Monday, December 29, 2014

So That Wraps It Up For 2014 Then

After a late night visit to Heathrow to see my son off on his 5,500 mile flight home, I was on the rota to sit today. We only used three of our five courtrooms , all of which were dealing with overnight custody cases and suchlike, no trials being listed. We sat a bench of two in Court One, and I was pleased to find that my colleague was a sensible and well-liked lady, and that we were clerked by a very experienced and senior legal adviser in whom I have total confidence.

The list was the usual holiday-time mix of domestic violence, shoplifting (usually to buy drugs) and suchlike. There was one case of prostitution (like most others today, the Romanian lady in the dock pleaded guilty) and a couple of referrals from our resident mental health worker. One of her customers was assertively flaky, full of demands to know this and that, despite having rejected free legal advice.

The new electronic system of shifting documents from the police to the CPS, to the court appears to be creaking,  causing a lot of delays. The freezing temperature in the court did not improve our patience either.

We had to allow a couple of breathers for lawyers to look up the ins-and-outs of some newish law. Then it was away by about 4.15.

I must have upset someone, because I am also on the rota for New Year's Day. Ho-Hum. That's another  year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Back to the Important Stuff

Things may quieten down round here for the next little while. I shall be off to join my family on Christmas Eve in a small village on Exmoor. Although my daughter and her husband are both lawyers, we hope to avoid any legal talk, but rather to enjoy the views, and the company of both of my children and my delightful granddaughters.

Thanks for putting up with my views this year. I am days away from the tenth anniversary of the blog and I shall thank my son (who has travelled nearly six thousand miles to be with us, and has to go all the way back next week).for giving me the original idea. The old stuff is still on the Law West of Ealing Broadway but the comments were lost in the changeover from the old comment software. It caused a furore at the time, even getting a Page 3 story in The Times. We have had the best part of four million hits since then, and I have survived the disapproval of a Very Senior Judge. I am now within a couple of years of enforced retirement, so I hope that I am now not worth powder and shot to the top brass.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gas Bills

There will be a few MoJ apparatchiks who do not sleep all that well for the next week or two.

When setting the rates for JPS' travel expenses, the amounts were traditionally adjusted each year, usually with reference to the price of petrol, When petrol shot up  a few years ago, the MoJ rate remained stubbornly fixed. Finally, new costs forced the mileage rate for a 1600cc car up to  its present 58p per mile , which is on the high side these days. But if the MoJ wants to lower the rate in response to the oil glut, it will have trouble refusing to do the converse when the market moves, as it one day will.

Fair and Square?

Some papers (inevitably including the Mail) have rushed to criticise the lawyers who represented people who claimed to have been brutalised by British troops.

There is a gulf of understanding between the public and the legal profession. One of the questions that any defence brief  will hear regularly is "how can you defend paedophiles, or rapists, or whatever is tabloid monster of the month?"

Of course the answer is that anyone, however heinous his crime, is entitled to have his defence put professionally and thoroughly. I am often asked what crimes anger or upset me personally, and I always answer that emotion has no part to play in my job, and that my colleagues and I must consider the evidence solely on its merits.

In some countries, especially dictatorships, being a defence lawyer carries risks. In many cases those risks can involve physical harm. Compared to that, a slagging off in the Mail is small stuff, but the principle is the same.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stat.Dec.- Stacked Deck

I have mentioned the Statutory Declaration before. It is a useful hangover from an 1835 Act that allows someone to promise that they have told the truth in a document without all the fuss of getting an Affidavit.
These days, if you go to your local courthouse (if there is one) and ask to do a Stat. Dec,. there is, I think, a fee of £25.
An old friend rang me the other day, to ask my help because his 22 year-old daughter had incurred a minor traffic penalty, but had moved house three times, as the young do, in the next couple of months. She is being pursued for the money, along with substantial added costs. Helpfully, those pursuing her had sent a draft Stat. Dec. along with an application to file the same out of time. All that she had to do was make the declaration before me, listen to my solemn warning about the consequences of perjury, and sign the papers.
The procedure is a routine one, that every magistrate will be familiar with.

In conversation, once the job was done, the young lady told me that she had found the matter distressing, particularly when she attended the local court, some five miles from home, to be told that they could not do it, and to be directed to the main court in the county, some fifty miles away despite that fact that there must have been at least a few JPs in the building at the time.

Now the whole point of having local JPs such as me is that our neighbours should know who we are and be able to approach us on small matters such as this. The stiff-necked HMCTS bureaucracy were entirely uninterested in this young woman's  problem.

At least the buggers didn't get their £25.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Bit of New Law

Last week's sitting saw a couple of novel bits of law. The first was an application for a Domestic Violence Prevention Order. The application has to be approved by at least a Superintendent then put before the court as a civil matter. We have to be satisfied that the respondent has either assaulted the person concerned or is likely to do so. The Order includes ejecting the respondent from the home, so it is pretty draconian.
The police files were meticulously prepared, running to a couple of hundred pages of A4. The Order can be no longer than 28 days, presumably to buy time while a County Court order can be sought.  

The other thing that was new to me was a pilot to fit alcohol abusers with a tag that detects via a transcutaneous sender whether there is alcohol in the blood. This makes it practical to impose an order to abstain from alcohol - that might prove to be very useful.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Routine Doesn't Have To Mean Dull

When I find myself allocated to the non-CPS court my heart sometimes sinks, because that is where we deal with the odds-and-sods cases that are privately prosecuted. That can include TV licensing, Local Authority summonses, fishing licences and suchlike. The cases can be low-level, but that doesn't mean that they have a low impact on the people summonsed. When a truly poor person comes in, summonsed for having no TV licence dropping litter or whatever, the potential penalty can easily run into hundreds of pounds, which is a fortune to someone scraping by on benefits.
Turning, as we must, to our Guidelines, we find that for someone who doesn't tell us their income we must presume they are getting £400 per week. Apply that to the usual fine scales, and for no TV licence we are imposing fines of several hundred pounds, plus costs of a couple of hundred more, plus the iniquitous surcharge, and the bill can rocket to £400 and more. We solemnly make a Collection Order, but I can tell you a secret - most of these impositions will never be paid.

We had a shabby looking couple last week, who were summonsed for failing to send their two kids to school. They stood in court holding hands, her eyes cast down,while she quietly sobbed and he stood looking at us in a bovine and uncomprehending way. I thought that this was a clear case for the social services rather than the justice system, but of course kids must go to school.

I am just not convinced that this is the best way to make them.