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?