Monday, December 26, 2016

In The Nick

Prisons are in the news again, following recent outbreaks of disorder. This is an excellent piece from the Telegraph

I have been to Hollesley Bay a couple of times; it had a completely different culture from closed prisons such as the Scrubs, with a target of getting inmates ready for work on release.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Supreme Chicken?

The Supreme Court is now considering a crucial case that will clarify the power of the judiciary vis a vis that of Parliament. Many of the country's finest legal minds will focus on this matter, and a verdict will be handed down. In the long tradition of European matters dividing our nation, some unscrupulous parties are attempting to discredit the Courts, in particular by focusing on individual judges and any perceived bias they may have. This is an appalling piece of vandalism, the worst offender being the Daily Mail. Recently that paper has given space to the risible Ian Duncan Smith, a failed Tory leader.  IDS' opinion reminds us how lucky we were to be spared his presence in Downing Street.

He repeats the now-customary jibe that judges are unelected. Of course they are, but then so are brain surgeons and airline captains, and we expect and receive a professional and disciplined service from them. Electing judges would fatally damage the public's confidence in the judiciary's utter impartiality.

We are blessed with a judiciary that is incorruptible, and that is why many foreign litigants choose to have their cases heard in London.

All judges and magistrates take the same judicial oath:-

 “I, _________ , do swear by Almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second in the office of ________ , and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”

That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Out of The Ordinary

The right-wing fanatic who is accused of the murder of Jo Cox MP has opted not to give evidence nor to call any witnesses in his defence. The jury will be directed by the judge as to how to deal with this.

He is of course perfectly entitled to remain silent, just as the jury is perfectly entitled to draw the inferences that it finds proper from his decision. In times past courts sometimes had to decide whether the accused was 'mute of Malice' or 'mute by Visitation of God'.

This is a situation that I have only faced a few times in court. We gravely retired to consider, and I took the bench carefully through the decision making process as if we were assessing a real defence. We then took great care to prepare our reasons for our blindingly obvious decision, reading them out slowly and carefully before handing them down to the Clerk for the file. It all felt a bit unreal, but it is in odd cases such as these that everything has to be done just so.

Guilty it was then, to no one's great surprise.

Joined Up?

According to the news on my radio today there are calls to make the wearing of military decorations that have not been legitimately earned punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine. Of course we must treat our old soldiers with dignity and respect their awards, but is this really a sensible use of the scarce and costly prison system?

Since I joined the Bench in 1985 the prison population has soared to its current 85,000 or so. Posing as a decorated old soldier is more sad than evil, and there is no tangible victim involved. Expose the perpetrators in their local paper for the pathetic poseurs that they are, but prison? No.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I am afraid that my mind has slipped off matters legal today, since my new granddaughter Martina was born at 1am GMT  today, in Bogota, Colombia. Congratulations to parents Matthew and Tata.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Fancy Having A Go?

The MoJ's planning for recruitment to the bench is no better than their usual planning, unfortunately. When I was sworn in in 1985 I became one of about 29,000 JPs in England and Wales; today the Bench is more like 19,000 strong, the drop being largely due to the increase in out-of-court disposals such as fixed penalties and cautions. In the meantime numbers have gone up and down, and during the years of amalgamating benches just over five years ago there was a virtual freeze on recruitment for some time. Now the system is struggling to recruit enough JPs to do the job. Nowadays, the biggest obstacle is the reluctance of many employers to allow JP employees time off. This even applies to public services such as the fire brigade, who used to be known for being relatively generous with time off for public service, but are now more niggardly.

I shall not fill the blog with the minutiae of how to apply, because the website  (  is very good, but I can say that if you are even slightly interested in the justice system you should consider applying. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and your chances are probably better than you would expect

Monday, November 07, 2016

Senior Wig Writes

I have just had a letter on lovely thick straw-coloured letterhead from the Royal Courts of Justice in which a Rt.Hon.Lord Justice thanks me for my 31 years' service on the bench. 

That's nice, and I shall pass it on to my granddaughters in due course. Both of their parents are solicitors. My impending third grandchild will have two journalists as parents, so that's nice too.

