pattern of offending would just carry on, so we imposed a sentence that included a  Drug Rehabilitation Requirement, backed up by a suspended prison sentence.

His shabby looking girlfriend was sitting at the back, so I told him that the only way he could get away from the revolving door to prison would be to allow the DRR to work, then I looked at her and said "there is someone here today who obviously cares about you, and I hope that she will keep an eye on you." I was rewarded by two big smiles and two nodding heads; the girl's vigorously so.

I live more in hope than expectation that the DRR will work, but it had to be worth a try.

Fingers crossed.

Criminal Damages

Criminal Damage is an offence that every magistrate will be familiar with. The Guidelines point to a wide range of penalties for an offence that can have a variety of aspects that affect seriousness. Fines, discharges, and, for the worst cases, custody are all prescribed, but in every case we must consider compensation. It has always seemed to me that there is a neatly just solution in making the person who commits damage pay for it. The sums involved can be very high: for example a drunken young man who thought it a good idea to lob a concrete litter bin through a shop window in order to lay hands on a £2.50 bottle of alcohol found himself looking at a bill for almost £2000 for repairs, making it a very expensive drink. We still have quite a bit of discretion about compensation and where we do not have a proper  invoice we can use our personal judgment to settle on a rough-and-ready figure, which is what we did today. We were not happy about the undocumented claim , so we cut it in half. If we were wrong (which I doubt) the loser can always lodge a civil claim.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I've Done It Again

Call me self-indulgent, call me a pedant, but there are a few linguistic atrocities up with which I will not put.

The Crown Prosecutor, who is usually a coolly competent type, referred to evidence waiting to be 'forensicated'.

I stopped her, and said: "to be what?"

She looked puzzled, so I rubbed it in. "can you say that in English?"

"Sorry, sir", and she produced a decent paraphrase.

Surely we have to draw the line somewhere?

To be fair, I was rather enjoying myself.

I have previous.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

The sheer gormless stupidity of many offenders is a recurrent theme on this blog.

Two days ago a petrol station half a mile from my house was broken into during the night. The haul included (inevitably) cigarettes, but also a quantity of National Lottery scratch cards. Brilliant. The cards are serial numbered, and will presumably be very difficult to claim on in the event of a winning line.

So if you are offered a few scratch cards at a bargain price, have a care.

Friday, May 09, 2014

No Surprise

Nobody who works in the justice system will be surprised to read this article.

This was clearly a Crown Court case, and I suspect that most magistrates' courts would do a little better - at least mine would. We are meticulous about witness care and such things as waiting facilities, but nothing much can be done about the endless hanging around.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Numbskull Cracker

The so-called Skull Cracker is back in custody. So it's back to a closed prison, fresh charges of escaping, and an alleged new robbery, for someone who was in sight of eventual release.

Every now and again, on the low-level crimes that I deal with, I am tempted to say "Look matey, you are absolutely crap at this crime business. Why not try something else? You have buggered up your life, spending years in a small cell along with someone who is just as stupid as you. How long before it sinks in? Pack it in, you loser".

I mustn't say that though, but sometimes it's tempting.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

From The Saloon Bar

It is well known to my social circle that I am a magistrate,and I have no problem with that. I am teased, of course, but I am also approached by people who have been angered or confused by the polemical voices in the press as well as by people who just want to know how the system works.

I am happy to inform when I can, and to try to counter any misconceptions as simply as I am able to.

Today the press has been concerned about the fact that a serving prisoner, on several life sentences, has absconded from an open prison. 

This raises numerous questions, of course. For one thing, it is high time that we rebranded the 'Life' sentence, that is in fact nothing of the sort. A so-called life sentence is in fact an indeterminate sentence, the length of which is driven by the judge's tariff. Once serving the prisoner is managed by the prison service and the parole board. 

Several things drive the practice of moving prisoners from closed prisons to open ones, and the underlying principles are sensible. After serving a long sentence it is both logical
and humane  to move the prisoner to an environment where he can be gradually eased into society. That usually works, but this latest case clearly didn't.  

Friday, May 02, 2014

Just a thought

Watching TV news reports about Max Clifford, I realised that he was sentenced in the very courtroom in which I was sworn in as a JP a very long time ago.


At first sight the eight year sentence passed on Max Clifford  looks a bit on the steep side, but the judge's closely argued sentencing remarks here set out clearly the reasoning process that led to the sentence.

The practice of releasing sentencing remarks on the Internet as soon as possible is an excellent way to de-mystify a sentencing process that can be opaque to the public.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

What Was She Thinking?

The Briscoe affair will be settled tomorrow by a judge.  (it was - 16 months )

I have no comment on that, but on a human level, I remain baffled as to what can have motivated Ms. Briscoe. I am not a lawyer, but over the years I have worked and socialised with a great number of them. Ms. Briscoe was a Recorder of the Crown Court and over the years I have often sat on appeals with Recorders such as her. On the whole I have been impressed by their professionalism and dedication. Personalities and styles may differ widely but when it comes down to the law and to dissecting evidence,  I have always been happy that we were going in the right direction.

So knowing what she knows, and given her presumed understanding of judicial culture, I cannot imagine what was going through her forensically trained mind when she made the fatal decisions that she did.

Was it misguided loyalty to a friend? Hubris? Something Else?

It is sad whichever way you look at it.

A Straw In The Wind

Here's the most serious problem so far caused by the near-abolition of Legal Aid Case Halted .

It is unlikely to be the last.

Plus Ça Change (no. 17 in a never-ending series)

Nine years ago I posted this about crime figures. Not much has changed, except that it has now become apparent that many police forces have shamelessly fiddled their figures, while the CPS persists in allowing under-charging that affects the figures too.