Thursday, May 28, 2015


I was due to sit yesterday, as chairman of a GAP court. Yes, it's new to me too, but it stands for Guilty Anticipated Plea, which gives the court and the CPS an opportunity to allocate the proper resources without wasting too many people's time.

I was unavoidably delayed on my way to court, and since we had a full list of cases, it was decided to carry on with one of my wingers in the chair until I could arrive.

Turning up late is never easy - just popping your head round the door with a cry of "hi, guys" isn't right, so I despatched someone to warn the legal adviser that I was there. So far, so fairly normal, and the bench retired to reconvene with yours truly in the middle chair.

The morning proceeded with its busy list of sentencing and allocation cases, and then we had a break while the new-fangled computerised displays proved too much for the CPS and the usher (to be fair their training was pretty sketchy).

My colleague K who had sat in  was greatly relieved to see me, but when I spoke to the other winger and the clerk, they both said that things had gone just fine, including a couple of tricky cases. So over coffee I gently asked her why she had never put her name forward as a chairman. "Oh" she said "I have never had the confidence". Her 40 minute leap into the deep end has changed her mind, and she will now apply for chair training.

Twenty years ago it was practice, in a quiet (perhaps traffic) court to put a winger in the chair straight after lunch with no warning, thus giving them no time to become nervous. Rules now forbid that, but that was probably a retrograde step.

I have informed the Justices' Clerk that there is a potential chair taker among us, so it is now out of my hands.  I wish her well.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Raving Mad

I have just received an email from the Thames Valley Constabulary asking me to keep a good eye out for illegal raves over the Bank Holiday. Various pointers to rave-type activity are listed, and I am urged to tip off the Old Bill if anything happens in my locality.

But hang on a minute - of course raves are a Very Bad Thing at which people, most of them decades younger than I, listen to loud (and to my ears discordant) music, drink copious amounts of alcohol, smoke dubious cigarettes, and indulge in enthusiastic carnal activities. Of course, I would not want them at the bottom of my garden, and I pity householders who are subjected to a couple of sleepless nights, but really, is that the worst that the police have to worry about?

Throughout the years, nothing has enraged the comfortable middle-aged more than the fear that somewhere young people are having fun.

Shakespeare called it 'wronging the ancientry' and Milton spoke of the 'sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine' .

Relax, folks , it will all be over well before Wednesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Banged Up

When I was sworn in in the mid 1980s there were something like 40,000 people in prison. Today there are about 85,000, so it must be worthwhile to think about how and why this has happened.

Here is an article by an ex-MP who has done time and in common with other well-known ex-cons has decided to pass on what he has learned.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Telling It Straight

I never thought that I would say this, but I was impressed when I stumbled across Teresa May's speech to the Police federation today, on live radio, and I was struck by the way in which she reminded the assembled Federation members of their track record of  alarmist claims that they trot out every time that they have a Home Secretary on their platform.

Report Here

Because the police are a disciplined force with a strong rank structure, some of them find it impossible to resist the temptation to yah-boo very senior people from the comfort of anonymity at their conference.  Well, as Ms. May said, it does them no credit.

As a part of the public service that is unprotected from present and future cuts, the police share with the courts and the prisons the prospect of things getting tighter still. We shall have to make the best of it, but constructively, so that when we point out areas where cuts have gone too far and have damaged justice, we can be taken seriously.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Top Tip (one of a series)

If you decide to take up burgling people's houses as a lifestyle choice, you will someday need to find a way of disposing of your loot. Cash is simple, but other stuff can be difficult. Things are so cheap these days that a telly that would have fetched £100 in the pub ten years ago can now  be bought for that on the Internet.

There is always Cash Converters, a 21st century pawnbrokers-cum-money shop that is run on spotless lines, that would have appealed to Fagin.

The chap we saw today was a regular client of  CashConverters, which is where he disposed of much of his stuff. The firm takes the precaution of requiring ID from its downmarket client base, and in addition takes a full face photograph of each of them, as well as snaps of the pledged valuables.