Name Drop

The current Press coverage that has featured Lord Chief Justice Thomas reminds me that I met him a few times, and heard him speak on several occasions. A rubicund Welshman with tufts of silver hair, he came to my court during the formative phase of HM Courts' Service. and was always full of accurately targeted questions.

As part of the process of setting up HMCS I attended a large meeting at the QE2 Centre in Westminster, representing benches in my part of London. Thomas was part of the platform panel, and I shall never forget his reaction when an HMCS Regional Director got to his feet and asked why, given his responsibilities, he could not be a member of the local Justices' Issues Group (as I was). Thomas delivered a devastating reply, which touched on the independence of the judiciary and the need for the new Courts' Service to get on with its job, rather than interfering in judicial matters. We all sat there spellbound, never having seen such a demolition of a public servant. Thomas' immaculately reasoned speech ended with him steepling his fingers, his elbows on the table, and stating with finality: "and furthermore, I shall not permit it."

We all breathed in again, but it wasn't over. The unfortunate RD still had the hand held microphone, and he got back to his feet as we all cringed, thinking "stop digging" but he raised the mike and said "Thank you". He looked squarely at the platform and said "I'll take that as a 'no' then" He brought the house down.

I mused in the train on the way home about His Lordship. As a schoolboy he must have developed a pretty robust style, having been given the name of 'John Thomas'.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

So its Goodnight From Him

A colleague, who has sometimes posted here as Bystander N, has sent me the following, asking me to put it on the blog. It is gratifying, and I hope that it is true.

  • Tomorrow is a particularly sad day for my bench. I know Bystander and he had no idea I was going to
    write this short piece. Tomorrow he will be officially “past it”, though of course in reality nothing like
    past it and he is as sharp as they come.
    Both here on this blog and in our retiring rooms we will miss his kindness, warmth, immense
    knowledge, sense of fair play, sense of humour and seemingly endless stream of amusing court
    I have not always agreed with him on bail and sentence decisions but that’s the way the system
    works. I have learned a great deal from him and I am really sorry he will not be amongst us any
    longer. I have heard him say that he thinks he saw the best of the bench many years ago. He may
    be right but I’m still sure, even if he will not miss all of it, he will miss most of it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Money, Money, Money (or private affluence and public squalor)

I sat in my crumbling courthouse a couple of months ago, having edged past the permanently-stuck gate on the justices' car park, and made my way up the nearly-new lift to the assembly room. It is a handsome room, built in 1907 but has sadly not seen a lick of paint in the last decade-and-a-half and more.

Everywhere are signs of decay and neglect - but no matter. I understand the desperate need for the government to bring expenditure under control, even if that means denying resources to the public service that I have served unpaid these thirty years. There are still biscuits (amazingly) and most of the lights come on when you press a switch. There is some mysterious  kit that we think might be for use in the new all-electronic courthouse. It still bears the protective film that we see on expensive audio visual stuff to protect it on its long journey from a Chinese sweatshop.

I have recently received an email from setting out the tax that I paid in the last fiscal year setting out the tax that I paid (direct tax only, so forget the taxes on consumption such as liquor duties and Council Tax (fifty quid a week on my modest Thames Valley bungalow).

Much more interesting is the breakdown of where it went, revealing how little our fellow citizens know of what is done with the country's collective cash.

Not that much goes on the justice system.

And Another Thing.......

The TV news tonight interviewed various locals who oppose the proposed new runway at Heathrow, some of them in an emotional state. One lady said that she had lived in Harmondsworth for over twenty years - but the airport opened in 1946, since when anyone who cared to elevate their gaze might have deduced that there was an airport across the Bath Road.

Tasteless - Moi?

When the current third-runway project was in its first flush of 'yes we can, no we can't' I said something rather tactless to my then Bench Chairman. I grew up near Heathrow (although I knew it as London Airport, but we shall let that pass).

To a Hayes boy, who went to school in Uxbridge, the way to the airport on spotting days went through the unprepossessing suburbs of Sipson and West Drayton. The airport brought great prosperity to the area, but its hinterland remained grim.

