Saturday, January 31, 2015

It’s not all about guilty or not guilty.(by Bystander N)

One day last week my courthouse played host to a group of youngsters from a primary school in our justice area, under the auspices of MiC.  Magistrates in the Community gives magistrates a chance to volunteer to talk to groups of school kids, university students or adults, about the court system either at the court or outside court.

First the group went into a court room before the start of business; whilst two magistrates explained generally what happens in court, about the offences dealt with etc. etc.  Witness Support came and spoke for a few minutes about how evidence is given by young people and the measures taken to help them to prepare for giving their evidence, and about screens and video link.  They saw the cells and a prison van thanks to the Serco staff who went out of their way to be helpful and spoke to the group about some of their work.  I’m pleased to report the kids definitely had no wish ever to see a cell or the inside of a van again.

Then it was into a court room’s public gallery.  Unfortunately they then spent quite some time listening to a case management form being completed which was hardly the lively cut and thrust they might have wanted to hear but we were in the real world.

Finally there was a question and answer session.  It was amazing how much of the detail they had picked up during the case management and of the bail conditions so they were clearly listening intently.  They asked a lot of very sensible questions.  They knew about several offences but it came as surprise that if they decided to stop going to school and play truant every day, their parents could face prosecution. 

All in all a very well worthwhile morning’s work and the future suddenly seems a little safer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Not Always Exciting, This Job...

Today was a stultifyingly boring sitting at one of our outlying courthouses. We dealt with a couple of routine applications (that are of course important to the applicants) and moved on, after a good 20 minutes' coffee time, to a trial. Well, that was the plan, anyway. The CPS were not sure about how far the case had got and the court office was not too sure either. We hung around, as one does, and went to lunch.

My day then brightened up, because I was accompanied to the outlying courthouse by one of my favourite colleagues , a charming and amusing former teacher, who spotted the fact that the west London traffic had prevented me from buying a pre-packed sandwich en route. Bless her, she bought me a Greggs chicken-and-something sarnie and, as ever, refused to take a penny for it.

Back to the court: the prosecutor had a soft and even-toned voice that would lull  anyone to sleep ( in fact the usher did nod off) .

So we followed first principles and acquitted the defendant, following our guidelines to the letter

Heigh-ho, we can have another go in a week or three.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tempora Mutantur...

This article gives a professional's view on our courts today.

Swearing Stuff

It is reported today that pressure is being applied to the Duke of York to make a statement about allegations of sexual misbehaviour that have been made against him. Interestingly the statement 'should be on oath'.

In today's resolutely secular Britain a vanishingly small percentage of people would feel that their chance of going to heaven might hang on whether or not they lied on oath. These days I would guess that around half of witnesses choose to affirm rather than take a religious oath.

Anyone who has spent much time in a Magistrates' Court will be well aware of the blithe way in which many people who have sworn to tell the truth go ahead to lie through their teeth.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Prince Andrew has denied press allegations that he has had sex with an under-age girl .

Where is Mandy Rice-Davies when we need her?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

No Praise For Appraisal

The Law Gazette carries this piece about the quality of magistrates' training.

It's a complex subject, because furnished as we are with  a qualified barrister or solicitor as legal adviser, we only need to know the basic principles of law and procedure. Appraisals take place every three years (my next one is in February) and are carried out by an approved fellow magistrate. Unfortunately, the legal adviser was removed from the process some years ago, to save money.

Appraisals must be frank and honest, not always an easy task when the subject is someone you have known for a decade.

As for routine training, it has withered over the years, and only a token amount takes place, usually on new appointees and new chairmen. There ought to be more, and the appraisals should be tougher, but it's the money, you see,

Monday, January 05, 2015

Here We Go Again

One of my most cherished possessions is a leather diary cover that I was given when I was sworn in in (ahem) 1985. It bears, in faded gold embossing, the legend "Justices' Year Book" and the proud arms of the ancient county of Middlesex. It remains in daily use.

I was appointed to the Commission of the Peace for Middlesex and at the swearing-in at the then newly-built Southwark Crown Court we were shown the Commission itself, sumptuously lettered on vellum, and assured that this was the document, signed by Elizabeth R and sealed with wax, from which we were to draw our authority to deal with the scoundrels and ruffians (I paraphrase) of Her Majesty's county of Middlesex.

I have the diary before me, and for the last ten years and more I have had to buy my own refill (best part of a tenner with postage). In earlier times we were given a diary insert ( a sad, cheapo thing) and a directory of our bench colleagues. That went too, in a panic about confidentiality.

So I opened the diary today and entered my allocated sittings, along with the usual family reminders,

So what will the year hold? I have a bad feeling about the inevitable May election. If the recent opening shots in the campaign are any guide the level of argument is likely to descend to sloganising at best.

Mercifully, no party seems so far to have lit upon the criminal justice system as grist to the populist mill. Cross your fingers, friends, and let us hope if not for the best but for the least worst.

Happy New Year.