Saturday, August 16, 2014

Search Warrants (2)

Here is a senior lawyers's view.

He is unnecessarily and insultingly dismissive of lay justices; in any event the JP (or it might have been a District Judge or a Circuit Judge) would have had access to a legal adviser if required. I, and I suspect, most of my colleagues are just as aware of the implications of a search warrant for the liberty of the Queen's subjects as a highly-paid silk.

I reiterate that new legal guidance has been given to every JP about warrants in recent months. It would be naive to discount the possibility that some officers in a certain county might have formed an unhealthily close relationship with one or more compliant JPs, but even then a new and exhaustive form has to be completed by police and judiciary, and that form, in this case, is certain to be rigorously scrutinised.


  1. His comments about us "amateurs" lead me to believe he has had little experience and even less success in Magistrates' Courts! Perhaps he should get his facts right because, as you have pointed out, the warrant could have been signed by a DJ or circuit judge. In fact this is more likely, as celebrity matters tend to be handled by our paid colleagues.

  2. Not just got his facts right but actually bothered to have got the facts in the first place. Who did sign the warrant? An apology to the lay justices who deal very satisfactorily every working day, and Saturdays, with the 95% of the criminal matters that come before our courts might be good. Some chance!

  3. Firstly his use of the term 'lay justices' is archaic - they are referred to as magistrates, now and have been so for quite some time. Also, I cannot think of any occasion where an out-of-hours warrant was issued without advice from a court legal adviser, usually via phone conference. In fact issuing warrants without this provision is expressly forbidden at my court. Finally, I wonder how he knows who issued the warrant.

    1. Likewise at mine - the application has to be reviewed by a duty legal advisor before a magistrate can even see it let alone authorise it.

  4. So why doesn't the duty legal advisor authorise it?

    1. Because the grant or refusal of a warrant is a judicial decision, rather than an administrative one.

  5. I'd like to believe that Mr Robertson uses the term "amateur" in the technical sense as opposed to the derogatory derivation. That's what I'd like to believe but I don't.

    It's more than a little worrying that a QC should be so unconcerned about establishing fact and the avoidance of assumption.

    1) Neither he nor us know whether a magistrate issued the warrant. It could have been a DJ or a circuit judge
    2) He cannot know what information was laid before the judicial office holder who signed the warrant
    3) He cannot know whether the police had deliberately waited for the occupier to be absent abroad
    4) He cannot know what questions were put to the officer making the application
    5) He seems to attach little or no significance to the fact if it was a magistrate who signed the warrant then it would only have been after a legal advisor had checked its correctness.

    So far as "rubber stamping" is concerned, then of course it is such an exercise provided the application and information is correct and the role of the judicial office
    holder is to ascertain this through rigorous questioning. Once satisfied the application is indeed "rubber stamped".

    The archaic system that Mr Robertson has such contempt for has served us well but if he feels that it isn't fit for purpose then perhaps he'd share his thoughts on what should replace it and how it is to be funded.

    Let me make some assumptions of my own. I am assuming that Mr Robertson QC has never in his life been asked to sign a warrant. I am also assuming that he has never been present whilst an application is being processed.

    I am sure that all right thinking people feel that wrong to invite the press along. The only reason this can have been done is because of the subjects celebrity status and this is no basis or justification. Equally it is no basis or justification for accusing us "amateurs" of complicity.

    I do agree with much of Mr Robertson's article but I would have expected better in respect of his rather cavalier attitude to establishment of fact & his comments re the magistracy.

  6. For a member of the judiciary who is subject, as are lay justices, to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Mr Robertson (a Recorder or junior part-time judge) should be careful not to fall foul of the provisions of that Code; bringing a whole section of the judiciary into disrepute, especially on the basis of personal prejudice and unsubstantiated assumptions is an act likely to undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. I hope a serving justice lays a complaint against him. It would be interesting to hear his excuses.


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