My then Chairman lived in Sipson, in a house that had been purchased on generous terms by the airport people, but which stands (as it still does, but for how much longer I cannot say) and is at pretty much the exact point where the airliners' wheels will meet the tarmac, with that puff of blue smoke from the tyres. So in my rather thoughtless way I ventured the opinion that most of West Drayton and Sipson would be improved by a thick layer of ferro-concrete. He sniffed and walked away.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What's In A Name?

The House of Commons has just refused to allow pardons to men convicted decades ago of sex offences that are no longer illegal. The issue has stirred up the inevitable hornets' nest of Twitter and Press comments, and we are left with the illogical situation that those men (yes, all men) who have died will be pardoned but the living remain with a stain on their character.

I suspect that the furore is largely a matter of semantics; a 'pardon' has a defined legal meaning, but in common parlance it has different implications. If I offend someone, or tread on their toe in error, they my well pardon me for the wrong that I have done them, and that is that. However, a pardon for  a crime looks to the layman as if the offence was indeed committed , but the Queen will overlook it. That is not at all what the convicted men are looking for, but rather an apologetic wiping clean of the slate. Only the archaic concept of a  royal pardon looks to be possible in law, unless legislation can be changed.

Common compassion suggests that the huge shift in public attitudes to same-sex relationships should be reflected in the law. It is a small  matter in the great scheme of things, but means a great deal to the men affected. Parliament is rammed to the doors with lawyers: surely a couple of them could draft a swift form of words to clear up this relatively minor injustice? 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Something And Nothing

I sat today in a bench of two with a liked and respected colleague who is to retire in a couple of months when she reaches seventy (although you would never guess it)..Before the off, we fantasised about how bulletproof we felt, as disregarding the guidelines could at worst result in ejection from the bench that would take longer than we have left to sit.

We dealt mostly with breaches of community orders: the miscreants were mostly addled by drugs, and immune to letters or calls from probation. I was obliged, several times, to explain in plain language that it was the defendant's reponsibility to stay in touch with probation, rather than the other way round.

Our powers are limited in these cases, so I went home doubting that we had achieved very much.


My bench recently arranged its AGM at a nearby Crown Court, in accordance with the sensible policy of using HMCTS property assets whenever possible.

Unfortunately the IT that we use to display documents and suchlike proved to be incompatible with the Crown Court kit. Surprised? Me neither.


As some have noticed, I haven't put on too many posts of late, due mostly to my slightly dodgy health and to family commitments.. In addition I am weeks away from my enforced retirement as a JP when I hit 70 at the end of October.

I shall keep the blog going as long as people click on to it, and I shall take the chance to say a few things that might have got me into hot water as a magistrate. 

Stay tuned, and it might be worth your while. If not, at least it's free!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Glad This Wasn't Me!

A judge who was verbally abused by a defendant reciprocated at a court hearing where he was being sentenced for breaching an antisocial behaviour order.
John Hennigan, 50, who had breached the order by using racist language towards a black woman and her two children told Chelmsford crown court judge Patricia Lynch QC that she was “a bit of a cunt”. And Judge Lynch replied: “You are a bit of a cunt yourself.”
When Hennigan screamed back “Go fuck yourself”, the judge replied: “You too.” He reportedly also shouted “Sieg Heil” – a pro-Hitler chant used in Nazi Germany – and banged the glass panel of the dock as he was jailed for 18 months.
Hennigan, from Harlow, Essex, has dozens of previous convictions for offences including drug and firearm possession and common assault.
An asbo was previously imposed on him in 2005 when a swastika was discovered daubed on the front door of his council house.

I can understand the Judge's  reaction, but I have never used that word in court, other than in direct quotation from the evidence.

Perhaps a quiet word from the circuit presider might be in order here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Enough, Already!

This is not a political blog, although politics inevitably creep in to discussions of matters legal. I have followed politics since I was at school, although I was never elected to anything. The current situation beggars belief, and I imagine that today's crop of journalists will shake their heads in their old age, and say "but you should have been there in the summer of 2016; everything seemed to happen at once. " I am now even more convinced that my belief in the iron Law of Unintended consequences is the right one.

I have had to cut back on my sittings of late, as I am awaiting an operation to give me a new knee joint, and although I can get around in the courthouse it isn't always easy. As I am due to retire from the Bench in late October I have excused myself from getting to grips with some of the more complex innovations that have recently been introduced, such as iPads on the bench. I own a couple of iPads and I am comfortable with using them, but inevitably any government-issued software is over-engineered and the last thing from user-friendly.

