Friday, October 31, 2014

The Politics of Drugs

The current 'debate' about the state's approach to illegal drugs has a familiar ring to it.

I am old enough to remember a report on drugs by Baroness Wootton when I was a student.  The report was the product of a committee of people who knew their way around the subject, but that did them no good at all. The then Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan stepped firmly on any proposal to modify the drug laws, by some accounts not even reading the report. Then as now the government was terrified of tabloid headlines, and their reaction was like one of those Bateman cartoons where people express horror at something or other.

Forget the evidence, forget the facts; the drug laws are likely to stay as they are.

Lexicographers Please Note

Accidents have been abolished.

For many years RTA was police shorthand for a Road Traffic Accident,but it has been replaced by RTC - Road Traffic Collision.

The reasoning is that an accident may not be anyone's fault, hence no prosecution. A collision, on the other hand, opens the way to an investigation. That is why it is now normal practice to keep a motorway closed for some hours while the scene is examined for signs of a crime, particularly if there has been death or injury.

Mind how you go, now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Full Circle

Thanks to David W-J for pointing me to this report.

Does nobody in the MoJ have a memory longer than six weeks? The idea of sitting courts in the church hall or a disused shop or wherever was trailed some years ago until the practical difficulties surfaced, such as security for staff and JPs, installation of IT equipment and other matters.

Mr. Penning, the genius behind this idea,, says that the proposal will 'restore the principle of community justice'. So that's why your department has busily closed scores of local courts, so that many people now live up to 50 miles from their nearest one?

He goes on to say that 'some people' are 'more than happy to go off to places where they are not known'.

It isn't the opprobrium of neighbours that people fear, but rather the penalty points and the fine and the costs and the surcharge.

Finally, and most ludicrously, he says that these little people's tribunals might be 'a job for the village bobby'. Which village bobby is that, Minister?


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another Disaster

We saw another case involving a tragic death the other day, in what is known as a one-punch manslaughter. I can't go into detail, but a man punched another, who fell backwards onto a concrete pavement, hitting his head. The victim suffered a fractured skull, occasioning brain damage. The assailant came into court in custody,  charged with a Section 18 GBH With Intent but the prosecutor said that the doctors were expected to cease life support within 24 hours, and that the charge was likely to change to manslaughter. There was no application for bail.

What a total tragedy. If only people realised just how fragile the human skull can be, and how vulnerable the brain within.

That was the last involvement of the magistrates' court, as the case will now be sent to the Crown Court in a matter of a few days.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's The Point?

(This is a post by Bystander N)

What’s the Point in a Situation Like This?

For an imprisonable offence committed after 1st September:-

“Your offence is so serious that only a prison sentence is appropriate.  You have blah blah blah.  We sentence you to X weeks/months in prison.  There has been no request for compensation.  The prosecution has asked for X as a contribution towards their costs.  You have no fixed address and are not receiving any benefits.  In fact you have no income whatsoever and are sleeping rough so we are not going to order you to pay anything towards the costs.  We are however obliged, we have no choice in the matter, to order you to pay a surcharge of £80.” 

So how is that ever going to be paid by someone with, quite literally, not a bean?  If it were ever to be chased for payment, which is unlikely, how will that be done and what will it cost to do so?  We have discretion not to award costs or compensation based on a defendant’s means, and to deem a fine served but we can’t deem a surcharge served, even if we put someone inside.  How daft is that?

We dealt with two such offenders yesterday and imposed the surcharge as we have to.  What a pointless waste of words in doing so.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Déjà Vu Once More

In a response to press comment on a number of trolling cases, in which people avail themselves of the anonymity afforded by the Internet, the Government has waved its big stick and threatens to increase the maximum sentence for this obnoxious form of bullying to two years' imprisonment. The politicos have been rewarded with Sunday morning headlines, as they presumably wished, but what will this achieve - really?

A saddo sitting in his bedroom late at night is hardly going to make a reasoned decision to desist from abusing total strangers because in the vanishingly unlikely event of his being caught the maximum sentence has just shot up. The sentencing court will of course have to have regard to the Guidelines, which rarely if ever point to the maximum sentence for anything. Lazy and ill-trained journalists love to point to potential maximum sentences to sex up a headline, although we all know that these will not be imposed. As I have pointed out before the maximum penalty for a straightforward drink-drive is a fine of £5000, plus six months inside, plus an indefinite driving ban. I very much doubt that this has ever been imposed. but it keeps the journos happy.

