Friday, October 02, 2015

Compassion? What's That?

This is the disturbing tale of an experienced magistrate whose sympathy for a down-and-out defendant got him into hot water.

The report speaks for itself, I can see the logic behind the official response, but it seems to have been a little heavy-handed.

I am reminded of a case well over a decade ago when a poor deserted woman was prosecuted for a car-related offence that was basically down to her ratbag boyfriend. Nevertheless, the bench was obliged to impose a fine and costs, totalling, as was the case in those days, about £40. One magistrate, who had better remain nameless, found this preying on his mind, and at the lunch break sought out a respected probation officer and asked her, on conditions of total secrecy, to take the cash to the court office, describing it as an anonymous  donation from a well-wisher. As far as I an aware, that was the end of it, Probation officers can be trusted to keep their mouths shut, and that avoided the flat feet of the authorities getting involved.


  1. Having read the previous post where Michael Gove is righting the wrongs of his predecessor, I would have expected a more 21st century reaction to this act of kindness. However, Reading the last paragraph of the article, it seems the justice system is still firmly anchored in the Victorian era.

  2. The fact remains that Lord Chancellor Gove has yet to demonstrate any interest (let alone respect) in the operation of the Magistrates Courts, their staff, the JPs, and the mandatory iniquities. It's just that it makes him a few bob.

  3. I am sorry, however if you wish to be a Magistrate you must implement the law and keep your feelings to yourself or resign, The approach taken by your nameless Magistrate a decade ago would seem to be the appropriate one.

    1. Danger: walking algorithm on the loose.

    2. Sorry, which law establishes the CCC ? If it is a regulation or a guidance, then that is subject to judicial interpretation.

  4. Surely as an 'experienced' JP he could simply have noted address details from the court list and sent his money anonymously knowing full well the current MoJ attitudes......... If he disagrees so strongly with the CCC then fighting from within the system should have more effect than from without.........

    1. How do you suggest that he fights from 'within' the system, exactly?

      (I speak as someone within that system).

  5. I was going to post a balanced argument about the court's powers to remit the charge in the future if reasonable steps are taken to pay it and no further offending takes place. But having read the final sentence of the linked article above, I shan't waste my time.

  6. Magistrates are supposed to be decent citizens. There can be nothing wrong with a magistrate imposing a fine according to the law - however unjust it is - and then offering, as a citizen, to pay (part of) it himself. The two actions are entirely independent of each other, even if they are performed by the same person. Criticizing the law cannot be punishable, treasonable or grounds for calling someone's loyalty into question, to do so would be to invite tyranny. The law comes from the people, believe it or not, even if it does come slowly. Then again, that's all that one reads in the Daily Mail, many of whose readers have no idea whatsoever of the development of our law.

    Wanna deride me as an idealist? Go ahead, as I am. I work in an organisation where there is no law and we are in effect subject to unfettered tyranny. I don't recommend it, which is why I publish comments anonymously. Value what you have, and those courageous enough to defend it publicly.

    1. A strange and irrelevant comment about the Daily Mail - a bit of a non-sequitur really. You were doing so well until then. That paper has carried out many campaigns against injustice its time, many of them about unfair treatment of citizens by the police and the criminal justice system.

      AAhhh! That's what you don't like about the paper is it?

    2. Read it again Ginnity. You are pretty close.

    3. Anonymous 4 October 2015 here again.

      I've no mind to make an issue, but let me explain a bit. The magistrate in question was somewhat pilloried by the DM and its illustrious readers, which prompted me to make the comment. Without giving too much away, I grew up in a newspaper shop in a decidedly down-at-heel area of a large city, which gave me a fairly comprehensive insight into newspapers, the people who read them, and what those people think. A good many of our customers were, in today's parlance, Frequent Flyers at the local courts.

      It's very obvious to me that many people, though they claim to know their rights and other people's obligations, are overwhelmingly ignorant of them, disinterested in finding out, and consequently base all too much of their knowledge and opinion on screaming headlines. Hence my Daily Mail quip - people shouting about things they really have no knowledge of. For balance, in those wonder-working days of old, many workers at the local factories would take the Daily Mirror, and occasionally the Morning Star, and would think of nothing other than voting Labour - but sex equality, race equality, anti-nuclear stances etc certainly formed no part of these people's political make-up.

      Add to that many years of studying law, even though my legal field could hardly be further from what goes on in a magistrate's court (no, I'm not a Magic Circle banking lawyer) gives me, similar to many commenters on this blog, a certain perspective on the legal views and knowledge of the man on the Clapham omnibus - usually one of despair at how sadly ignorant they are, to the detriment of almost everyone. And a profound sense of anger at organs such as the Daily Mail, which so comprehensively misrepresents law in all its forms to suit its increasingly authoritarian agenda. And don't worry - in another guise I regularly pillory the Guardian for its anti-business and often economically illiterate rantings as well. Behaviour which once got me accused of being a Liberal Democrat! Perhaps I should have become a sociologist.

      But enough ...

    4. To anonymous at 4 October 16:41/7 October 20:50

      Some examples of why I take the Mail more seriously than you:

      I can give at least one example of a Mail story you probably wouldn't have believed if you'd read it, but which I have reason to believe was true:

      About 5 years ago, the Mail ran a story about how "travellers" set up camp on a farm owned by a brother and sister. The sister, a woman in her late 50s, came across a group of them while they were stealing timber and other stuff. She asked them to stop and leave but they just laughed, exposed themselves and threatened to kill her.