My court has a few boxes that contain the iPads as well as charging them overnight, but those JPs who wish to use them have to submit to training as well as an elaborate procedure to keep them secure. It is worse for judges of course, but then they are paid £130k and more to cope.

Given my impending retirement, I cannot summon up the enthusiasm to get stuck in to this 21st century stuff  (albeit the technology is a decade old).

I am trying to avoid becoming what old Army types call demob-happy so I shall concentrate on justice before bureaucracy.

Sunday, July 03, 2016


This is a brief apology for the recent lack of postings on here. The first reason is that I have just had a visit from my son and his newly-pregnant wife who live thousands of miles away and the second is the absolutely amazing news agenda of the last couple of weeks. As one who has closely followed politics since my early teens, I have just been riveted by events. Oh yes, and I spent a couple of days in hospital being tended to by efficient and charming staff, most of whom were Polish.

I hope to return to something like normal this week, I see that the old idea of sitting courts in pubs and suchlike has resurfaced, so perhaps I'll have a look at that..

Friday, June 17, 2016

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi

In the aftermath of the appalling murder of an MP some commentators are looking at the occasionally poisonous comments made about politicians. The received wisdom of the public is that politicians are dishonest, but that is almost invariably a misreading. If MPs and others had to answer every question frankly, life would be impossible. Most of the usual questions would have to be answered with "I don't know" or "well, I hope that A happens but it might well be B for all I know." The Paxman figure would then rip the interviewee to shreds. So let's give them a break shall we?

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Change of Routine

Some of the most common trials to face JPs nowadays are the Section 172 cases that arise from the ubiquitous speed cameras. Some people (such as Christopher Huhne) simply lie about who was driving the speeding vehicle, and others claim not to know the ID of the driver, but the consequences of being caught can be nasty. These cases tend to be listed in just a few courts, which can be pretty tiresome for the bench members. As it happens these cases are a rarity in my court, so this week the S172 that appeared on my list was the first that I have ever done, in about 30 years on the bench. The evidence was pretty thin, and we acquitted. The clerk told us later that these cases often fail to stick.

They are a tidy source of revenue for the various loophole specialists in the legal profession, as many people will cough up a hefty sum to keep their driving licence.

Friday, June 03, 2016


A colleague whose court has jurisdiction over a major airport tells me that she has recently dealt with a case from 'Operation Jigsaw' the Met Police team that handles repatriated sex offenders.

She told me that a man with 120 and more convictions, many for sex offences, had served time in an antipodean prison, and had been put on a plane to the UK on his release. The magistrates made a highly restrictive order about his future conduct, and he was returned to police custody for the time being.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Auld Lang Syne

Reading of the planned closure of Southwark Crown Court took my mind back to the day when I was sworn in there as a JP. The court is situated on the South bank of the Thames, just by the moored HMS Belfast. In fact the ship fills the windows of the jury assembly room.

I shall retire from the bench later this year, but the swearing-in will be a lasting memory.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


This, from a respected colleague, speaks for itself:
I was in court three and one pleasant git shouted at a very pregnant prosecutor 'I hope that baby doesn't get born'.  She collapsed in floods of tears as he was taken out of the secure dock and into the cells.  He did come back and apologise but not before insulting his own nice lady rep (who then refused to act for him)!  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Crime And Punishment

For the last few weeks the media has given extensive coverage to the Hillsborough disaster. The release of the report saw emotionally charged interviews with the bereaved that were understandable, especially given the drama-soaked circumstances. It transpired, as so often happens, that some of those crying loudly for 'justice' had revenge in mind, and that led me to think about the justice that I help to administer. Seriousness and culpability come near the top of our list of things to consider, so let's take a cool-headed look at Hillsborough.
The police commander made an error of judgment in opening the gates to the terraces, a relatively low-level error but one that had devastating consequences. The response of he police and other services was inadequate, and many deaths resulted.
So what would be justice in this case, given the finality of all those corpses?

It appears that the police commander might be liable in law for negligence (although I am not at all qualified to comment on the legal aspects) but what good would it do to punish him?