So the stolen stuff was traced to our man, and his mugshot matched the police database. Hardly Sherlock Holmes is it?

Crime Punishment and Rehabilitation

I spent most of this morning dealing with people who had breached various community orders. Some were easy - a young man whose attitude problem  makes him an impossible 'client' for Probation (or whatever it is called these days).He was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work and had managed to do two of them. We revoked his order, resentenced him to a suspended prison sentence and explained exactly what that means.

I spoke directly to him and pointed out that the courtroom has two exit doors: one leading to the lobby and the High Street , and the other to the cells. I explained slowly and directly that it was his choice as to which door he leaves by on any future appearance.

Then we saw a painfully thin and hunched woman of forty-something who looked at least ten years older, who had been brought low by her alcohol addiction.  We decided to cancel the existing order, and replace it with supervision with mandatory alcohol treatment.She was accompanied by her teenage daughter, whom I praised for her devotion to her mother's illnesses, and asked to remind her mum of her probation appointments.  Encouragingly, she and her mother thanked us as they left.

Fingers crossed, as ever.

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Face

So Michael Gove has been handed the Justice portfolio in succession to the unloved Chris Grayling. I wish him well and I shall reserve my judgment until he has started on the many tasks that face him. He is, by all accounts highly intelligent; I just hope that he can find the subtlety and balance that the job will require.

This article by the excellent Joshua Rozenberg sets the Human Rights issue into context. The HRA has never impinged on any decision that I have been called upon to make (although every magistrate had to do a day or two's training on the Act). The HRA has caused fury in the offices of the Daily Mail and its fellow right wing papers as well as among the unreconstructed Right of the Parliamentary Tories. I see the abolition as a bone thrown to these slavering hounds - I cannot in truth see that its abolition will be of more than symbolic importance. More urgent, in my view, is to do something about Grayling's bullying and callous legacy of court charges before the unpaid imposts get out of hand.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Nothing to See Here Folks, Move Along Please

Today's election results justify, for once, the journalistic hyperbole about them. 'Historic' Astounding' and suchlike are appropriate.

We wait with bated breath to hear who will be the Justice ministers. The Government's avowed overriding priority of dealing with the deficit will of course impose stringency on the finances of the justice system; so far, so inevitable, but I cross my fingers in hope that the medium-level ministers involved will not see the price of everything while knowing the value of nothing.

Justice is difficult to define, but awkward to support from day to day, but it remains true that to allow injustice as a consequence of financial stringency is a outrage.

Let's give things a few months and see what happens.

Monday, May 04, 2015

No Visible Means of Support

I spent this morning in what used to be called an 'occasional court', it being a Bank Holiday. Quite a few of our dozen or so cases resulted from the police clearing out their in-tray of arrest warrants for such things as breaching community penalties or failing to surrender to bail; a Bank Holiday being a perfect opportunity to dig a few PCs out of the canteen, at a time when the cells were unlikely to be too busy.

One character came into the dock with his hands firmly in his pockets. I heard the Serco guard mutter for him to take them out, and so he did, at which point his trousers fell down to his knees. The bench then invited him to keep his hands in his pockets, and thus preserve his decency.

On to more serious matters including an allegation of rape, in which the duty solicitor had a brave try at applying for bail, but the man's previous convictions for indecent assault on a minor and for exposing what used to be called his 'person' but is now called his genitals did for him and we sent him to the Crown Court in custody.

His mother and sister were in the gallery, wearing that look of shock and disbelief that is so common when a decent family has to see a member hauled before a court

Sunday, May 03, 2015


My little heart went pitter-patter this morning on my daily trawl through the press.

Apparently Chris Grayling might hang on to his seat, but is unlikely to hang on to his job.

I am not a vindictive man, but the sheer callousness of so many of his measures makes me yearn to see the back of him .