      The police were called who came and spoke to the travellers. The police told the farmers there was nothing they could do and they should leave the travellers alone. They seemed sympathetic to the travellers and vaguely hostile to the farmers. They did nothing about the death threats or the obscene exposures.

      The next day the police returned to the farm, with a fairly senior officer, and demanded that the brother and sister surrender their legally held shotguns. They went into their home and threatened to rip the gun cabinet off the wall if they didn't unlock it themselves. The shotguns were all legally held, with licences and everything, but that didn't matter to those police and that senior officer.

      This was all reported in the Daily Mail, and many people said it was just the usual Daily Mail stuff they'd made up, or "spun", including police officers on the Inspector Gadget forum.

      Well, that farm is very close to where I live. I spoke to a local councillor who had been with those farmers while most of this was going on. That councillor told me that the story, as reported in the Mail, had correctly reported the spirit and facts of what happened.

      About 10 years ago, the Mail ran the story of an undercover investigation by Harriet Sergeant of the treatment of the elderly on NHS wards. They were being left unattended in agony, thirsty and being allowed to go hungry. The investigation covered articles over the best part of a week. The stories were truly shocking but it was fantastic journalism

      By the way, I searched the print and online editions of the Guardian to see whether they would follow up the story. Guess what? Not a peep from them and total radio silence from the BBC. But I'm not surprised, the story was only in the hated Mail after all wasn't it and they felt free to ignore it. Well, we were in the middle of the New Labour years and any criticism of the beloved NHS from the Mail wasn't going to get very far with those two organs.

      The Harriet Sergeant campaign was a few years after I'd watched the way my dying mother was treated to a mixture of incompetence, callousness, neglect and indifference, in an NHS hospital. So I knew her articles were telling the truth. If my mother hadn't had myself and my sisters sitting at her side, she would have experienced the same as the people in those Mail articles.

      (3) The Mail has been running a campaign against the detention without trial that the US is doing in Guantanamo bay. They have written about it this year, a bit appropriate in 2015 don't you think? But what a strange thing for a supposed rightwing hate-rag to get exercised about?

      Anyway, they report several stories which I think deserve an airing, which other papers don't report, so I think more of that paper than you do. But let's leave it at that.

      To anonymous at 6 Oct 20:29
      Your post is so ambiguous and poorly worded that I don't know what you're blethering about. Read what again? Close to what?

      Don't bother replying because, from the rude tone of your post, I suspect I won't care.

    5. You're quite right...I honestly wouldn't wipe my rear end on that paper, for fear that I might put on more than I wiped off

  7. A warning issued by a large Magistrates' Court states:

    Regardless how we, as magistrates, may disagree with the Criminal Courts Charge, we cannot try to mitigate it by reducing/waiving prosecution costs.The CCC should be ‘parked’ while benches consider the level of fine and costs in the usual way and then add it to the total. LAs should be advising benches not to use their discretion with court costs to mitigate against the CCC.We have no discretion in relation to the CCC and benches are obliged to impose it without mitigating fines or prosecution costs. Magistrates’ failure to do so risks placing them in breach of their Declaration and Undertaking.

    1. Please also equip yourselves with rubber stamps, at your own cost, from the DoJ website, c/o Lord Chancellor Gove, Whitehall, London.

    2. Meaning what exactly?

      Magistrates apply the law as they find it, not as they would wish it to be. It's not a question of rubber stamping. It's the law and magistrates are expected to apply it. Is there something wrong with that principle or would you prefer a system that allows magistrates to cherry pick which laws they apply?

    3. Is my logic flawed here, but following the report by OrbiterJ:

      (1) You must impose the CCC, with a cost of £XXX
      (2) You must impose (where it is the chosen sentence) a fine which is means based of £YYY calculated from the guidelines
      (3) A victim surcharge is calculated from (2)
      (4) You should award costs which take into account the offender's ability to pay - now it must follow that 1+2+3 have an impact on the ability to pay?

      That is the opposite logic from OrbiterJ's conclusion but it is surely the only possible logical conclusion? Its not mitigation of costs - its simply that in some/many cases the means to pay will be distorted by other outgoings that now apply.

      Also how many disgruntled JPs are awarding the CCC and telling the accused that if it remains unpaid after 2 yrs they can ask the court to remit it? I realise that is a slight distortion, but I have to say when a fine/compensation and costs are being collected at £5/wk I would be tempted to point out the option to ask the court to remit it for any case where the total costs are > £520... (ie. 2 yrs at 5/wk).

  8. Anonymous at 02.51 You have got that the wrong way round. The Court Charge comes at the end of the sentencing exercise.
    The Act does not allow the court any discretion regarding whether or not to impose the charge or the amount to impose. Section 21A(4) also prevents the court from taking the charge into account when it decides on an appropriate sentence.

  9. This activity has a long and honourable history.

    Sir Arthur Grimble reported that when he was appointed Commissioner in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the 1920s, he was required to fine a prisoner who had broken out of his cell during a hurricane to undertake a rescue of some shipwrecked sailors who were wrecked on racks adjacent to the jail.

    Sir Arthur administered the fine, then called the man back and presented him with cash to the value of the fine, calling it a reward for saving life at sea.

    He later commented wryly that the fine, of course, went into government coffers, while the reward came out of his own, taxed, pay...


Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.