The nearest parallel that I can think of is in the field of aviation safety. Pilots are able to report incidents fully and truthfully, without fear of being punished. This is by far the best way to build a body of experience to avoid future disasters.

However, and it is a massive however, there are suggestions that there  was a cover-up at all levels, including, incredibly, the methodical editing of police statements. That is what should attract condign punishment, rather than one man's catastrophic failure of judgement.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From Bystander T

From Bystander T ( a wise and experienced old beak)

Back in the day,  the Press would have someone sitting at the back of the court quite regularly.  Sometimes it was one of the old hands, looking for a warm place to rest; sometimes a junior, sent to cut their teeth, practising the art.  Rarely would a week go by with no reporter appearing in court.  In recent times reporters seem to appear only for celebrities or other high profile defendants. 

Then earlier this week, with a mixed list in the remand court, what do I see but two reporters sitting at the back.  Examining the list I see a rather nasty sexual assault case, on a girl of 16.  It is at the nastier end of the spectrum so is to be sent to ‘hizonner’ up the road.  That must the case which has attracted the hacks attention? 

But no.  On consulting she who must be obeyed (the usher) we discovered that the case they wanted to see was a traffic matter.  Some misguided youth was seen driving round with  a blue light, à la politzie and had been stopped.  It was his prosecution that brought back the reporters. 

May I be forgiven for thinking this a sad reflection? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Timely Reminder

Lord Justice Fulford, who is a very senior wig indeed,has reminded benches to be cautious when agreeing to vary the terms of  a curfew order to suit the defendant for whatever reason. There can be cases where it might be appropriate , such as a life-or-death family crisis, but these need to be exceptional.  Further, the words used in court need to be chosen with great care, because the press will take interest in any suggestion of the bench being a crew of silly soft-hearted old duffers, and the Indignant Tendency that infests social media will make the most of it.
I think that the message translates to "if in doubt, don't".

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

No, I'm Not Surprised Either

Thanks to The Times for this (don't worry Rupert, I pay a full sub)

Criminal court tech reforms 'a disaster'

Reforms to move paper-based criminal courts into the digital age have been beset by failings with lost computer discs, systems that "do not talk to each other" and "numerous mistakes", inspectors have found.
Their damning report finds that despite the multimillion-pound programme to modernise the courts, many still heavily rely on paper and manual processes such as scanning documents and producing hard copy of digital images.
This is to compensate for the "lack of a wholly intuitive digital capability", the inspectors say, a situation that causes wasted costs, increased risk of error and undermines the benefits that could come from full digital working.
More than 90 per cent of criminal cases are sent to the Crown Prosecution Service from the police electronically but there is a "high level of user input and processes to make paper documents electronic", the report finds. "This is not wholly digital working or an efficient process for transferring case information from the police to the courts."
Despite previous recommendations by inspectors that a reliable data-sharing solution is needed for CCTV, 999 records and interviews of suspects and others, it is a "disappointment", inspectors say, "to find this has yet to be established".
As a result, computer discs containing evidence still have to be physically sent to the CPS and many are lost, they say. "It was of concern to learn that a widespread issue existed, concerning the misplacing of discs by the CPS."
Other problems include a limit on the size of data that can be transferred across the system, "having a negative impact on the transfer of police data to the CPS".
There is difficulty in sending papers digitally to defence representatives. "Commonly the CPS prints off a paper copy for the defence representatives and sends this via courier to the court." The transfer of case evidence between police and the CPS "still suffers from numerous clerical mistakes".

Sunday, April 03, 2016

From Bystander N

I live in a local justice area that now includes a much wider spread of courts, and their old areas, than the court I was appointed to.
One of my colleagues looked at a defendant’s bail conditions, not to go to a specific postal area, and said to us “That’s not possible.  I know the road in question.  It’s a cul de sac and, to get out, they would have to cross open fields or go into the area their bail condition doesn't allow.”  Who would have set this?  Those like me who don’t know the area in question. 

What price local justice?

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Another Odd 'Un

Last week we were faced with three trials. As is so often the case one fell over for technical reasons, the second was withdrawn by the CPS as their chief witness, a PC, was on annual leave.

