We dealt with an alleged manslaughter the other day, which is not a usual sight in our court. I can't say much about it, but what we did see was a reporter at the back of the court (a rarity these days,that used to be an everyday sight) and a gaggle of relatives of the deceased in the gallery, on whom I kept a beady eye, although they were well-behaved and dignified.
Unlike murder, we retain the power to consider bail in manslaughter cases, but the defence didn't apply, mindful of the fact that their client is probably safer inside than he might be on the out.
Off he goes to the Old Bailey this week.
Musings and Snippets from a recently retired JP. I served for 31 years, mostly in west London. I was Chairman of my Bench for some years, and a member of the National Bench Chairmen's Forum All cases are based on real ones, but anonymised and composited. All opinions are those of one or more individuals. JPs swear to enforce the law of the land, whether or not they approve of it. Nothing on here constitutes legal advice.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Not an Everyday Case
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Why do you need to 'keep a beady eye' on the victims relatives? Is it a crime to have someone in your family killed?ReplyDelete
Retaliation must be a consideration. The security of the dock works both ways.Delete
Of course not, but it is my job to keep order in the courtroom, and emotions can understandably run very high.ReplyDelete
I recall an episode of "North Square " in which a barrister applied for bail, in a murder case, to a panel of three mature gentlemen, dressed in business suits and wearing no wigs , who I therefore suppose were Magistrates . That must have been around 2000. I thought it very remarkable, as in civil law systems the power to decide on issues of pre trial custody ( regardless of the charge) is among the ones most jealously defended by professional judges, on the score that our personal freedom is only safe if guarded by carefully selected and highly trained lawyers. It must be an unfortunate coincidence, I suppose, that the excesses and abuses of pre trial custody have been a hot topic in Italy ever since I can remember and to this present day, with several remedies put in place, all falling short.ReplyDelete
When was the power of JPs to grant bail curtailed, and on what grounds?
I fear that Italian Lawyer has been misinformed - considering criminal case bail applications has always been a large part of our work in the Magistrates' Remand Courts.ReplyDelete
It is curious that magistrates can't grant bail where murder is charged, but can for allegations of attempted murder. Surely this ignores the risk in the latter case that the defendant might pop back and finish the job.ReplyDelete
The legislation that introduced this change was classic knee-jerk stuff. Bail was very rarely granted to alleged murderers in any event. But sometimes it is clearly the right course: for the man in his eighties who is said to have reluctantly complied with a request from his very ill wife to end her life, for instance. The consequences of this silly change have been considerable disruption and expense for the Crown Court, because HMCTS now has to make sure that a Crown Court in each area is open during holiday periods for the sole purpose of hearings under s115(3) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which provides that a Crown Court judge must make a bail decision in murder cases within 48 hours of first appearance in the magistrates' court.
What was the occasion for the change? Any special reason given?ReplyDelete
The law was changed following the 2008 case of Gary Weddell, a police officer who was granted bail whilst awaiting trial for murdering his wife. Whilst on bail, he murdered his mother-in-law and killed himself. Weddell had been granted bail by a senior circuit judge, not the magistrates court but a knee-jerk response was deemed necessary.Delete
That's the way laws tend to be made these days, I am afraid.Delete
1. Is there any evidence at all that a typical JP is any better or worse at making bail decisions, than a typical judge / recorder / etc ?ReplyDelete
2. More importantly, with the exception of published anecdotes such as the Wedell case, do JPs or judges get any feedback on the outcome of their bail decisions ? To me, it would seem that in the absence of feedback, there can be no real improvement in performance.
Whilst data on outcomes would be interesting, it would necessarily be incomplete: statistics can tell us how many of those bailed have gone on to commit offences on bail, but cannot tell us how many of those remanded in custody would not have committed any offence on bail, had they had the opportunity.ReplyDelete
As a frequent applicant for bail to both magistrates and circuit judges (on behalf of others, I stress) I would say that, on average, judges place less emphasis on the seriousness of the offence - which is not, in itself, an exception to the right to bail, though it may be relevant to the likelihood that the defendant may fail to surrender. However, decisions on bail are very sensitive to the predelictions of the tribunal: some (usually district) acquire nicknames as a result. Unless I knew the name and reputation of the judge concerned, I would have more confidence predicting the decision of a bench of three magistrates.
So I suppose that, taken as a whole, there are grounds to say that the decisions of magistrates on applications for bail are of better quality than those of circuit judges, except where the offence is serious.
But, for example, for those remanded in custody, there would be data about those eventually getting a custodial sentence shorter than the time spent on remand, or even those eventually acquitted. That could be useful information if some factor or other at the time of the remand decision was predictive of that disporportionate outcome.Delete
Or in other words, JPs are more dependable to stick to guidelines, judges are more ready to use their own discretion? Do judges ever decide as a panel, on such matters? And conversedly, do JPs ever decide them singly ?ReplyDelete
There are no guidelines in respect of bail applications. All such applications are subject to the law as per the Bail Act and therefore there is no discretionary powers. The facts are examined, the law is considered and the decision is made.
I believe very strongly that the bail decisions coming out of the Magistrates' courts are generally of good quality. The strength of the system is that these decisions are never considered by a single JP but by at least two and more usually, three. A legal advisor is also present to ensure compliance with the Act which has indeed become a very complex area over the years. A single judge (they don't hear applications as a panel) does not have the benefit of other views.
Applications require very careful consideration. There is a general right to bail and we consider the application from that starting point. We consider whether there are any specific exceptions to the general right to bail and whether any concerns we have can be addressed by imposing conditions on bail. We take account of whether there is a possibility, if convicted, of a custodial sentence. On the other hand we do not have to consider this if the alleged offence was committed in a domestic context. There are nuances to each application and many things to consider, all within the context of the law and our duty to protect the public and ensure the interests of justice are served.
I see no empirical evidence to suggest that the quality of bail decisions differs between magistrates or judges.
Until a few years ago our Saturday remand court was taken by a single JP from a list of experienced and senior colleagues. I sat in many of these courts, and they worked fine. My understanding was that bail can be decided by a single justice but sentencing powers were limited to a fine of one pound or one day in custody. Tis was ideal for overnight drunks.ReplyDelete
"bail can be decided by a single justice but sentencing powers were limited to a fine of one pound or one day in custody"ReplyDelete
I'm afraid I don't understand. Would you please say that again in other words, BS?
When I sat alone, my powers were limited. I could decide on bail, with or without conditions, or to remand in custody. Given a guilty plea I could pass sentence, but I was limited to a fine of one pound or one day's custody. When the defendant was a bleary eyed drunk who had passed a night in the cells (thus fulfilling the custody bit) I had a neat sentence to hand.ReplyDelete
When I became a JP many years ago, we still undertook old style comittals. Although most of these were conducted by a bench of three, sometimes two, it was legal for a single (examining) magistrate to conduct a comittal. In my court, not many years before I was sworn, a three week comittal hearing on a murder charge was heard by a single lay justice who had the courage at the end to rule 'no case to answer'. The case never came back.ReplyDelete
This is all very interesting; and very nice of you all to bother with my questions: thank you .ReplyDelete