Sorry, but this is yet another knee-jerk reaction. With an election in the offing there will be many more, equally ill-advised and equally useless.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Small(ish) World

The sad news has emerged that the Duke of Marlborough has passed on to the stately home in the sky.

His title thus passes to his heir, formerly known as Jamie Blandford.

Some years ago Jamie was a regular sight in magistrates' courts, being burdened, as he was, with a penchant for driving like a lunatic as well as a fondness for 'certain substances' as they used to be called.

He was on my list one morning, and my eye was caught by his address of Blenheim Palace, which we don't see too often. The case went nowhere because he was on bail to so many different courts that the cases were consolidated and adjourned, and I thereafter lost touch.

Well good luck to the latest Duke.

Just mind how you go, your Grace.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Depressing But True

This piece in the Law Gazette  (the solicitors' trade paper) rings a lot of bells. I have often commented on the tendency of politicians who reach the Home Office to lose touch with reason and become bloodthirsty and populist fans of Laura Norder. Some people had hopes that a Lib Dem presence at the ministerial table might moderate the excesses of the unlovely procession of Home Secs. that included Howard, Reid, Smith, Blunkett and Straw. Straw was a particular disappointment to me as he led the National Union of Students when I was an undergrad, but veered off to the right once in power. I even voted for the bugger in 1968.

The virtual disappearance of legal aid has hit and will hit ordinary people who simply cannot cope with the complexities of the law. Someone once criticised politicians who could not use the word 'liberty' without prefacing it with the word 'diabolical'. I agree.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


As I came back from lunch today, I came across the bench from Court 6, on their way back into court. The chairman is not specially experienced, but very bright and capable.

"Have a good afternoon" I wished, "I don't think so" she replied. "We've got the Freemen on the Land in."

These nutters are no threat to a court with a determined and experienced chairman and a solid clerk.

I hope that my colleague was happy with how things went.

You Can Lead A Horse To Water......

I have previously written about the increasing practice of disqualifying people from driving in their absence. This commonly happens when people tot up twelve penalty points, but do not attend the court, for whatever reason. The advice from our clerks is that we should proceed, but there is no hard and fast proof that the driver knows about his ban. Of course quite a few are playing the game, but quite a few are also unaware of the court's decision, because of the vagaries of the post (first class post is deemed to be good service as recorded delivery is too costly).

Today's defendant, a middle-class man of no previous convictions but with an unfortunately heavy right foot, insisted that he pleaded not guilty because he did not know that he had been disqualified. The duty solicitor, the prosecutor, and our legal adviser all told him that he did not have a defence in law, and that his claim amounted to no more than mitigation.

He was warned that a trial (in which he was likely to come a poor second) would involve about £600 in costs, whereas a guilty plea, in which he could put forward his mitigation would be £85.

I then went as far as I dared to give him a hint, saying "you have heard legal opinions from three experienced lawyers. We cannot advise you, but it seems to my colleagues and me that their advice is sensible and in your interests".

No dice. Trial listed.

You can lead a horse to water...........

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Another Odd Day

I sat yesterday at one of the outlying courts that now forms part of our amalgamated bench. The courthouse is pretty tatty, and only uses three of its four courtrooms - the whole place stays closed on Fridays.

We had two trials listed, one of them down as all-day, but we were not able to start either, due to the non-attendance of witnesses. The complainant/victim in a case of alleged DLT-style groping  at her place of work has gone to Scotland to live with her dad. We had the option of issuing a witness summons, but enforcing it in Scotland could be tricky (and expensive).

We then took a trial from another court, and the defendant was clearly a man with multiple problems, including mental issues ( a clue was the fact that in police interview an Appropriate Adult was called in).We acquitted him, and he flung himself to his knees in the well of the court, with his hands in a position of prayer. He seemed to have every intention of staying there a while, so we retired, leaving his counsel to persuade him that he ought to go outside.