I went through the ritual of grumbling at the CPS for a mickey-mouse cock-up that both harmed justice and cost a lot of money, and since you ask, no you cannot have an adjournment. It would be unfair to be hard on the poor young prosecutor on her feet, since the mistakes were made in an office miles away.

So we set out to hear the effective trial. The Crown called their only witness, and put in a few section 9 statements (i.e. unchallenged ones) and it was time for the defence. The solicitor rose to his feet and announced that his client would not be giving evidence (as was his right) so that was the case for the defence. As we retired we each assumed that the Crown would win, since the defendant declined to say anything in his own defence, but as we went methodically through what we had heard, and compared our notes, we decided that the prosecution was full of holes and that we could not safely convict. We trooped back in and I solemnly announced our findings to a rather surprised courtroom. So that was the end of that.

We don't see many like that.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Chapter and Verse

The practice of publishing Judges' sentencing remarks is a relatively recent one. Hizonner's remarks to  a famous footballer who used a 15 year-old girl for sex are here and show how carefully the sentence was put together, and where it fits into the guidelines.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Magistracy in Parliament

Our friend Obiter J has put a fascinating post on his always interesting and well-reasoned blog.It is well worth your spending a little time to look at it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Judicial Partisanship

As those of a sensitive disposition prepare to avert their gaze from the rise of the appalling Trump and its possible consequences, the United States are facing one of their periodic wrangles over the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice.  This has far more significance across he Pond than it does here, for which we should be truly thankful. Mercifully we do not have partisan judges in our highest court - let's keep it that way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Undue Deference

There has been a furore about the latest piece of yobbish behaviour from the retreaded Top Gear. According to some reports the local authority gave permission for stunt driving on public roads, in Central London including screaming power slides and spins. Top Gear has access to a disused airfield at Dunsfold in Surrey, which leaves even less excuse for using the highway.

The cringing deference that too many in authority show towards famous stars when cameras appear is distantly redolent of the Savile case when fame caused people to suspend their judgment of a serial offender.

Quite apart from the extraordinary driving (skilled as the drivers may be) that would count as Dangerous Driving in any court, I very much doubt whether the souped-up machines featured would pass the Construction and Use regulations. Finally, some film that I have seen shows a car sliding perilously close to un- marshalled spectators: something that would never be allowed in a properly organised motorsport event.

Trying to out-yob Clarkson is a tough call, and the BBC should not do it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Do The Shuffle

We had to reshuffle our JPs between our five courtrooms today, two of which had to sit with a bench of just two.

My list featured three trials this morning and one in the afternoon. One defendant simply did not appear, so we issued a warrant without bail to get him in. In the next the defence put in a late Defence Case Statement that changed the whole basis of the defence, so in all fairness we had to allow an adjournment to give the prosecutor a chance to have a think about it. Two down, one to go.
Number three was actually effective:- a Domestic Violence case that turned on a row that ensued when the ex-boyfriend of the victim (and the father of her daughter)  rang her up. The volume of threats increased and the victim rang the police. Lover boy threw the phone either to her or at her, and grabbed her, as he claimed, so that  he could get past her to leave. The whole business came down to he-said/she-said, and we concluded that we could not convict beyond reasonable doubt. The protagonists left hand in hand, leaving me in little doubt that we shall see them again.

This afternoon's case was, incredibly, a simple possession of Class B but the papers hadn't been copied, and the CPS copier was hors de  combat while there was a queue for the one upstairs in the office. We put the case off and called it a day, when I was happy to get my car heater blasting hot air, as the courtroom and retiring area were freezing. Oh yes, and the coffee machine has vanished, and we now have a cheapo kettle and sundry jars of instant coffee for our comfort.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Happy Chappy

I wrote a few weeks back about a friend who was breathalysed at Christmas, and decided to run a Special Reasons argument that would allow the court not to disqualify him if the Bench agreed.

 Well, he kept his licence, with six points, and a fine in the low hundreds plus costs. He was impressed by the performance of the solicitor I recommended and is a happy boy.

I think that justice was done. and the system worked as it should.

Friday, February 26, 2016

It's McKenzie Again

The powers-that-be have decided to have a look at McKenzie Friends.

Funny, that. You would almost think that someone Up There reads this blog.

Now That's What I Call a Correction

My son has pointed out the following Correction issued in the last few days: Unbeatable.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


The official websites are giving increasing prominence to judges' sentencing remarks in complex cases, or those that cause public concern. In a recent judgment, DJ Deborah Wright (whom I know well as our sittings often overlap) sentenced the protesters who blocked off a Heathrow runway   to show how cross they are about the proposed new Northern runway.

Her remarks are Here and I think that she did a good job.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Glimpse of The Mob

Like most middle-class people I lead a sheltered life (in a relatively peaceful Buckinghamshire enclave) so it is especially shocking when I come up against really offensive behaviour.
I spent last Friday night in the A & E department of a big hospital (think Jimmy Savile). There was nothing too bad wrong with me, but I am at the age where medics like to run the full range of tests just to be sure. Not too far round the corner from my cubicle was a group of apparently drunken young men, who were hurling foul mouthed abuse at hospital staff, ripe with indignant profanity. By about 11 p..m. police arrived from time to time, but the noise continued unabated. I asked the nurse who was taking a blood sample if this was a usual event and he said that it was about the norm for a Friday night.

I have always regarded misbehaviour in and near hospitals as seriously aggravated offences, for reasons that  do not need to be spelt out, but this opened my eyes to the reality that hospital staff can face.

Very nasty.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

For Which Relief Much Thanks

Those of us who were beginning to despair at the flat-footed callousness of Chris Grayling's tenure at the MoJ are starting to look with wide-eyed wonderment at the systematic dismantling of the Grayling legacy being carried out by Michael Gove. Only a couple of weeks ago I had a quiet chat with a decent, respected and hard-working defence solicitor who could see no glimmer of light in the darkness that was enveloping the defence profession. There were credible plans to remove many well-run firms from the Duty Solicitor scheme, and to pare the fees of the remainder to the unsustainable bone. Small firms had become unsaleable, their owners unable to retire with any security.

Let's take a deep breath, and survey where we are now, resolving to find a solution that will aim to restore fairness while keeping a wary eye on the costs involved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A New Viewpoint

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my local court (in which I have never sat as a magistrate) as a McKenzie Friend..

An old friend of mine was arrested over Christmas and charged with drink-driving. So far, so bad, and he was anxious to plead guilty straight away, and take his punishment and ban. I went along just to be certain that he understood what was going on, and had the weird experience of standing next to him in the armoured-glass dock. The front of house court staff were very helpful and polite, and not at all fazed by my presence. The seats were hard but the coffee machine worked, and the ushers were on the ball, introducing the Duty Solicitor, who was also friendly and informative. The bench listened carefully to what my friend had to say, and he came across as sincere and frank. After he had said his piece (guilty plea,  apologies, and so on) the bench went into a huddle and called up the legal adviser.
What the bench was considering was whether the circumstances of the offence might have allowed a Special Reasons argument. I could see their thought process, and then the chairman went on to explain the situation clearly. They put the case back, to allow time to consider, so in a quiet moment when the bench was out we approached the Clerk and said that we would like to give Special Reasons a run. We were give a date six weeks hence in another town, and my friend was bailed to then.
I can't go into any detail at this stage, but the bottom line is that the defendant has little to lose (apart from costs) and a lot to gain if he escapes a ban.
When booking the new date, the clerk checked that I understood the issues, which I did. The CPS prosecutor gave me a sideways look and said that one of his colleagues had recognised me from my home court, so yes I probably did understand..

Let's see how we get on.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Bail - The Least Understood Thing We Do?

There has been a bit of huffing and puffing about the (possible) Jihadi star of a grotesque snuff movie, who jumped bail to go to the Middle East a year or two back. Of course some will ask why he was on bail, but there seems to be no realisation that the law prescribes a right to bail . Every JP is aware of the exceptions, which, simply put, amount to a substantial fear that the defendant will abscond, interfere with witnesses, or commit further offences.

The commenters in our more thick-ear newspapers, seem to prefer the idea of locking up anyone who finds himself under suspicion. Quite apart from the principle of incarcerating the unconvicted, what would that do to our swelling prison population?